（2014-12-05）Wives of murdered indigenous leaders from the Peruvian Amazon and their supporters held a demonstration and press conference inside the COP 20 United Nations Climate Change Forum, forcing the hand of Peruvian government to respond with promises.
Indigenous women from Saweto, Peru, and their supporters held a demonstration today inside the COP 20, the 20th United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Lima demanding the Peruvian state do something about the murder of indigenous environmentalist leaders.
They are also demanding the government do more to protect the precious Amazon rainforest from legal and illegal loggers and miners.
Two of the women, Julia Suarez and Ergilia Rengifo, are widows of Ashaninka indigenous leaders murdered for mobilizing against illegal wood logging. Another woman, Diana Rios, is the daughter of one of the leaders. Members of an array of Latin American and international organizations also joined the women in their cause.
Four indigenous leaders – Edwin Chota, Jorge Ríos, Francisco Pinedo and Leoncio Quinticima – were murdered on the first of September of this year by wood loggers operating illegally in the indigenous ancestral homeland, which comprises more than 80 hectares of tropical rainforest. These men gave their lives to protect the Peruvian Amazon, which is the main carbon filter in the world and key to the struggle against climate change.
In addition to indigenous people from Peru, activists from the state of Acre in Brazil were also at today’s protest alongside the Bolivian Platform Against Climate Change, the Mesoamerican Campaign for Climate Justice, the International Confederation of Workers, the Pan-African Alliance for Climate Justice, and other international organizations.
Protestors demanded concrete actions to protect indigenous territories and pushed to hold to account the Peruvian government and their public statements during the COP 20.
In particular the women are demanding the government find the murderers of their relatives, as well as return their bodies to the community. They also want legal title to the land to be held by their community, as well as protection from further violence and destruction of the forest. Lastly, they want compensation for the widows and the community for their losses and for their years of abandonment by the government.
Julia Suarez explained that, “Saweto has been fighting for land title of their lands for more than 10 years…Over there, our people suffer from the constant threat of illegal loggers. Our territory in the border suffers from abandonment by the Peruvian state and that has caused deforestation by the loggers as well as grave environmental impact and the violation of the human rights of the indigenous population.”
Ergilia Rengifo, widow of Jorge Ríos said, “I wont be able to care for my children by myself…and the other widows won’t be able to either. [Our husbands] would harvest the land and help us.”
Regarding the effects of development projects, she said “over there, there is a lot of contaminating machinery, it is contaminating the rivers, and we don’t want that. We want to develop and strengthen the community, to live by taking care of the trees. If you kill a tree, that is our life. We live from that tree. The air is fresh over there, not contaminated like here.”
None of the women’s demands have been resolved as of yet, even though Prime Minister Ana Jara has promised them a quick resolution after the murders.
However, with the eyes of the world on Peru during the COP 20, and with dozens of international press agencies in attendance, government officials finally approached the women at the demonstration to hold a meeting.
Diana Rios siad that, “The government is probably afraid of our presence here and now they are making a new promise. If they would have taken care of us before, my dad would be alive.”
The women agreed to the meeting, which was held immediately after the demonstration. After one hour of meeting, government officials promised the women they would reactivate the army post in Putaya, near Soweto, with 20 officials to help protect the area.
They also indicated that a criminal investigation is underway to collect testimonies, and plans to get land title are also moving ahead. Soon after today’s events, the Minister of the Environment made an announcement canceling the permit for investments in an area that included parts of Saweto and confirmed the titles for the community are being processed.
Whether or not the government will follow through with their promises remains to be seen, but the issue continues to draw attention.