Advisor to Congressman Tubino Investigated for Links to Accused Drug Trafficker

January 2013:

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.

Highway proponent and congressman Carols Tubino, his ex advisor, Javier León, and accused drug trafficker Fernando Zevallos. Source: El Comercio

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.


Proposed Purús Road Criticized During Congressional Roundtable

September 2012:

On September 14, Peru’s Congress held a roundtable meeting organized by congresswoman Veronika Mendoza Frisch and the indigenous association AIDESEP. The objective of the meeting was to debate the social, legal, economic and environmental impacts of a Bill proposing the construction of a terrestrial connection, either a road or train, between the towns of Puerto Esperanza, capital al the Purús, and Iñapari, in Madre de Dios department. Special attention was given to impacts to the region’s tribes in voluntary isolation.

The meeting was attended by the Bill’s author, congressman Carlos Tubino; Quijandría Gabriel, Vice-Minister of Strategic Development of Natural Resources for the Ministry of Environment; Ivan Lanegra, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Intercultural Affairs for the Ministry of Culture; Félix Denegri, Director of Border Integration and Development of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Carmen Ferreyros, Office of Planning and Budget of the Ministry of Transport and Communications; Arsenio Calle, Chief of the Alto Purús National Park; and several indigenous representatives from the Purús.

The meeting began with a presentation by Dr. David Salisbury from the University of Richmond and UAC board member, who detailed the serious negative impacts of a road or railroad though such a sensitive and valuable mosaic of indigenous territories and protected areas on both sides of the Peru-Brazil border. He presented the results of a study conducted with student George Appling in the University of Richmond’s Spatial Analysis Laboratory using border data to map the potential impacts to the region.

The representatives from the government ministries and the Purús indigenous communities unanimously expressed concern about the Bill and rejected Turbino’s argument that the  land connection between Purús and Iñapari is a matter of critical interest national. Despite vehement opposition to his proposal, congressman Tubino defended his Bill to construct a road or railroad through one of the most remote and best preserved areas on the planet with exceptional biological and cultural diversity.

More information on the event is available on the following websites:

Ministry of Environment proposed to improve the air connection with the Purús

Blog of congresswoman Veronika Mendoza

Arguments about the “denationalization” of the Purús region to Brazil

Leaders Sign Declaration to expand the Ucayali – Acre Conservation Corridor by Titling Ashéninka Lands

August 2012:

Members of the Ucayali Regional Government of Ucayali, along withindigenous leaders and members of non-governmental organizations working on both sides of the Ucayali – Acre, Brazil border have signed a document declaring the importance of titling Ashéninka indigenous lands located in the upper Tamaya River. The declaration was signed on August 17th in the city of Pucallpa at the conclusion of ProPurús’ bi-national workshop, “The Role of Titling Indigenous Communities in the Conservation of the  Ucayali-Acre border: the Case of the Alto Tamaya.”

Ashéninka women presenting during the workshop

The workshop was part of ProPurús’ partnership with the community of Alto Tamaya – Saweto to title their traditional lands and integrate their community into the corridor of conservation areas and indigenous lands that runs along the border region of Ucayali and Acre, Brazil. Key partners in the project include Ucayali’s Office of Natural Resources and the Environmental and the Office of Agriculture, along with the University of Ucayali’s Borderlands Research Center (CIFA) and the University of Richmond.

The borderlands between Ucayali and Acre, including the headwaters of the Tamaya, harbor high levels of biodiversity no longer present in areas closer to population centers. However, the region’s remoteness also results in scarce government support and services to the local indigenous communities whose lands are being invaded by illegal loggers, drug traffickers and landless farmers. Without title, the Ashéninka are unable to exercise legal control over their lands.

See a summary of the workshop

See the workshop’s declaration

Ucayali – Acre Borderlands


Workshop participants

 

Evidence of Isolated Tribe Found in Area of Proposed Highway

August 2012:

Camp made by people in voluntary isolation, Alto Purus National Park (C. Fagan – UAC)

The indigenous federation of the Madre de Dios River (FENAMAD) and Peru’s Protected Areas Agency (SERNANP) report finding evidence of isolated tribes in the area being proposed for the Puerto Esperanza – Iñapari highway. The evidence, found during a July expedition, included trails and branches positioned to block trails. See full article by Mongabay.com for details.

The tribe has been documented in the region several times over the past few years. These photograph were taken between 2004 and 2008 in the Alto Purús National Park, near route of the proposed highway.

