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Ashaninka traveling by boat from eastern Peru to visit neighbors in Acre state, Brazil. Photo: © Mike Goldwater / Survival.

Ashaninka traveling by boat from eastern Peru to visit neighbors in Acre state, Brazil. Photo: © Mike Goldwater / Survival International.

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Assassination in the Amazon

Oliver Tickell

11th September 2014

Four Indian leaders who have opposed illegal logging in their forests have been shot dead in eastern Peru as they traveled by boat to an indigenous meeting in Brazil. The murders followed pleas to Peruvian authorities for protection, and warnings by Brazilian officials that the Indians were in extreme danger.

The Ashéninka women of Saweto are now taking leadership of the community to continue fighting for territory for our children.

Four Ashéninka Indian leaders, renowned for their work against illegal logging in the Amazon, have been murdered near their home in eastern Peru.

Edwin Chota, Jorge Ríos Pérez, Leoncio Quinticima Melendez and Francisco Pinedo were traveling from their community of Saweto on the Peruvian border to attend a meeting with other indigenous leaders in Brazil.

A search party reportedly found the men with fatal gunshot wounds on 1st September.

The widows of the men traveled for three days through the jungle, arriving in the regional city of Pucallpa late Monday night to demand immediate action by the Peruvian authorities to bring the killers to justice.

"The Ashéninka women of Saweto are now taking leadership of the community to continue fighting for territory for our children", Ergilia Ríos told press.

Peru's authorities 'did nothing'

Edwin Chota was a well-known indigenous activist who had dedicated his life to preventing rampant illegal logging from destroying his Amazon home.

Chota had received death threats from loggers in recent years, but the authorities "did nothing" to protect him, according to Amazon Indian organization AIDESEP.

Peru's Ministry of Culture has said a government team will travel to Saweto to investigate the murders.

In June Brazilian officials warned that uncontacted Indians faced were in grace danger, following a dramatic increase in the number of sightings in the Amazon rainforest near the Peru border, and by the Ashaninka of Simpatia village, who are acclimatised to contact.

José Carlos Meirelles, who monitored this region for the Brazilian government's Indian Affairs Department FUNAI for over 20 years, said:

"Something serious must have happened. It is not normal for such a large group of uncontacted Indians to approach in this way. This is a completely new and worrying situation and we currently do not know what has caused it."

Surviving centuries of conflict

The Asháninka have survived centuries of intense conflict since their land was first invaded by the Spanish in the 16th century. One of South America's largest tribes numbering some 70,000, their homeland covers a vast region, from the Upper Juruá river in Brazil to the watersheds of the Peruvian Andes.

In 1742, the Asháninka defeated the Spanish in a revolt which closed off a large part of the Amazon for a century. But conflict flared up the the late 19th century when Peru conceded vast tracts of rainforest to foreign companies for rubber tapping and coffee plantations, forcing many to flee into Brazil's Acre state.

Then in the 1980s the Indians were decimated in a violent conflict between 'Shining Path' Maoist guerrillas and counter-insurgency forces. In all some 70,000 people are estimated to have died or disappeared during the insurgency.

In a grim reminder of these events, the largest mass grave in Peru was discovered last June in the ancestral land of Asháninka Indians. by a team of government investigators.

The grave contains the remains of around 800 people, the majority believed to be Asháninka and Matsigenka Indians. Bodies from several other mass graves in Asháninka territory are currently being exhumed.

'Illegal' hydropower dam still on the official energy plan

Today, Asháninka land is under threat once again - from oil and gas projects, hydroelectric dams, drug trafficking and deforestation.

In 2003 the Asháninka of the Ene River valley in Peru were granted Communal Reserve rights to a portion of their ancestral lands, in the form of Otishi National Park.

But in June 2010 the Brazilian and Peruvian governments signed an energy agreement that allowed Brazilian companies to build a series of six large dams in the Brazilian, Peruvian and Bolivian Amazon.

In 2011, the 2,000 megawatt Pakitzapango dam, proposed for the heart of Peru's Ene valley, was stopped by a legal action presented by the Central Ashaninka del Rio Ene (CARE). But it's still listed on the government's energy plan.

If the dam ever goes ahead it would drown Asháninka villages upstream that are home to an estimated 10,000 people, and open up other areas to logging, cattle ranching, mining and plantations.

Asháninka leader Ruth Buendía was this year presented with the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her work with CARE against the Pakitzapango Dam.



Principal source: Survival International.


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