Conversations between friends two months after his assassination for defending the forests and territories of the Ashaninka people in the Peruvian Amazon.
On September 1, the illegal logging mafia allegedly killed four Ashaninka indigenous leaders of the native community Alto Tamaya–Saweto, on the border with Brazil, in the Ucayali region of the Peruvian Amazon. Among them was the head of the community, Edwin Chota Valera, who was 53 years old at the time of his death. Edwin was a tireless advocate for the rights of his people, who for years fought against illegal logging and for the legal recognition of the community’s territory. The tragic news of these murders has made numerous national and international headlines, turning the eyes of the world toward the institutionalized indifference and lawlessness that facilitates the unpunished plundering of natural resources and the violations of indigenous rights in the Amazon, especially severe on the national borders.
The following is a transcript of pieces from a series of conversations that I had with Cecilia Vasquez Brito remembering a friend we had in common: Edwin Chota. Cecilia is a leader of the Shipibo people and the founder and president of the Coordination for Development of Amazonian Indigenous Women – CODEMIA.
“I met brother Edwin Chota Valera in 2002, when he was president of ACONAMAC (the Association of Ashaninka Native Communities of Masisea and Callería), an indigenous federation created as an initiative designed to support the development and the rights of Ashaninka communities in these sectors.”
The last time they saw each other, and the threats…
“The last time I saw him was on August 13thof this year. He told me that he had been in Lima, at a conference with the PCM (the President’s Cabinet), where he outlined [his community’s] problems. Because, as he stated, here in Ucayali he had no support from anyone, not from the authorities.
That day when I saw him, he said that illegal loggers have always threatened him throughout his life and that he was indanger. Then I told him to be careful, but he said that the day he dies, if killed, he will die with his head held high, as always, walking in sandals, in his t-shirt; because since he began to lead he has never negotiated with the loggers, he has never sold the people’s wealth, and always would continue to maintain his position, just like when he began to lead.
He said the threats began when he started to complain more frequently, with legal papers in hand. So now they (illegal loggers) began to tremble and started to threaten him, and with that they thought he would stop.
There, he also told me that not only are there problems with illegal logging but there is also a lot of influence from those who grow coca, drug traffickers; and they come from other communities and enter by aircraft, but they do not know where they come from; and that he also raised this issue in Lima. That’s what he also said on the last day I had the opportunity to talk with him.”
The news of his death
“I knew him as a good leader of his people and of society, and as a great friend who accompanied me in difficult times. So upon [hearing] the news, for me it was very difficult to accept, because I felt like I lost a brother. That day I started to remember what brother Chota had lived through. I remember one day [Chota and other leaders] had come to Pucallpa (capital of Ucayali) to make arrangements with the regional government, [and] I found their women collecting discarded bananas in the harbor to cook and eat, because they had spent [all] their money, delayed by the bureaucracy.”
Reflection and message
“Faced with this reality that indigenous peoples have been living, Edwin has given his life. He left us an“Faced with this reality that indigenous peoples have been living, Edwin has given his life. He left usexample of a good leader, a good leader for his people. Edwin Chota always struggled with or without money, rain or shine, humbly, not sold-out, walking around with his worn-out t-shirt and sandals.
As an indigenous woman of the Shipibo people, I have also had my share of struggles against these realities we are living year after year, generation after generation, I want to ask our authorities, our representatives to take action on the matter in order to serve the people that need them, because if they do not take into account the great needs and threats that our people undergo, there will continue to be bloodshed and leave many children orphaned. How is it possible that for defending our own territory they can do this to us?!
I also ask the Peruvian state to work to safeguard our brothers who are caring for us, keeping safe what is ours. May there be no return to bloodshed. I ask this as indigenous women, for all our people.”
These conversations with Cecilia Brito occurred over the course of September and October 2014. In those days, I remembered that sometimes Edwin came to Pucallpa bringing various forest products such as copaiba oil, dragon’s blood sap, honey, etc. to finance travel and accommodation in the city to present and process some of his demands, which were always disregarded by the state.
So, Edwin harvested some non-timber forest products in order to protect the forest itself. We also recalled some anecdotes; like that he passed quickly from anger and despair into good humor and enthusiasm. Perhaps that was part of his emotional strategy to avoid surrender.
Edwin Chota set an example of humility, tenacity, and even an innocent and naive faith in justice. We hope that eventually this will prove to be not so naive. He had to die to bring attention to his demands for justice. Hopefully beyond the media hype and political opportunism it will finally yield the beginning of an effective recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples.
Para mayor información:
Four Peruvian Anti-logging Activists Murdered
Translated from Spanish by Lily Hollister
Originally by Wednesday, 05 November 2014