Indigenous peoples in Ucayali and San Martin suffer new waves of land-grabbing

14 July 2019

Faced with a surge of settlers along penetration roads into Amazonia, regional governments are resorting to increasingly desperate measures to free up land for the newcomers as well as to accommodate the expanding commercial plantations that the migrants aspire to work for.

In common with Amazonia’s long-standing timber extraction industries these new commercial ventures potentially provide fresh opportunities for illicit gain. In December 2018, for example, police broke up a land trafficking ring in the agriculture ministry’s regional office in Ucayali, the body responsible for issuing land titles there. 

While the Ucayali regional government has made some progress in meeting its obligation to title indigenous communities in recent years, the prime motive appears to be to open up what remains of the forest to commercial plantations. As the Forest Peoples Programme disclosed last week, the regional authorities have launched an initiative to remove protection on up to 3.5 million hectares of forest, including at least 100,000 hectares of indigenous lands. 

In response, the Shipibo organisation FECONAU is seeking to extend its 2018 appeal to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Also, the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya is appealing to the high court for restitution of 7,000 hectares of its land annexed progressively by a palm oil plantation set up by Dennis Melka in 2012. In both cases IDL (Instituto de Defensa Legal) and the CNDH (Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos) are supporting FECONAU.

In San Martín, settlers have taken the law into their hands by invading the Awajún community of Shimpiyacu. They have set up an armed group to defend their land grab, appropriating (wrongly) the format of the ronda campesina, which were self-defence forces created originally by mainly Andean communities threatened by cattle rustling and then terrorism.

The regional authorities in San Martín have offered no support whatever to the people of Shimpiyacu. Last week a peaceful Awajún delegation was fired upon, leaving a woman injured.

Without timely and effective intervention by both regional and central governments such cases are likely to multiply.

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