In return, Odicio, the elected leader of the Cakataibo people, stopped complaining to authorities about drug traffickers destroying rainforests to make coca fields, processing laboratories, and airstrips. rice field.
Money will make a difference. Many of the estimated 4,000 Cakataibo are out of sight of the world in the lush Peruvian Amazon and live without electricity or running water. They mainly make their living from subsistence farming, hunting and fishing.
Still, Odicio turned it down.
“I couldn’t sleep after that, but I couldn’t betray people,” he says. “I couldn’t live with myself. It wouldn’t bring us any benefit from drug trafficking.”
For the 36-year-old leader of the Cakataibo Community Indigenous Coalition, rejecting the offer in September 2020 was the beginning of a nightmare that continues to this day. Calls, texts his messages, social Outright death threats through his media and, worst of all, death threats handed down by his neighbors have led him to take his family into hiding. He now only returns to Yamino occasionally and is ready to relinquish his leadership role at Cakataibo.
His fears are well-founded. An estimated 20 indigenous leaders, four of them Kakataibo, have been murdered in this frequently lawless area since the coronavirus pandemic began. From the foothills of the Andes to the lowlands of the Amazon.
Ucayari interim governor Ángel Gutierrez said, referring to Peru’s main coca-producing region, “if this continues, drug trafficking will increase and the region will become the second VRAEM.” The VRAEM, the valleys of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro rivers, produce as many leaves as Bolivia.
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The reasons for the spread are complicated. Ricardo Soberon, head of the national anti-narcotics agency Devida, cites increased demand and a slowdown in trade through Peru’s Pacific ports during the pandemic. Moving arable land to the east, closer to the borders of Colombia, Brazil and Bolivia, therefore became a logical option.
Soberon believes the increasing police and military presence in VRAEM may be another factor. The rolling, forested terrain is also home to the last remnants of Shining Path. They are now more focused on protecting drug cartels than the Maoist Revolution. The leader of the group, known as Comrade Jose, Victor Quispe Palomino, was injured in clashes with security forces earlier this month but is on the run in the valley.
But cracking down on cultivation in parts of the Peruvian Amazon, a frontier zone twice the size of California, is often a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, only to proliferate in new areas. Critics warn there is no solution without addressing the underlying economy, including demand in the United States, the world’s largest cocaine market.
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With three harvests a year, coca typically earns between $700 and $1,400 per hectare after deducting labor, pesticides and other costs, and despite the risks associated with illegal trade. Much more profitable than other Amazon crops.
The encroachment of cultivation into Yamino and similar communities is putting additional pressure on indigenous groups in the region, which have already suffered from inequality, cross-cultural change and loss of language. The latest attack on the unique cultures of indigenous groups that have evolved over thousands of years has come under attack since the rubber boom that began in the 19th century, including the Shining Path massacre in the 1980s and 1990s. Illegal logging is rampant these days.
Many indigenous communities here in Ucayali are now surrounded by coca fields, threatening the lives of their leaders. Accompanied by Yamino’s volunteer monitors, The Washington Post saw several coca plantations and the toxic wreckage of a processing laboratory just outside the village of Odicio.
In Brazil, beef is the main cause of deforestation. In Peru, it is believed to be coca. The country is the world’s second largest source of cocaine plants after Colombia.
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According to Devida, cultivation in Ucayali has surged from 1,734 hectares in 2019 to 10,229 hectares in 2021. Meanwhile, the local government’s forest service has discovered 57 secret airstrips carved into the rainforest.
Given the ban, global demand and relatively low returns for cocoa, coffee and other legal crops, Soberon said growth was inevitable.
“What happened to Harlin is directly related to the international price of coffee,” he says. “Its price should take into account that it avoids cocaine, sequesters carbon dioxide, and still has indigenous peoples alive.”
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In theory, threatened defenders of the Peruvian Amazon are protected by a formal security guarantee from the Peruvian state. But Odicio says those guarantees aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Police visit Yamino about once a year, he said, and have not assigned armed officers to protect him.
