Risky and sacrificial worker of environmental defenders – 50 defenders acknowledged

June 27, 2017

Award in the Congress of the Republic, last June 7. In all, about 50 men and women and organizations were recognized, including representatives of peasant and indigenous peoples and communities. Photos: CAAAP

Peru is a country where assuming the role of environmental defender can cost from occasional threats to life itself. It is the country of Edwin Chota and three other valiant Asheninkas comrades killed near the border with Brazil by illegal loggers. That happened in 2014 and since then it seems that they understand better the important and risky role they have.

But until a few days ago, within the limits of the own nation, had not paid official homage to his work. The awards always came from outside.

However, the latter changed last Wednesday with the recognition of the Andean Peoples Commission, Amazon and Afroperuanos, Environment and Ecology (CPAAAE), Congress of the Republic, chaired by Congresswoman María Elena Foronda, about 50 Characters and organizations of coast, mountains and jungle.

It is important to take some data into account. The same year that Edwin Chota was killed, the international organization Global Witness revealed that at least 57 environmental and land defenders were killed in Peru from 2002 to that time. That is, 57 deaths in almost 13 years.

The following year, in 2015 , the number of murders of environmental defenders in the country reached 12, according to the same organization. The country was thus placed that year behind Brazil, with 50 deaths, Philippines, with 33, and Colombia, with 26 deaths. Most of these relate to disputes over land rights, mining and logging. In July this year, the figures for 2016 will be announced.

According to the information gathered, almost 40 percent of the victims of 2015 belonged to indigenous groups. That is why during the awards at the Congress were recognized several of its representatives, who thanked the tribute but who also drew attention to the need for actions do not stay in the symbolic.

In one of his speeches, Foronda Farro acknowledged the role played by “heroes and heroines who put their lives at risk in defense of environmental rights, water, territory, air quality, space recovery Public. ”

For his part, Congressman Marco Arana, present at the awards, highlighted the fact that “the rebellion of our peoples to defend Mother Earth, to defend the Amazon forests, our water sources in the Andes of Peru, Possibility of good living on the coast of Peru “.

In this context, “the recognition granted by the Congress of the Republic to representatives and organizations representative of indigenous peoples such as Wrays Pérez, Teresita Antazú, the native Loreto federations, among others,” said Ismael Vega, director of the Amazon Center Of Anthropology and Practical Application (CAAAP), consulted about the event.

“The fight that the indigenous peoples fight for the defense of the environment is one of the most important dimensions of the defense of human rights. That is why it is urgent that Congress and the government approve a comprehensive policy for the protection of human rights defenders, “he added.

He emphasized that several of them, as the prizewinners themselves said from the stand, continue to be harassed, persecuted, unjustly accused, while others are murdered in the framework of the criminalization of the protest.

The appointment extended for several hours and recognized the work of men and women across the country. The words of thanks abounded but also the words of alertness and even of help. We shared some images of what was the award with signs of the problem that each area faces.

Asháninka Leader Ruth Buendía and Congresswoman María Elena Foronda

Ruth Buendía

The year 2014 was awarded the prestigious Goldman Prize for his outstanding work in defense of the Amazon threatened by the construction of a hydroelectric during the government of Alan Garcia. She is currently president of the Asháninka Central of the Ene River (CARE), in the central jungle.

Although some years have passed since that battle, the situation in the area, on the Ene River, remains very difficult due to the presence of, among other dangerous activities, drug trafficking.

“We have denounced the change in land use for planting coca leaves, we have brought the environmental prosecutor’s office to the attention of La Merced but, however, the administration is slow,” he warned.

Nevertheless, he said that the communities will organize and defend their territory and for that he asked for the support of the congressmen present at the ceremony. After being awarded, she, together with Congresswoman Foronda, MP Marco Arana and the bishop of Huancayo, Pedro Barreto, were in charge of delivering the awards.

José Manuyama, of the Iquitos Water Committee

José Manuyama

He is a representative of the Iquitos Water Committee, which groups a group of groups from the city, mainly young people who take to the streets to raise awareness about the importance of natural resources such as water, which today is threatened by phenomena such as climate change And activities such as oil in areas of native communities.

