Environmental defender and local community activist José Napoleon Tarrillo (also known by the nickname of Napo) was killed on 30 December; four men entered his home, tortured and killed him in an action believed to be linked to his efforts to defend the land of the Chaparrí Ecological Reserve, in Lambayeque. He had recently been elected as teniente gobernador of El Mirador village, where the reserve is located. The land there has been cleared to make way for sowing crops. The reserve is home to one of the largest populations of spectacled bears in South America.

According to an article published in The Guardian, the leader’s wife, Flor Vallejos, “told police he was bound by his hands and feet, beaten with a stick and strangled with an electric cable. She was covered in a blanket and forced to listen to her husband’s screams while his attackers told him they had been paid to kill him”.

Land prices in the area have increased substantially since 2012 when plans for two reservoirs were announced. The project is currently on hold but, according to wildlife photographer Heinz Plenge, “mafias are trying to grab hold of as much communal land as possible and take over peasant communities which can be easily bought off”. He adds “these lands are bought up by small operators, but behind them are politicians and very powerful businessmen.”

Threats and killings against environmental defenders appear to be on the increase. They show the vulnerability of those who defend their land and the risks they run by doing so. The state does nothing to provide protection and guarantees for their safety, not least in tackling the impunity enjoyed by those who perpetrate such killings. In September 2017, readers may recall, six Shipibo leaders were killed in Ucayali in an incident related to a conflict over land trafficking.

Readers can also read a press statement from Cooperacción on the matter.