The Ministry of Agriculture’s environmental unit has rejected the environmental management plan presented by the palm oil plantation company Ocho Sur P (formerly Plantaciones de Pucallpa), placing the company’s continued operation in jeopardy. This is good news for people living in Ucayali, specifically in the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya.

We have previously reported on the legal problems generated by two palm oil plantations created by the now infamous US and formerly Czech entrepreneur Dennis Melka in Loreto and Ucayali regions. Both companies established their plantations without the required legal permits and through deforestation of primary forest on public lands and the traditional territories of indigenous communities. This was a strategy described by the Legal Defence Institute (IDL) as “destroy the forest first and request permission from the state afterwards”.

The plantations were established between 2013 and 2017. This was a time when pressure from local and national environmental activists and indigenous communities and their international allies obliged the Peruvian authorities to begin investigating these companies’ activities. Investigations led to the prosecution and conviction of company executives and regional government officials, although company executives are still appealing court decisions.

In response to these legal difficulties, the company reorganised as Ocho Sur P and presented an environmental management plan to the Ministry of Agriculture in February 2017 in the hope that its environmentally destructive actions would be forgiven and forgotten. However, it was rejected in January of this year and again on appeal this month. This last decision is definitive.

The Ministry of Agriculture has now informed a number of other government agencies of its decision, including the environmental monitoring and evaluation agency (OEFA), the agency responsible for supervising forests and wildlife (OSINFOR), the national forest and wildlife service (SERFOR), the Ucayali regional government and the Comptroller-General in the expectation that these authorities will begin proceedings to sanction the company and demand reparation for those affected by its illegal operations.

This is certainly good news for the people of Santa Clara de Uchunya indigenous community, which has been engaged in a long battle to recover untitled traditional territories illegally occupied by the Ocho Sur P. The community should now be able to complete the process of obtaining legal title to its territory. Though the wheels of justice in Peru grind exceedingly slowly and not always with just outcomes, in this case there may be cause for celebration.