Manuyama, who is a teacher, has been working for some years to defend the forests of the town of Tamshiyacu, which is located an hour from Iquitos. In that zone operates the monoculture company Cacao of Peru North, to which a group of farmers accuses of violently invading their properties.

Manuyama thanked the award, which he received on behalf of “all who fight on the streets for the environment”; Nevertheless, he asked that the actions from the Congress do not remain only in symbolic acts.

“All this symbolism is not enough, it requires more steps. For example, no more laws in favor of companies that destroy nature, which kill people with the disasters they cause, and that Congress is not an accomplice more of these criminal, antihuman and anti-environmental practices. ”

In this regard, with respect to the transnational corporation United Cacao, of which Cacao del Perú Norte is part, accused of deforesting virgin jungle, said that it has had the irregular support of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of the Environment, the Public Ministry And the Judiciary, so, he argued, Congress should investigate all those cited.

Víctor Zambrano, recognized defender of protected natural areas

Víctor Zambrano González

He is chair of the Management Committee of the Tambopata National Reserve, and in 2016 he received the National Geographic Conservation Leadership Award. Her career as a conservationist in the forests of the Madre de Dios region is wide.

“Mother of God is the third largest region of Peru and has a large number of forests, which must be protected. Now we are fighting against the illegal mining rebels, but seeing the more than 50 environmentalists together today fills me with energy, “he said during the ceremony, according to a note by Mongabay .

Native leader Juana Payaba, of Madre de Dios

Juana Payaba Cachique

She was recognized for her fight against the entry of oil companies, illegal logging and damage caused by the contamination of illegal mining, in her community of Tres Islas, in the Madre de Dios region.

It claims the right of indigenous peoples to their own justice system and recalled that they have won legal battles in the ordinary system against invading agents, but the sentences are not enforced. This happens with a mandate of the Constitutional Court that gives them the reason against the invasion of miners and illegal transporters.

At the moment of being recognized, the leader asked for the support of more people in the defense of the Amazon because, given the indifference of the authorities, it has been the community itself that has been forced to flee the illegal miners of their territories.

Rosa Amaro has been fighting for those affected by mining pollution in La Oroya for many years

Rosa Amaro

A veteran activist, she is a representative of the La Oroya Health Movement and demands that the state enforce environmental standards for the benefit of the villagers and the mining workers themselves.

Her role and courage has led her to be the target of verbal aggression. The movement that was integrated was created in 2002 and is made up by the residents of the area who assure that the contamination of lead is by the emission of toxic gases from the metallurgical complex Doe Run.

“Many of our authorities have minimized this issue (pollution) by the very fact that a transnational corporation committed many abuses with us, and the big responsibility lies with the state. Because it is the State that allows the concessions, but, nonetheless, it does not inspect, “he denounced.

Monsignor Pedro Barreto, bishop of Huancayo

Pedro Barreto

Barreto is recognized for having an important role in the battle against pollution in La Oroya by the mining company Doe Run. This struggle has led him to receive threats  from strangers just a few years ago.

Barreto highlighted the multidiversity and pluriculturality of the country, and emphasized the role that the Catholic Church has in favor of the defense of the environment and life in the Amazon and which is expressed in the actions promoted by the Panamanian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) Of which he is vice president.

He also carried the message of the encyclical Laudato Si , also called ‘encyclical green’, of Pope Francisco, who in point two points out, read Barreto, that “we forget that we ourselves are earth” and that “our own body is constituted by the Elements of the planet, its air is the one that gives us breath and its water vivifies and restores us. ”

He also carried the message of the Pope who once said, Barreto recalled: “God forgives and forgets, human people forgive but do not forget, and nature does not forgive and does not forget,” so it is important to act now, he said. He also welcomed the initiative of the Peoples Commission as a first step to “move from partisan politics to a policy that seeks the common good.”

Mirtha Vásquez, outstanding environmental lawyer from Cajamarca

Mirtha Vásquez

In the context of the conflict over the Conga mining project that broke out in Cajamarca in 2012, the lawyer has played a crucial role in the legal defense of environmental defenders in the region. This has cost him threats against her and her family.

She has also been working in the role of defender of the campesina Máxima Acuña, whom the Yanacocha mining company, in charge of Conga, seeks to strip their territories.

