After nine years of struggle and, in some cases, violent conflict with coca growers and illegal loggers, the native Shipibo-Conibo communities of Nueva Saposoa and Patria Nueva were granted land title expansions that now reach the border of the 1.4 million hectare Sierra del Divisor National Park. The land title expansions have been vehemently opposed by agriculture interests, many of whom are documented to have illegally cultivated coca and burned hundreds of hectares of forest.
Robert Guerra, the president of Patria Nueva, arrived in the capital of Ucayali on March 22nd, to collect the land title expansion. “This means so much to my community,” he said. “The people of Patria Nueva have suffered a lot for this title, and have even died in this struggle.” Eliceo Picón of Patria Nueva was assassinated in 2012 by coca growers that he was confronting. Nobody has been investigated or prosecuted for this crime, adding to the dozens of environmental activists that have been murdered with impunity in Peru during the past decade.
The land title expansions for these communities seal up the buffer zone of the southern border of the Sierra Del Divisor buffer zone, which community forest monitors have been actively protecting for two years, recently using the Peruvian Ministry of Environment’s state of the art satellite detection system to detect new deforestation. The community monitors who work with Peruvian National Parks Service (SERNANP), use smart phone mapping systems and small drones to locate hidden coca fields and measure rampant illegal deforestation carried out by agriculturalists illegally occupying their territory. Using this monitoring system with the support and training of the Rainforest Foundation US, the two Shipibo-Conibo communities and SERNANP were able to document dozens of coca fields and recently burned rainforest.
The occupying agriculturalists formed an association called ‘Eden’ which actively opposed the land title expansion, and began threatening community leaders after their monitoring efforts led to an investigation by the regional environmental prosecutor, Dr. Jose Guzman, of illegal coca cultivation and forest burning in a protected area buffer zone in February of this year. Both communities are insisting that the members of Eden and other occupiers of their territory leave their ancestral forests. Guerra, testifying before the criminal prosecutor’s office, said that he been told by one of the leaders of Eden on March 6th that “your blood will spill before we leave.”Since being granted their titling 3,509-hectare and 6,283-hectare land titling expansions in this year, Nueva Saposoa and Patria Nueva have been planning to remove the occupiers and reforest the hundreds of hectares that have been burned, logged and converted to coca and other agriculture. On March 24th, the assemblies from both communities, newly empowered by their land title, declared that they will confront the occupiers and insist that they leave their territory. “The land title gives us legal recognition of our territory, and now we want to reclaim it and turn it back into forest because we are the protectors of the Sierra Divisor National Park,” said Teofilo Magpi, the president of Nueva Saposoa, adding “We need support from the government because they don’t want to leave and we are afraid that they will be violent.”
Conflicts and deforestation from land invasions and coca production have intensified in Ucayali over the past three years, where vulnerable indigenous communities frequently find themselves in dangerous situations without government support. Thousands of migrants from other provinces, often associated with illegal logging and drug trafficking networks, have been pouring into the region to take advantage of remote forests and lack of effective law enforcement.