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Indigenous Leaders Write Letters Rejecting the Purús-Iñapari Highway and Demanding Expulsion of Controversial Priest

April 2012:

In separate letters to authorities, the Alto Purús indigenous federation, FECONAPU, and community chiefs have reiterated their rejection of a proposed highway and demanded the immediate expulsion of the Italian priest behind the proposal.

The first letter was addressed to Peru’s congressional commission on foreign relations.  In it the indigenous leaders request government support to improve living conditions in the region. Specifically the letter asks for improved health care, education, transportation, environmental protection and other support needed to confront problems affecting the region’s inhabitants.

The Alto Purús has a population of roughly 4,500 inhabitants, 80% of whom are indigenous. Divided among 47 communities, the indigenous people practice traditional subsistence activities such as hunting, fishing, gathering forest resources and tending small gardens. However, government support projects are limited in this remote region, and the region has a human development index (HDI) among the lowest 10% of the country according to the United Nations Development Program.

In addition to requesting government assistance, the letter also repeated their opposition to a proposed highway to connect the region’s capital town, Puerto Esperanza, with the town of Iñapari and the InterOceanic Highway in Madre de Dios. Instead, they want more consistent subsidized air travel to the city of Pucallpa.

“We reiterate our position AGAINST CONSTRUCTION of the Puerto Esperanza to Iñapari highway due to the negative effects it would generate, which include:

  • loss of our food supply,
  • invasions into our lands,
  • violation of the rights of the indigenous people in voluntary isolation and initial contact, 
  • increased drug trafficking, and
  • loss of our ancestral cultural diversity.

See the full letter here.

Main Street, Puerto Esperanza

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The second letter is addressed to the Secretary General of Peru’s Episcopal Conference to demand the immediate removal and replacement of the region’s controversial Italian priest, Miguel Piovesan. Piovesan began promoting the highway idea as soon as he arrived in Puerto Esperanza 10 years ago. However, he has managed to secure support from only a handful of citizens, primarily mestizos who have arrived in recent years. Many have bought land along the proposed route, speculating that they will be able to profit from the influx of landless settlers the road will bring.

The Federation has asked for the priest’s expulsion before but to no avail. This latest demand is in response to Piovesan’s increasingly aggressive and slanderous publicity campaign to discredit the Federation because they refuse to pledge support for the road. According to the letter,

“ . . . we (the Federation) feel very offended and humiliated by father Miguel Piovesan, who through his radio station and mestizo followers who are not from the region promotes the creation of a highway from Iñapari to Puerto Esperanza that would pass through our ancestral lands  . . .  in addition he uses his newsletter La Palabra Viva (The Living Word) to insult we indigenous . . . using photos of us in the newsletter to insult and generate social conflict amongst our brothers  . . .  we have agreed in many meetings to expel father Miguel Piovesan from the Purús  . . .  we want a Catholic representative that preaches peace and respect to the indigenous people. We are very tired of his discriminatory and insulting attitude toward the communities of the Purús . . . 

Schoolchildren, Alto Purús

See the full letter from FECONAPU demanding expulsion of Piovesan.

See pro-highway / anti-conservation educational materials integrated into local schools by the Catholic church.

See Piovesan’s website and newsletter La Palabra Viva.