“I can’t go to the police or the prosecutor’s office because they move so slowly anyway,” he says. “And before they did, rumors circulated that we tipped them off. We’re completely on our own.”
Interim governor Gutierrez, who was appointed after the elected governor was detained in December on allegations of corruption, has admitted the problem.
“Corruption is institutionalized at all levels in Peru,” he says. “That’s the sad reality. That’s why citizens don’t trust the authorities.”
He also mentions that they are understaffed. The Ukayari Police have only a handful of pickup his trucks and speedboats to cover 40,000 square miles of jungle.
“Eradicate, eradicate, eradicate is not the solution,” he says. “Without economic development, it will be very difficult.”
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President Pedro Castillo, a populist left based on the rural poor, including coca producers and indigenous peoples, has been particularly absent on the issue.
The rookie leader, who was the subject of five separate corruption investigations and was barely in power after a disastrous first year, met with an indigenous leader in June but made no promises. .
One of its leaders, Berlin Dikes, president of the ORAU, the main indigenous union in the Ucayari, has been a scathing critic. “I was elated when Castillo was elected,” he says. “People felt that we finally had a president who could help us. But he’s breaking all his promises. He’s just like everyone else.”
The interior ministry, headed by seven ministers since Castillo took office in July 2021, did not respond to a request for comment. A Ministry of Justice spokesman agreed that more support should be provided to indigenous leaders who are being threatened, but said the government was working to “visualize” the problem.
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Yamino’s monitors spend half their time patrolling the village’s 112 square miles of shared forest using drones provided by the Ministry of the Environment. They are also telling coca producers, often landless migrants fleeing deep poverty in the Andes, that they must leave. Some producers are friendly, Monitor says, but others threaten them with machetes and rusty shotguns.
“They know perfectly well they’re on our land,” says 36-year-old César Lopez. Some of them even ask what we are doing here. “
Monitors are careful to avoid armed men guarding fields on behalf of gangs in Peru, Colombia and Brazil who buy coca. From there, it is processed and shipped north to the United States and elsewhere. Growing coca in Peru is legal, but for home use only. Mostly by chewing the dried leaves as a mild stimulant. However, yields now far exceed domestic consumption.
Locals say strange explosions shake the rainforest around Yamino at night, trying to intimidate the community. In the village next to Mariscal Cáceres, in recent weeks, armed strangers blocked the main road to inquire about the location of the Cacataibo leader and, on one occasion, whipped a villager with a pistol.
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Traffickers are now operating in the 580-square-mile sanctuary for the last untouched Kakataibo, according to the Ucayali Forestry Authority, which flew over the area. The reserve was created last year after his 20-year campaign, but is now marred by coca fields and he’s two airstrips.
The Reserve is the starting point of a corridor inhabited by some of the last tribes still living in isolation on Earth. It runs northeast three hundred miles (300 miles) to Javari, a Brazilian reserve. Jabari is where former Washington Post contributor and journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous advocate Bruno Pereira were murdered in his June.
“We can protect our land to a certain extent, but we can’t go there to protect our out-of-contact brothers,” said Cheating Town, a Yamino villager. “They are even more vulnerable than we are, but if we try to help them, it will be a disaster.”
Devida’s chief, Soberon, praises the goals of Colombia’s new left-wing president, Gustavo Petro. Petro wants to start an international debate to end the US-backed war on drugs by decriminalizing and regulating cocaine. But given the opposition to that approach from Washington and elsewhere, Soberon says it’s “a bit utopian.”
Devida, on the other hand, touts premium coffee and cacao that generate more revenue than most coca alternatives. But here, Soberon says the demands in North America and Europe for traceability and certification of these fair trade and organic products are financially impossible for Peruvian small farmers, pushing them back to coca. I warn you that
For Odicio and other indigenous leaders threatened by the rainforest, the policy debate is the least of their worries. “My family could be killed,” he says. “It’s a constant anxiety. They can show up at any time. You just don’t know.”