Congressman Carlos Tubino, the main proponent of a controversial proposal to construct a road through the Alto Purús National Park, fired his advisor Javier León amidst charges linking León to money laundering and drug trafficking.
Congressman Carlos Tubino claimed to be “shocked” to learn of his advisor’s alleged role in perpetrating fraud and laundering drug money. (See article from Peru’s El Comercio.) Tubino’s legal advisor, Javier León, is being investigated for his business relationship to the accused drug trafficker, Fernando Zevallos.
The scandal highlights the pervasive influence of drug trafficking in Peruvian society and politics. The investigation is especially damaging to Tubino’s efforts to obtain congressional approval to construct a road to connect Puerto Esperanza, Purús with Iñapari, Madre de Dios. The road would cross the Alto Purús National Park, Purús Communal Reserve, the Madre de Dios Territorial Reserve for Isolated Tribes, and the Mabosinfron Conservation Concession (see map of proposed road). The region contains some of the least disturbed forests in the entire Amazon Basin and is home to some of the world’s last isolated or “uncontacted” tribes.
The highway faces overwhelming opposition from the Alto Purús indigenous federation, FECONAPU, which represents members of the Huni Kuin, Sharanahua, Culina and six other tribes. Local leaders fear that the road would provide easy access to Peru’s largest stands of mahogany (the region is the source of most of Peru’s illegal mahogany) and make it easier for “narcos” to use the dense forest to smuggle and produce cocaine. The region is already a known transport route for bringing coca paste into Brazil. In April 2012, three men with links to the terrorist and drug trafficking group, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, were arrested in Puerto Esperanza for smuggling ammunitions on a chartered plane.
Increased logging and cocaine trafficking and production is a direct threat to local indigenous people who depend on a healthy forest for hunting, fishing and other subsistence activities. In addition, the road threatens the survival of isolated tribes that live in the forests directly along the proposed road route.
The road supporters are mainly non-indigenous businessmen involved in logging, land speculation and other businesses that could benefit from the road. They argue that the road will bring the region economic opportunities and development. The leader of the pro-road group is the local Catholic priest who has organized and funded a small group of men to begin road construction by clearing the forest along the proposed route. Their work was halted in September 2012, however, when local authorities legally accused them of cutting trees and setting forest fires inside a conservation concession and the buffer zone of the Purús Communal Reserve.
Congress is scheduled to vote on the road bill in March. The Tubino scandal is a timely reminder that the road would not only have significant implications for the people and forests of the Alto Purús, but also promote increased narcotic activity on a critical stretch of the Peru – Brazil borderlands.