Rainforest clearance by Mennonite settlers threatens indigenous Peruvians

By David Diaz and Susy Diaz Gonzales

Masisea, Peru, Mar 16 (EFE).- A cool morning breeze and the sun’s rays caress the back of Policarpo Sinarahua Taminchi, the 50-year-old leader of the Buenos Aires indigenous community in the eastern Peruvian region of Ucayali.

While walking with some of his companions, he observes the steady increase in deforestation since a group belonging to the Christian Mennonite movement encroached on a portion of their lands five years ago.

A total of 47 families belonging to the Shipibo-Konibo indigenous group now live in Buenos Aires, a remote community that can be reached from the regional capital, Pucallpa, via a long river boat journey to the town of Masisea and then another trip overland on a mototaxi.

The Ucayali’s special environmental prosecutor’s office is currently investigating an association of Mennonite settlers and farmers that is based in that region, a probe that is currently in the preliminary stage, Efe was able to confirm.

The Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), a web portal dedicated to presenting novel technical information and analysis pertaining to that region encompassing parts of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, has confirmed through satellite imagery that the Mennonite settlers have been chopping down rainforest in Ucayali since 2017.

Three Mennonite settlements have been established in the northern region of Loreto and two in Ucayali, according to the MAAP, which says that through last year those Christian settlers had felled 3,400 hectares (13 square miles) of primary forest.

“We’re in a complicated scenario due to the growing deforestation,” Sidney Novoa, the director of technology for conservation at Peru’s Conservacion Amazonica and contributor to the MAAP’s latest report, told Peruvian investigative journalism website OjoPublico.

“But what’s risky about these Mennonite settlements is that they’re located in very remote places, in well-preserved primary forests. And they build roads. They farm. With their road-building, they facilitate the arrival … of more people who put the Amazon at risk,” he said.

As Sinarahua and the other members of his community walk through the forest, they observe signs of the recent presence of the Mennonite settlers.

“The passed through here in the early morning. The footprints are fresh,” the indigenous leader said.

According to the Ucayali special prosecutor’s office, some 2,000 hectares now occupied by the Mennonite settlers in that region were irregularly obtained. Of them, 73 hectares correspond to the territory of the Caimito indigenous community and 800 to the Buenos Aires community.

And half of those 2,000 hectares have been deforested (mainly for the planting of soy and rice crops) without authorization, the prosecutors say.

Caimito, also a Shipibo-Konibo indigenous community, is located on the shores of Lake Imiria and is home to 455 families wary about the encroachment of outsiders.

“They (the Mennonites) are doing away with the forests, medicinal plants, and also with the animals. This can’t go on like this,” Elva Cruz Nunta, a Shipibo inhabitant of that area, told OjoPublico.

The impact of deforestation is seen in the absence of wild animals. As time goes by, the members of the Buenos Aires community must walk much longer distances – up to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), compared 2 km previously – to find food.

Deforestation is of major concern to indigenous communities because it severs their harmonious relationship with the rainforest dating back millennia. It also pollutes the air, degrades the forest and the soil, destroys wildlife habitat and endangers the physical and cultural existence of indigenous peoples.

Berlin Diques, president of the Aidesep Ucayali Regional Organization, which defends collective rights, territory, biodiversity, self-determination and inter-cultural and bilingual education in 15 indigenous communities, says that what is happening in Buenos Aires and Caimito is regrettable.

“Deforestation also causes the loss of inputs for handicrafts, the main economic activity of indigenous women,” he added. EFE


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