Peru Passes Resolution to Title Saweto after Murders

January 2015

After a 12 year struggle to obtain title to their homelands which cost the lives of four of it’s leaders who were murdered by loggers in September, last month the Peru government finally passed a resolution legally recognizing 80,000 hectares as belonging to the Ashéninka community of Saweto. Furthermore, officials have promised to travel to Saweto by helicopter in February to present the title to Saweto’s newly elected leaders in a community assembly. Upper Amazon Conservancy and its Peruvian sister organization, ProPurús, has been helping Saweto in their quest for land recognition and justice for three years.

The struggle has been resisted by illegal loggers benefiting from open access to Saweto’s timber, as well as corrupt, pro-logging officials in the Ucayali regional government. Please see the following document for a summary of Saweto’s decade-long effort to remove illegal loggers and obtain title to their lands, including various links to additional information on Saweto’s struggle. The Alto Tamaya Indigenous Community: A summary of illegal logging, land titling, and violence in the Peruvian Amazon.

Workshop participants

Saweto leaders and allies at a workshop to advance Saweto’s titling efforts held in Pucallpa in August 2012. Murder victims Jorge Ríos Pérez and Edwin Chota Valera are in the front row wearing their traditional cushma clothing.







December News: Saweto at Climate Conference, Plotkin TED talk, Alto Purús Resource Use Studies

December 2014

COP foto

Leaders from the Asheninka communities of Saweto, Peru and Apiwxta, Brazil hold a press conference during the UN climate change conference in Lima demanding justice for the murder of four Asheninka leaders by illegal loggers in September. Julia Pérez and Ergilia Rengifo are the widows of Jorge Rios Pérez and Edwin Chota, and Diana Rios is the son of Pérez. The women are supported by Isaac Pikayo and Francisco Piyako, leaders from the neighboring Brazilian community of Apiwtxa (Photo: Martin Mejia, AP)

For links to articles related to Saweto and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change currently taking place in Lima, click here.

“The greatest and most endangered species in the Amazon rainforest is not the jaguar or the harpy eagle,” says Mark Plotkin, “It’s the isolated and uncontacted tribes.” In an energetic and sobering talk, the ethnobotanist brings us into the world of the forest’s indigenous tribes and the incredible medicinal plants that their shamans use to heal. He outlines the challenges and perils that are endangering them — and their wisdom — and urges us to protect this irreplaceable repository of knowledge.

Click here for full screen version of Plotkin’s 16 minute talk. 

University of Texas PhD student and former Upper Amazon Conservancy researcher, Aaron Groth, successfully defended his Masters Thesis on the impacts on Mahogany logging on Alto Purús indigenous communities.  “Social and Environmental Impacts of Big-Leaf Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) on Peruvian indigenous communities.”

Previous to his Master’s research in 2010, Groth spent several months in the Alto Purús collecting data on how local communities use their forest resources.  The three-year study included four communities of three ethnicities: Monterrey (of the Yine ethnicity) and Laureano (of the Amahuaca ethnicity) on the Purús River, and the Juni Kuin (Cashinahua) communities of Balta and Santa Rey on the Curanja River.  The studies were led by Upper Amazon Conservancy and ProPurús with active participation from communities members.

A draft of the study is available here: Evaluación del Uso de los Recursos Naturales en Cuatro Comunidades Nativas de la Provincia de Purús, Ucayali, 2009 – 2011.


Amahuaca villagers on the Alto Purús River with eggs from the Yellow-Spotted Side-neck Turtle (Podocnemis unifilis) (A. Groth).

Saweto Receives Soros Foundation Award for Environmental Activism

November 2014

Diana and Soros

Diana Ríos Rengifo and Alexander Soros in New York City, November 17, 2014 (D. Salisbury)

Diana Ríos Rengifo, 21, gave a stirring speech to the human rights and environmental advocates who cheered her acceptance of the Alexander Soros Foundation’s Environmental Activism award on behalf of her community of Saweto and the four assassinated leaders: Edwin Chota, Leoncio Meléndez, Francisco Pinedo, and her father, Jorge Ríos. For her part, Diana presented Alexander Soros with a necklace from her Ashéninka people, and invited him to the community when he comes to South America in April. Diana also shared her resolve to continue fighting for title to her lands, and her continued worries for the safety of her people given she believes at least 10 other killers continue at large beyond the two men in jail who have formally been accused.