Earlier, Vásquez received the award granted to the rural woman of Cajamarca who could not attend the meeting due to health problems and the judicial conflicts generated by the company that forced her not to leave the region.

“I receive this award in the name of all the people that day after day in Cajamarca, in particular, have offered their lives, been wounded, criminalized, persecuted to this day, and every day their lives. Not only for defending the interests of Cajamarca but the interests of the whole world, “said the lawyer.

“The fight for the environment is a struggle for life,” he said.

Wrays Pérez, President of the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation (GTANW)

Wrays Pérez Ramírez

He received the homage on behalf of the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation (GTANW), for the outstanding role it has been playing in the defense of the environment.

Among the actions carried out by this autonomous government is the constant defense of its rivers, which in recent years have been damaged by illegal mining, mainly promoted by external agents.

It also highlights its position in relation to the oil activity that threatens its territories.

The GTANW was formed in November 2015 at an assembly in the native community of Soledad, covering more than 1.3 million hectares in the Santiago and Morona river basins, in the Amazon and Loreto regions, in the northern jungle of the country .

Melchora Groove of Espinar, Cusco

Melchora Groove

He has had an outstanding work in the search of the truth about the contamination by minerals in the province of Espinar in Cusco, where he operates the great mining.

The case has been exposed by itself in international spaces such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington.

“(The 2012 conflict in Espinar) has left 3 dead, 30 injured, 50 denounced for defending our water, our soil. They are the damages caused by mining companies, but they have the support of the state, “said Melchora.

“We have seen poisoned with 17 heavy metals, and we want to live healthy and dignified,” he claimed. She asked that those affected by mining, like her, have social insurance, be compensated and have life insurance. And that the mining projects also consult the affected local population.

Teresita Antazú, leader of the Yanesha people

Union of Asháninkas and Yáneshas Nationalities (Unay)

She received recognition from her representative, Teresita Antazú, who has a recognized track record as promoter of the indigenous women’s human rights agenda. Following the events of Bagua in June 2009, she was charged with the offenses of apology, rebellion and riot solely for participating in a press conference. A year ago she was released from these accusations.

A little more than a month ago, she participated in the Women’s Tribunal, which was formed within the framework of the VIII Pan-American Social Forum (FOSPA), where she shared space with other experts from other countries.

“Receive the greeting from my people Yanesha and part of our nature, because we defend the earth, Mother Earth, from our brothers the trees, the animals that are in the forest, because we depend on them. Our nature is ours, but if we do not fight it we are being taken away, “said Teresita at the time of her intervention.

At another time, he took advantage of the space to denounce that in Huanuco, a community called New Austria, his title has been annulled for, he said, “interests of loggers and miners” who want to operate in the area. It is a Yanesha and Ashaninka community. She asked for the support of the congressmen.

Ismael Vega, director of CAAAP, and Wrays Pérez, president of GTANW, after the award.

As mentioned at the outset, around 50 characters and organizations were rewarded. Reviewing the ones exposed by them all does not fit into a single note. We mentioned the name of several of them below: Comuneros de Seccetunas in Huancavelica, affected by the mining company Doe Run; Ricardo Jeri, president of the Committee of Coastal Peoples of Chimbote; Virginia Paredes, from Cotabambas in Apurimac.

Also Saúl Juárez, extrabajador of miner Antamina and whom he accuses of causing irreparable damage to his health; Carlos Alfredo Bocanegra, environmentalist from Trujillo; Yolanda Flores, defender of the Aymara people in Puno; Lourdes Leyva, environmentalist from Paramonga on the Peruvian coast; Federations of the so-called five basins of Loreto.

Likewise, the federations of the basins of the rivers Pastaza, Corrientes, Tigre and Marañón, also in Loreto; Organization Aidesep de Ucayali ORAU; SERNAMP Single Workers’ Union; National Coordinator of Defense of Water and Life (CONAGUAPERÚ), Union of Fishermen of Chimbote; Organization Green Coast of All, of Lima; Association of Worm Workers 1 de Mayo, in Lima.

Others were also the Neighborhood Committee Manhattan Park Comas, in Lima; Human Settlement Santa Inés de Chaclacayo, in Lima; United Committees of Carabayllo in Lima; Lomas de Primavera Ecological Association, Carabayllo; Radio Marañón; among others.