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