His melody flowed with intensity through the light drizzle and over the bustling plaza. Improvising in his native language of Shipibo, Wuicler Lopez sang for the protection of his people, culture, and the forest. His passion and potency electrified the small crowd, drawing the attention of by-standers and rousing everyone to march.
“United for a clean planet!” rang the cry as young local and international activists, elders, indigenous community members, NGO representatives and students took to the streets this past Sunday, walking
through the Plaza de Armas in Pucallpa, the capital of the Ucayali region. They came together in solidarity with hundreds of thousands around the world to demand a collective shift in consciousness and viable solutions in the face of climate change.
“The earth is sick and we need to care for her,” said Miguel Romero Carrillo, an adviser on economic development to the Municipality of Coronel Portillo. “Here in Ucayali, much of this revolves around deforestation and illegal logging.” Especially present in the minds of the citizens of Ucayali was the recent assassination on September 1st of four Ashaninka leaders, allegedly by illegal loggers, which has made headlines internationally. Edwin Chota and his associates advocated for the rights of their people, opposing illegal logging in their territory and pursuing legal title to their ancestral lands to bring about justice. These leaders had been receiving death threats for more than a decade which, although reported to the regional authorities, went unheeded.
The tragic deaths of these courageous men are added to the already substantial list of those who have been murdered for courageously placing their love of the forest before their fear of death. According to a recent report by Global Witness, nearly 1000 activists worldwide have lost their lives since 2002 for taking a stand for environmental and social justice. “It’s not just Edwin,” said Lopez over the loud speaker. “He is just the latest in a long line of people that have resisted illegal logging operations and paid the price. Many have died, and almost all these crimes go unpunished to this day. We want justice for them all, and for the Earth.”
Amidst the discussions, demands, and chants, passers-by joined in, including Mariano, an enthusiastic umbrella salesman who did not hesitate to speak his mind. “Why lie?” he exclaimed with a fist in the air, “It’s the mafia that killed Edwin Chota, the illegal logging mafia. But both legal and illegal logging are destroying the lungs of the world!” Carrillo echoed the sentiment, “There is definitely a logging mafia and it needs to be stopped. The authorities and the regional and national governments need to step up and craft a plan to preserve our environment.”
There is plenty of speculation on how realistic that outcome really is, and one of the first students to send their voice over the loud speaker cried out “No to climate change! Yes to systemic change!” This was met with loud cheers from all around. Here in Pucallpa, an estimated 80% of all lumber passing through the mills on the Ucayali’s riverbanks are cut illegally and the city made the front page of the New York Times last summer for rampant corruption contributing to this thriving industry.
Many are beginning to ask how the citizens of the world can act on their own behalf as the co-creators of a resilient future. One sign in particular at the march resonated with the call for grassroots action: “The world can be saved if each person does their part.” Here in the Amazon, on this stark frontier of deforestation, we see seeds of hope sprouting in the form of permaculture and ecological agriculture cooperatives which are uniting to reforest degraded lands and resist the encroachment of destructive industries, such as logging, oil & gas, and palm oil – proactively turning the tide toward regeneration.
Yesterday, in the United Nation’s NY Declaration on Forests, 130 signatories- including nations, corporations, indigenous federations, and NGOs- pledged to halt the destruction of natural forests by 2030. Peru’s National government, as well as five Amazonian departmental sub-governments (including Ucayali), were among those who committed to making this a reality. It is up to all citizens of the world to hold them accountable to this promise.
Written by Lily Hollister and Sydney Morical, first posted Wednesday, 24 September 2014