Prior to the ceremony, NGO Global Witness released a groundbreaking report, Peru’s Deadly Environment, that sheds light on the murders of environmental activists in Peru over the last decade. The findings call into question the commitment of Peru, which will host international climate talks in less than a month, to protect its forests – and those who have called them home for generations – from mining, logging, oil exploration and infrastructure development.

The event included the screening of a documentary about the life of last year’s award winner, Cambodian anti-logging activist Chut Wutty, who lost his life defending the Prey Lang forest community.  The event also showed a 7 minute film by Handcrafted Films of Edwin Chota, Saweto, and the Ashenínka of the Tamaya River basin’s efforts to defend their forest from illegal loggers. UAC/ProPurús assisted Handcrafted in this second film, and ProPurús Coordiantor Jose Borgo Vasquez is interviewed about his work with the Ashenínka of the Tamaya River in their fight against illegal logging and for legal recognition of their homelands.

November 17 Press:

New York Times on Soros award to Saweto (Andrew Revkin) on Soros award to Saweto (Madrid, Spain)

El Comercio on Global Witness Report (Lima, Peru)

 Other Links: 

September murders of Saweto leaders

Saweto’s 10 year struggle to secure land title




New Alliance Created to Protect the Alto Purús

October 2014:

UAC and ProPurús have initiated a new project to prevent illegal activities and promote sustainable resource use on the La Novia River, a tributary of the Alto Purús River near the town of Puerto Esperanza. The project’s primary objective is to create a working alliance between the Conta indigenous community, the Mabosinfrom conservation concession, and the Purús Communal Reserve which is administered by Peru’s protected areas agency, Sernanp. It is a unique opportunity to bring together these diverse stakeholders to create the region’s first-ever indigenous-mestizo (non-indigenous) conservation alliance with the goal of protecting one of the most threatened parts of the greater Alto Purús region.


Pernambuco Lake located within the Conta indigenous community.

In October, partners convened to discuss the new alliance and elect a leadership committee. To mark the beginning of the project, ProPurus staff, community members, and guards from the Communal Reserve released several hundred yellow-spotted sideneck turtle hatchlings (Podocnemis unifilis), locally called Taricaya, into Conta’s Pernambuco Lake. The hatchlings came from eggs collected in the Alto Purús River and transported to artificial beaches at Reserve headquarters in order to be protected from unsustainable collecting. Among the project’s objectives are to re-establish healthy populations of Taricaya in Pernambuco while sustainably managing common fish species as a source of both food and income for the people of Conta.

Other project objectives include training and equipping Alliance members to conduct regular patrols along the river to prevent illegal activities and to monitor threatened species. The Alliance will initiate a publicity campaign in Puerto Esperanza to educate people on resource use regulations in the La Novia region and engage local people in new Alliance-led conservation activities. Funding for the project is being provided by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Without Borders Latin America and Caribbean program.


Members of the new La Novia Alliance releasing Taricaya turtle hatchlings into Pernambuco Lake.

Peru Promises to Title Saweto in Response to the Murders

September 2014:

visita-primera-dama-a-saweto-1024x601 2

Peru’s Prime Minister visits Saweto (Source PCM).

After several weeks of silence, Peru’s government is finally responding to the tragic and senseless murders of four leaders from the Ashéninka community of Alto Tamaya-Saweto on September 1st. Last week, a large committee of senior government officials, led by Peru’s Prime Minister, Ana Jara, traveled in helicopters from the city of Pucallpa to Saweto to meet with the villagers and discuss their needs in the wake of losing four leaders, including their chief, Edwin Chota. The commission included Ministers and Vice Ministers from various government agencies including Education, Housing, the Interior, the Environment, Health, Women and Vulnerable Populations, as well as the Executive Director of Peru’s new Forestry Agency, SERFOR.

After touring the community and murder site and holding a community assembly in the schoolhouse, the authorities pledged to post a special unit of police officers in the community to protect them from illegal loggers and narcotic traffickers that use the surrounding forest. Officials also committed to investing in improvements for the dilapidated school and abandoned health post. More importantly, they promised to help the community obtain legal title to their homelands.

