By Paula Bayarte
Puerto Maldonado, Peru, Sep 15 (EFE).- The fight to preserve the Amazon for posterity is a titanic, uphill and mostly thankless struggle and also one that puts rainforest defenders’ very lives at risk.
One front-line warrior in Peru’s portion of that vast wilderness is Victor Zambrano, a prominent environmental activist in that South American country.
In a more than hour-long interview, he spoke with Efe about unpunished murders of his colleagues and countless rainforest protection initiatives that have failed to proper.
Yet he said his love for the enormous natural wealth that surrounds him motivates him to keep going.
“My whole life, since I’ve had the use of reason, my greatest longing has been for my forests and natural resources to be intact and protected,” said Zambrano, chairman of the Management Committee of the Tambopata National Reserve, located in the southeastern Amazon department of Madre de Dios.
But the romanticism that inspires and drives Zambrano stands in contrast to the arduous and perilous reality he confronts on a daily basis in that region, where a score of environmental defenders have been killed since the start of the pandemic alone.
Members of indigenous communities that live in the Amazon and those tasked with managing rainforest concessions are witnessing the ever-growing encroachment of illegal groups engaged in illegal logging or mining as well as drug trafficking.
“There’s a strong sense of impunity,” Tatiana Espinosa, an environmental defender and founder of the non-profit rainforest protection organization Arbio, said from one of the Amazon conservation concessions the government awards to select companies and entities.
“Crimes are committed, and even though they’re reported (to authorities) nothing happens. That makes the situation even worse,” she said.
Zambrano said for his part that the situation is particularly worrying because no clear solutions are in sight.
“We remain exposed despite various complementary actions with regional government entities” and efforts to promote economically sustainable activities.
Alberto Inuma, representative of the indigenous Boca Pariamanu community, recalled that he was threatened in 2017 by knife- and gun-wielding assailants, who warned him during one of his visits to the departmental capital of Puerto Maldonado not to interfere with their Amazon activities.
Standing just a few meters from a colorful mural of the late environmental defender Roberto Pacheco, who was murdered in 2020 while protecting his rainforest concession, Inuma told Efe that his community knew something was wrong when the river that serves as their main source of drinking water starting becoming contaminated.
Realizing that illegal gold miners had invaded their territories, they reported the situation to the authorities. But that only put the community on the radar of criminal gangs that alternatively leveled threats and offered to purchase their land.
Inuma, Zambrano and Espinoza agree there is no easy solution at hand because Peruvian authorities, security forces and members of the justice system are either under threat from or in the pocket of criminal outfits.
Zambrano, who also has been threatened at gunpoint, says a series of governments have sought to promote legislative solutions and programs aimed at reducing illegal activities that threaten both Amazon communities and the region’s biodiversity.
But he said they have all sputtered out one by one because the emergency in the Amazon region is apparently never enough of a priority. EFE