The Indigenous organisation ORPIO has served the regional government of Loreto and its forestry service with an injunction against any resumption of logging in or close to reserves of peoples living in voluntary isolation. These are among Peru’s most vulnerable populations to infectious diseases.
Since 2016, the regional office of SERFOR has approved at least 41 concessions within the Amazonian region’s most protected territories. Following a pause in operations brought about by Covid-19, regional authorities now intend to take advantage of central government’s reactivation plan to resume extractive activities.
The concessions overlap reserves established in 2003 to protect the fundamental rights of the original population but which have yet to be gazetted owing to opposition from the region’s powerful logging interests. There is ample photographic evidence of the presence of indigenous groups as well as the encroachment of roads and camps within the reserves, and rafts of hardwood logs floating on the waterways.
Typically, indigenous peoples who opt for isolation (there are some 7,000) respond to encroachment on their territories by abandoning their settlements and becoming effectively refugees in their own forest. Occasionally, however, they resist, in which case they are no match for the loggers’ firearms and, if captured and later released, the entire group becomes highly vulnerable to contagion from Covid-19.
There are four logging concessions within the Yavarí Tapiche reserve and a further 37 in Yavarí Marim. 197 additional plots are on offer in Loreto, and at least 25 of these overlap reserves. For this reason, ORPIO, with support from the Defensoría, is calling on the judiciary to annul all concessions post-dating the approval of the Law of Forestry and Fauna in 2011. This law specifically bans concessions within indigenous reserves whether they are already gazetted or still in the process.
ORPIO has also asked the court to suspend Article One of the reactivation decree (DS 080-2020-PCM) that permits forestry activities in the reserves.
In May, a congressional committee approved three key modifications to the 2016 PIACI Law (on Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and Initial Contact) following two years of broad consultation with ministries, the Defensoría, AIDESEP (the national Amazonian indigenous organisation), ORPIO and FENAMAD (the regional organisations in Loreto and Madre de Dios), as well as human and environmental rights organisations such as SPDA and IDL.
These changes address territorial intangibility (i.e. secure possession) and the right to no contact; the introduction of buffer zones as a means of preventing infectious diseases; and the strengthening of the Ministry of Culture to resist competing claims on any lands the PIACI identifies for transit or occupation.
Given unanimous support for these reforms, the chair of the committee expressed confidence in approval by the full Congress, commenting that “this is the first time a law respects international standards on the rights of indigenous peoples in Peru”.
On 3 August 3,, however, FENAMAD, with the support of the region’s member in Congress, appealed to President Martín Vizcarra to dismiss of the ministers of culture and health for their part in condoning the renewal of logging in the territory of the Mashco Piro, an assertive and nomadic group.
On 12 June, the Ministry of Health had approved Consolidated Catahua’s reactivation plan within the Indigenous Reserve of Madre de Dios, despite the fact that the reserve was established in 2016 for the protection of the region’s indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation. The reserve still lacks a confirmatory supreme decree.
With the support of Earth Rights International, FENAMAD has alerted Congress, the Defensoría, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the high risk of conflict between the Mashco Piro and loggers, and the possibility of transmission of Covid-19 to a defenceless population as a consequence.