Twelve years after the regional government of Ucayali opened the way for the oil palm industry, the Ministry of Agriculture has agreed to cede alternative land to the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya. Far from resolving a legacy of violence, deceit and delay, the community members are intent on securing title to their entire territory.
The traditional territory of Santa Clara de Uchunya extends over 8,000 hectares of primary forest, but to date the most it has ever received by way of official recognition is 218.52 hectares. This was in 1975 and covers just the community centre itself and surrounding household gardens.
Lack of official titling has made the community an easy target for land trafficking. In 2008, the regional government divided the territory into 222 plots which it distributed free to settlers. These then sold them on to Plantations of Pucallpa, owned then by US oil palm entrepreneur Dennis Melka. By 2012, nearly 7,000 hectares of original forest had been felled and converted to monoculture of palm oil.
The ministry’s plan has been five years in the making. By giving land titles for 1,762 hectares, its move provides the first clear indication of official commitment to honour the community’s land rights. Still, with support from IDL and the regional organisation FECONAU, Santa Clara is demanding the return of all its original territory as well as its reforestation.
In the absence of an effective state presence, these former Shipibo lands have become no-go areas of high social conflict in which human rights defenders are seriously exposed. Illegal road building has also led to invasions of the three-million-hectare Forest for Permanent Production (BPP) of the Ucayali, which overlaps Shipibo territory. Under pressure from land trafficking organisations, the regional government has reduced its protection of the BPP, in doing so usurping the authority of the state forestry service SERFOR.