‘Narcos are looking for me’: deadly threats to Peru’s indigenous leaders


“We’re looking for you, dead or alive,” is among the every day threats that Herlín Odicio receives on his cell phone.

The chief of the indigenous Cacataibo folks in Peru’s central Amazon has been compelled into hiding for standing up to drug traffickers making an attempt to steal his land. “We’ve reported coca plantations on our land so many times and nothing has been done,” Odicio mentioned.

He mentioned the threats towards his life spiralled after he turned down a proposal of 500,000 Peruvian soles (£96,500) for each drug flight leaving from a secret airstrip on his territory. “They’re coming after me,” he mentioned by cellphone from a secret location in Peru. “I can’t walk freely in my community. [The narcos] are looking for me.”

Indigenous communities in Peru’s central Amazon are experiencing a rise in violence, threats and harassment as drug gangs goal their land to develop coca, the plant used to make cocaine. Covid-19 restrictions have made the distant area much more weak by slowing state efforts to defend land and eradicate unlawful coca cultivation.

This boom in coca-growing – Peru is the world’s second greatest producer of cocaine after Colombia, in accordance to the UN – has come at the price of indigenous lives. In February, two Cacataibo leaders, 30-year-old Yénser Ríos and 28-year-old Herasmo García, have been discovered shot useless 12 days aside within the Padre Abad province of Ucayali, an space riddled with coca plantations and clandestine airstrips for transporting cocaine into Bolivia.








The funeral of Herasmo García, a Cacataibo man who was shot useless in February, in his village within the area of Huánuco, in Peru’s central Amazon. Photograph: Courtesy of Fenacoca

The head of police prison investigations in Peru, General Vicente Tiburcio, mentioned police have been investigating if the boys’s deaths have been revenge killings by coca-growers. Tiburcio mentioned Ríos had been accountable for patrolling his neighborhood’s territory and was recognized to have taken half in coca eradication.

In April 2020, Arbildo Meléndez, a pacesetter from the identical Cacataibo indigenous group, was shot dead close to the village of Unipacuyacu. He had reported the presence of drug gangs and secret airstrips to the authorities, and had requested the Inter-American fee on human rights to demand the Peruvian state defend him.

These males are three of the seven Amazonians in Peru killed through the pandemic as land grabbers exploit the disaster to seize land to develop coca, in addition to for logging and money crops comparable to palm oil.

The most up-to-date sufferer is Estela Casanto, 55, an indigenous Asháninka, who was discovered useless on 12 March. “Her family found bloodstains in her bed,” mentioned Teddy Sinacay, president of Ceconsec, an organisation of 120 Asháninka communities in Peru’s central Amazon. “She had been beaten, dragged from her house. They took her about 40 metres and threw her in a gully. They then dragged her further, hitting her on the head with a stone.”

Police are nonetheless investigating the circumstances, however her demise gives but extra proof of the precariousness of indigenous land claims, and the usually deadly penalties of making an attempt to assert them.

Indigenous Amazonians say police and prosecutors are failing to observe up their warnings, and are permitting killers to function with impunity. In complete, 9 environmental campaigners have been killed in Peru because the begin of the pandemic, however there was no homicide conviction in any case.

Meléndez’s alleged killer was arrested however launched on bail on a manslaughter cost after judges and prosecutors accepted his plea that his gun had gone off by chance.

“For the state, we don’t exist,” mentioned Berlín Diques, a local chief in Ucayali. “We are constantly harassed and threatened,” he mentioned.





Berlín Diques, president of ORAU, the branch of Peru’s umbrella federation of Amazonp peoples in Ucayali.



Berlín Diques, president of Orau, the department of Peru’s umbrella federation of Amazon peoples in Ucayali. Photograph: Hugo Alejos

“We’ve lost trust in the prosecutor’s office and the police,” mentioned Odicio, who acquired police safety for a couple of days final yr however now has none.

Álvaro Másquez, a lawyer specialising in indigenous rights at Lima’s Legal Defence Institute, mentioned the scales are tipped in favour of outsiders searching for to purchase land in indigenous territories. For the ancestral inhabitants, nevertheless, buying a land title can take decades.

“It’s common practice for drug traffickers, land traffickers and illegal loggers to end up bribing the officials who authorise forestry or agricultural concessions and land titles,” mentioned Másquez.

At the identical time, “structural racism in the judiciary and prosecutor’s office” means impunity is the norm for land grabbers, he mentioned.

The territorial insecurity of indigenous folks has made them simple targets for drug traffickers who use “established organised crime networks” to exploit their weak spot, mentioned Vladimir Pinto from Amazon Watch, which works to defend the rainforest and indigenous folks’s rights.

As coronavirus restrictions ease in Peru, coca eradication – which dropped from a mean of 25,000 hectares (61,000 acres) of coca a yr pre-pandemic to about 6,000 hectares in 2020 – has simply resumed in Cacataibo indigenous territory.

This worries Diques, who expects there will probably be reprisals by drug gangs. “The cannon fodder will be us indigenous [people],” he mentioned. “The authorities leave and we will be blamed. We don’t want to cry over more deaths.”



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