 

 

Baskets made by voluntarily isolated people, Alto Purús National Park (C. Fagan – UAC)

People in voluntary isolation, Madre de Dios department, 2008 (SERNANP)

Ucayali Loggers Using Indigenous Communities in the Alto Purús to Launder Mahogany

July 2012:

In February, Peru’s agency in charge of forestry and wildlife supervision, OSINFOR, sanctioned and fined two Alto Purús indigenous communities over $50,000 (US) each for logging infractions. In both cases the logging companies used the community permits to “clean” and transport illegal wood cut elsewhere. Mahogany laundering is common practice in southeastern Peru where the last remaining stands of mature trees are found only in very remote regions like the Alto Purús. Rather than work legally with communities, and pay high transportation costs (there are no roads, all wood is flown out) and comply with efficiency and reforestation requirements, loggers often choose to work illegally in protected areas and indigenous lands. However in order to transport and sell the illegal wood, they need to secure permits to show it was cut legally. This is where the communities come in.

Indigenous Community, Alto Purús River

Community leaders are persuaded to sign contracts that give total control to the loggers. This includes developing the operating plans, which provide a list of the geo-referenced trees to be cut. Unfortunately for the communities, when they sign these contracts they remain ultimately responsible for compliance with the operating plans, even though they are entirely removed from logging operations. In the case of these two communities, OSINFOR field auditors were unable to find evidence that all the trees identified in the operating plan had been cut. Instead, the loggers used the permits to transport 600 m3 or 254,000 board feet of mahogany, approximately 50 mature trees, that they had cut elsewhere. The infractions occurred between 2006 to 2008.

The loggers have not been punished. On the contrary, they have repeated the scheme in other communities. OSINFOR has detailed serious infractions in six other communities in the Alto Purús. Incredibly, every mahogany logging operation in the Alto Purús is facing fines and sanctions, in addition to the two that have already received them. One investigation of a 2011 operation found that the logger had burned several mature mahogany trees and claimed that the wood was harvested rather than pay the high transport costs of flying the wood to Pucallpa. Instead he hoped to increase profits by filling his permits with wood cut elsewhere.

OSINFOR’s field audits show improved efforts by Peru to control illegal logging spurred on by the strict environmental and forestry obligations of its free trade agreement with the United States. However this case also highlights Peru’s uphill battle to control illegal logging, particularly of mahogany. Current challenges include preventing the continued exploitation and manipulation of indigenous tribes, protecting conservation areas and indigenous lands, and effectively documenting the chain of custody of wood. UAC continues to document illegal mahogany logging in the Alto Purús region, most recently in August 2011 in the Murunahua Reserve for Indigenous People in Voluntary Isolation.

Mahogany logging, Alto Purús

This case sheds serious doubt on Peru’s ability to ensure the legality of its mahogany exports. This has major implications for not only the US – Peru free trade agreement, but also for the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) under which mahogany is protected. Because much of Peru’s mahogany ends up in the US, it also calls into question US wood importers’ compliance with the Lacey Act which is meant to ensure that all timber imports are of legal origins.

The social implications of this case are equally distressing. The Alto Purús communities involved are among the poorest in the entire country. (According to the United Nations Development Program, the Alto Purús has a human development index among the lowest 10% of the country.) The two communities fined $50,000 are made up of approximately 10 families each that survive on traditional subsistence activities such as hunting, fishing, collecting forest resources and tending small garden plots. Neither has electricity, functioning schools, bathrooms or running water. Drinking water is taken from the sediment-filled Alto Purús River.

While a certain amount of responsibility lies with the community chiefs for signing contracts with the loggers, which most likely occurred without permission from the rest of the community, it is important to emphasize the considerable pressure these people face from unscrupulous loggers. Often the loggers fly the chiefs to Pucallpa where they are bribed with gifts and alcohol in exchange for signing over their trees. The loggers involved in this case made massive profits off of this wood, while the impoverished community is left with fines and sanctions that will hinder the development of future income opportunities through sustainable timber or non-timber forest products.

In related news, the proposed Puerto Esperanza-Iñapari Highway would bring truckloads of loggers to the Alto Purús, exacerbating pressure on its indigenous inhabitants to cut some of the world’s last mahogany trees.

More information on illegal logging and timber laundering in Peru is detailed in the recent report from the Environmental Investigative Agency (EIA), “ The Laundering Machine: How Fraud and Corruption in Peru’s Concession System are Destroying the Future of its Forests.”

