Although the President has changed in Perú, the forest degradation process and the indigenous peoples' situation remains the same or even worse. As was denounced several times in previous issues of this bulletin (1, 8, 34 and 35), the Peruvian Amazon forest is being degraded by activities such as oil prospection and extraction and logging by powerful Malaysian companies. Illegal logging also adds a new menace to the material and cultural survival of the indigenous groups that live in the forest.
This is the case recently denounced by Shinai Serjali, a non-profit volunteer group that works to support the Nahua people in the Peruvian Amazon. From May 2001, 16 logging groups from the town of Sepahua in Ucayali invaded the territory of a recently contacted indigenous group, known as the Nahua (or Yora). The Nahua are currently settled at the confluence of the Mishagua and Serjali rivers, within the Nahua-Kugapakori state reserve, which forms the western border of Manu National Park. The loggers, illegally working on those two rivers, have extracted more than 600,000ft of mahogany and cedar, threatened community members and depleted the wildlife on which Nahua livelihood depends.
Until 1984, the Nahua lived in voluntary isolation in the headwaters of the Manu River in Madre de Dios. Their first direct contact was the result of the illegal activities of loggers from Sepahua working in the Nahua’s ancestral territories. In the year following contact up to half of the Nahua died from respiratory diseases introduced from the outside. Since this time, loggers have intensified their activities in Nahua territory, culminating in the full-scale invasion of this year.
Shinai Serjali has being working with INRENA (the governmental Natural Resources Institute from the Ministry of Agriculture), with AIDESEP (a national NGO working on indigenous peoples issues), the loggers and the Nahua community to ensure the commitment of INRENA to stop the illegal logging and to recognise that the timber legally belongs to the Nahua.
Since the loggers invaded them, the Nahua have had to face intimidation and threats to abduct Nahua women. A delegation from the community travelled for 14 days by balsa raft to Puerto Maldonado and helped by FENAMAD (Native Federation Madre de Dios) sent their denunciation to authorities in Lima. With no response to their protest and the loggers continuing to fell trees, a community delegation travelled to Lima to request responsibility from the authorities.
An official commission visited the community, investigated the illegal extraction, confirmed the denunciation and ordered the immediate installation of two guard posts in the area in order to effectively control and immobilise the illegally extracted timber.
Representatives of the Nahua and the loggers reached an agreement in which the loggers accepted they acted criminally and illegally, they guaranteed not to return to the reserve after this year and agreed that 25% of the revenue from the timber would be used to establish a communal fund for the Nahua.
However, the validity of this agreement is contingent on the community being recognised by INRENA as the legal owners of the wood. On the 22nd November the community presented a legal case to INRENA that uses the law of the reserve and ILO Convention No. 169 on Indigenous Peoples to argue that the illegally extracted wood is lawfully theirs.
Notwithstanding the above, substantial quantities of wood have been taken out of the reserve by several of the loggers and it is thus clear that the agreement is not yet ensuring the adequate control of the remaining timber and to avoid further infringements of the law the government needs to commit the necessary resources to effectively control the illegal timber.