Saweto’s daughter fights for justice in the Peruvian Amazon

On Sunday, August 31, 2014 – the last time Diana saw her father – he was on his way to the indigenous community of Apiwxta, near the Brazilian border, to meet with other leaders who had allied themselves with Saweto’s fight against illegal timber trafficking. Before starting that trip, he made a brief stop at his daughter’s house to pick up a pair of propellers he needed for his little boy, a small boat named as such because of its noisy engine.

At that meeting, Diana gave him a bottle of masato – a fermented yucca-based drink that is traditional in the Amazon region – being certain she would see him again on Friday of the following week, at the very latest. That morning, she remembers he looked anxious about the meeting. And, shortly before saying goodbye, he said something that would stay with her throughout the day: “If anything happens to me along the way, you’ll be in charge of taking care of your mom and your little brothers and sisters, and continuing the fight,” he said.

Ríos Pérez’s death not only widowed Diana’s mother, Ergilia Rengifo López, but also left nine siblings without the head of their household. One of them was barely a month old. So, Diana – the eldest – had to take on a new role: that of becoming a leader to find justice for the murders and to persist in the defense of antamiki (the Amazon forest).

Asheninka resistance

Saweto is a Peruvian indigenous community located near the Brazilian border. To get there, one must travel by boat for a week from Pucallpa, the capital of the Ucayali region. Within its territory, which extends across 77,000 hectares of deeded land recognized by the State, there are trees whose wood commands a high price on the market: cedar, mahogany and shihuahuaco, the latter being threatened by indiscriminate logging.

The presence of illegal loggers is not unusual in region’s forests, and Diana’s father and the three community leaders who were killed with him – Edwin Chota Valera, Leoncio Quintísima and Francisco Pinedo – had been threatened previously on a number of occasions.

Since his death, Diana has been forced to deal with successive delays in the search for those responsible and with evasiveness on the part of the authorities who are in charge of the investigation. This had happened already in the past, with the complaints filed by Edwin Chota Valera, a former Asheninka chief in the community. Six years earlier, Chota had begun a legal battle to demand an investigation into the presence of illegal loggers in the forests of Saweto. And, although the authorities knew the community was being harassed by loggers, the inquiries by the Ucayali Environmental Prosecutor’s Office did not begin until the crime became known.

The investigation by the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office was analyzed in Saweto: The Violence of Impunity in the Amazon, a report by OjoPúblico, which revealed a chain of irregularities and efforts to dismiss the information presented by local leaders to support the complaint; namely, photographs of those involved in unlawful logging and the coordinates of where they were operating illegally. Moreover, for four years, that office ignored the testimony of a witness regarding the identity of the person who masterminded the crime and the identities of those who carried it out.


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