World / Crime & Legal

Peru charges illegal loggers in Amazon deaths for first time

AP

Authorities in Peru have charged five men in the timber industry with the 2014 murders of four indigenous activists who had battled illegal logging in the Amazon jungle.

Two timber executives and three loggers have been charged with the shooting deaths of the activists, said prosecutor Otoniel Jara, who works in the remote Ucayali region, on Wednesday.

Environmentalists say the case is unprecedented in Peru, where years of illegal logging and occasional attacks on its opponents have often been met with an ineffectual response from authorities.

“We hope that the legacy of the victims of this massacre can lead to justice,” said Tom Bewick of Rainforest Foundation U.S., a group that funded efforts to bring the alleged killers to justice.

Bewick said he hoped the case will “set an example for other indigenous environmental defenders across the world.”

The indigenous group’s leader, Edwin Chota, along with Jorge Rios Perez, Leoncio Quinticima and Francisco Pinedo, were found dead on Sept. 1, 2014.

The men were killed with shotgun blasts in the Upper Tamaya-Saweto Ashaninka indigenous territory along Peru’s border with Brazil.

The activists had defended the forests, traveling by canoe for three days to the regional capital city, Pucallpa, to file complaints and urge forestry officials to take action. They urged prosecutors to stop illegal logging, presenting photos and sketches they had made of destruction they found.

Prosecutors say the five suspects could face up to 35 years in prison if convicted. Timber executives Jose Estrada and Hugo Soria are accused of ordering the killings, which were allegedly carried out by loggers Eurico Mapes, Josimar Atachi and Segundo Atachi.

The accused remain free and are believed to be living in the remote jungles of Peru.

Jara said prosecutors who were assigned to the case before him had abandoned it.

Jara said the three loggers had been in the area where the bodies were found, and the two businessmen had lost revenue after the activists accused them of illegal logging.

On one occasion, one of the timber executives, Estrada, allegedly said of Chota: “I’ll pay whatever. … I want his head.”

The bodies of Chota and Quintisima were found; those of Rios and Pinedo are still missing.

Global Witness, an organization that investigates corruption and environmental abuse, has said 164 environmentalists were killed worldwide in 2018. About half were killed in Latin American nations, including Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Guatemala.

Mauro Pio, an indigenous environmental leader who sought to protect Peru’s Amazon region, was shot dead in 2013. No suspects have been charged.

Relatives of the four Peruvian activists killed in 2014 say the jungle territory of their community remains vulnerable. But they welcomed the charges, hoping the move signals a shift toward more robust protection for indigenous groups.

“This is good,” said Ashaninka Diana Rios, daughter of Jorge Rios. “This is not going to be filed away and forgotten.”

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