For the past decade, the community, led by Chota, has been fighting against loggers, as well as the regional government of Ucayali, for legal recognition of their land rights. The government has repeatedly rejected Saweto’s request for title, including a formal comprehensive petition submitted earlier this year with the help of UAC and ProPurús. The government has argued that the lands around Saweto could not be titled due to the presence of two timber concessions overlapping the community’s lands. However, the same government’s titling agency clarified in the formal petition that the concessions were created illegally, because the community was located there, and officially recognized by the government, at the time the concessions were granted. Furthermore, Chota had repeatedly documented widespread illegal logging inside the concessions. It was this struggle against Ucayali’s powerful logging mafia to stop illegal logging near Saweto that cost Chota his life, along with Francisco Pinedo Ramirez, Jorge Rios Perez, and Leoncio Quintisima Melendez.

Community leaders present their demands to the government commission (Source PCM).

Community leaders present their demands to the government commission (Source PCM).

As a result of the Ucayali unwillingness to prevent illegal logging on the Alto Tamaya River, as well as their egregious mismanagement of Saweto’s titling petition, Peru’s Prime Minister immediately transferred Saweto’s case to the central government in Lima. In addition, Minister Jara promised to create a new government commission to study illegal logging in the Alto Tamaya region and its social and environmental impacts.

We are hopeful that these bold promises will finally result in tangible progress, and eventually fulfill Edwin Chota’s dream of titling Saweto so that his people can lead safe and productive lives.



September 24, Peru’s forestry director admits that Saweto should have been granted title last year

September 25, two suspects have been arrested for the Saweto murders.



Murder in the Peruvian Rainforest

September 9, 2014:

Last week, Edwin Chota, leader of the Asheninka community of Saweto, was murdered along with Jorge Ríos Pérez, Leoncio Quinticima Melendez, and Francisco Pinedo as they traveled on a forest trail to attend a meeting in the Brazilian community ofApiwtxa. The men had spent over a decade fighting to title Saweto, and they were killed just days after a visit from Peruvian forestry officials to document continued illegal logging on their lands.

Edwin Chota, bottom right, and Jorge Rios, bottom right, with ProPurus staff displaying a banner to mark their territory.

Edwin Chota, bottom right, and Jorge Rios, bottom right, with ProPurus staff displaying a banner to mark their territory.

We are working with the widows and family members of the four slain leaders to ensure that the government conducts a full investigation and the perpetrators are brought to justice. We look forward to working together with all of Saweto’s friends and supporters to carry on Edwin’s legacy of protecting the forest and securing legal recognition of Saweto’s homelands. 

Please see the attached press release for more details.

In English

En Espanol

Isolated Tribe Village Documented for the First Time In Peru’s Alto Purús Region

September 2014:


Abandoned village of isolated indigenous people in the Purús Communal Reserve (Source: Purús Communal Reserve).

Two clusters of houses used by isolated indigenous tribes have been discovered inside the Purús Communal Reserve. The tribes were known to live in the region, as members are occasionally seen during the dry season when they travel from the remote headwaters to the larger rivers to collect turtle eggs. This is the first evidence, however, that they live in semi-permanent villages, providing invaluable information on their territory and land use needed to develop effective plans for their protection. The Purús Communal Reserve serves as a buffer zone between the Alto Purús National Park and an area of settled indigenous communities on the Purús River (see map).

The two small villages are separated by approximately 200 meters and are located on hilltops, perhaps as a defense strategy. The first village appeared abandoned while the second is active and includes a large garden with banana trees and corn among other crops.


Isolated tribe village and recently cleared garden inside the Purús Communal Reserve (Source: Purús Communal Reserve).

They were discovered in late August during an overflight organized by the Vice-ministry of Interculturality of Peru’s Ministry of Culture (Peru’s agency in charge of protecting isolated tribes) and in coordination with the Public Ministry, the Ministry of Interior, and the National Service of Protected Natural Areas (Sernanp). UAC’s sister organization, ProPurús, provided technical support during the flight.

In June, a group of previously isolated people initiated contact with an indigenous community on Brazil’s Envira River. The objective of this overflight was to document illegal activities in response to the theory that the tribespeople had come from Peru and initiated contact in order to avoid continued violence with drug smugglers. In addition to the Purús Communal Reserve, the overflight covered remote rivers inside the Alto Purús National Park and the Murunahua Territorial Reserve for Isolated Tribes. Isolated tribes living in these protected areas continue to be impacted not only by drug trafficking but illegal logging, oil and gas exploration, and road construction. UAC and ProPurús are working with the Peru government, indigenous organizations, and NGO’s on both sides of the Peru – Brazil border to develop and implement protection plans for the region, considered the largest contiguous territory for isolated tribes anywhere on the planet.