As leader of the region’s representative organisation (FENAMAD) in 2007, Julio Cusurichi, now 48, won a Goldman Environmental Award for leading a successful campaign to create a legally recognised territory of 8,300 square kilometres for the Mashco Piro, an Amazonian group that lives in isolation, enabling them to opt out of contact with more acculturated groups and colonists.
Having helped set up a network of indigenous forest monitors and defended this reserve when the government gave up, Cusurichi has found protecting territory an increasingly difficult challenge with illegal miners, loggers and drug traffickers presenting an existential threat to the indigenous people of the region.
He has faced death threats in a context in which he says the government has “lost control”. He affirms “that means the loggers and illegal miners can enter wherever they want and destroy, even in territory belonging to the authorities. That’s very worrying for us…”.
His efforts to safeguard indigenous territory are hampered because community representatives inevitably clash with big mining interests that force entry to their land at will. When reported to the authorities, it is usually community members that get the blame rather than the trespasser.
Threats and intimidation are common currency in the region. According to the regional ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) “anyone who opposes illegal mining in Madre de Dios receives threats sooner or later”, including the region’s eleven environmental prosecutors who choose not to keep their families with them in Puerto Maldonado because of the dangers they face.
For Guimo Loaiza, who works for the Defensoría, its main objective in the region is to control land invasions, mining and illegal forest clearance and prosecute those who disregard permissible land use regulations. “Resolving threats is a secondary concern”, he says.