Peru’s Ministries Declare Purús Highway Unconstitutional

June 2012:

Alto Purús River

Three of Peru’s ministries have declared their opposition to the Puerto Esperanza – Iñapari Highway. In separate letters to Congress, the ministry of the EnvironmentCulture and Transportation announced their unequivocal opposition to the proposal due to various concerns including the highway’s potential impact on isolated indigenous tribes. The highway is supported by a handful of mestizo living in the region but vehemently opposed by the indigenous majority. Congress is expected to vote on the proposal in August.

Peru’s Politicians Ignore Indigenous Rights and Push for “Highway of the Dead”

May 2012:Members of Peru’s Congress have submitted a bill which would declare a controversial highway project “a public necessity and a national interest priority.” The bill was signed by 23 members and sent to Congress in April despite adamant opposition from the indigenous tribes whose ancestral lands the road would cross. (See bill sent to Congress.)

Pro-Road Propaganda, Puerto Esperanza, Purús. “A highway is progress in all directions”

The highway is planned for the Alto Purús region, a remote and  roadless area of world-class biological and cultural diversity. It is among the least disturbed parts of the entire Amazon Basin. Proponents are pushing for a 300 kilometer road to connect the small town of Puerto Esperanza, in Ucayali department, to the InterOceanic Highway in the town of Iñapari in Madre de Dios department. The highway would cross the Alto Purús National Park, the Purús Communal Reserve and the Madre de Dios Territorial Reserve for Indigenous People in Voluntary Isolation. All three protected areas are home to some of the last isolated indigenous tribes left anywhere in the world.

The Alto Purús indigenous federation, FECONAPU, argues that the highway would have devastating effects on the traditional way of life of settled communities while threatening the survival of the isolated tribes. They have thus named the project, “la carretera de la muerte,” or highway of the dead.

Indigenous people of the Alto Purús have a long history of suffering exploitation at the hands of outsiders, beginning with the rubber barons at the turn of the 19th century and continuing with missionaries, animal skin traders and now loggers. A new road would offer uncontrolled access to the largest stands of mahogany left in South America. Local people see the road as just the latest example of outsiders trying to exploit their resources and lands.

The project is the idea of the Italian priest, Miguel Piovesán. For over ten years he has been trying to persuade local people and politicians to support his dreams for a highway to bring development to the region. His plan is supported by a handful of mestizo landowners and storeowners, also outsiders, who believe they would profit from improved access to the region and increased logging and other extractive activities.

To generate support from the indigenous communities who make up 80% of the population, the priest has waged an aggressive and slanderous publicity campaign against FECONAPU, Peru’s protected areas agency, SERNANP, and conservationists. He sees the Alto Purús National Park as the primary obstacle to the highway.

FECONAPU has repeatedly denounced the Priest for trying to “insult, mock and humiliate” them because they refuse to pledge their support for his highway. In March, the Federation signed a letter once again rejecting the highway proposal and asking for the immediate removal of Piovesán from the region.

Shelters made by isolated indigenous people near the proposed highway.

The Alto Purús indigenous conservation organization, EcoPurús, has also repeatedly denounced the highway project (2007, 2012).

In May, indigenous and mestizo authorities in neighboring Madre de Dios repeated their unequivocal rejection of the project due the inevitable social, cultural and environmental impacts. (See statement pdf.)

Despite lacking support from the indigenous peoples living along the highway route, Piovesán has managed to attract some political allies, led by Ucayali representative Carlos Tubino who co-authored the bill.  If passed, the bill would facilitate the process of removing Peru’s protected areas and indigenous rights laws.

Of particular interest to the United States is how the road would impact Peru’s strict environmental obligations under the US – Peru free trade agreement.

The bill also calls into question Peru’s “La ley de Consulta Previa,” the law which guarantees the rights of indigenous people to be consulted about development decisions that affect them. The law was signed in 2010 by newly elected president Humala in the aftermath of the Bagua uprisings, which were caused by the government opening up huge areas of the Amazon to oil and gas exploration without the consent of its local people.

If approved, the Purús-Iñapari highway bill will be yet another example of Peru putting the development of the Amazon ahead of the rights of its indigenous inhabitants.

Map of proposed highway

Mongabay.com Indigenous groups oppose priest pushing for road through uncontacted tribes’ land

Survival International: Amazon road could cut uncontacted tribes’ land in half

 

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