Saweto’s daughter persists in her fight for justice

Diana Ríos Rengifo took on the defense of the Peruvian Amazon after the murder of her father, a well-known Asheninka leader in the fight against illegal loggers. The trees in Saweto, a community located near the Peruvian border with Brazil, are highly coveted on the market and are threatened by indiscriminate logging.

In addition to forests, winding rivers and species that science has yet to discover, the Peruvian Amazon is also home to the meiri, squirrel whose tail seems to replicate in the hairstyle of Asheninka indigenous girls. For Jorge Ríos Pérez – a leader who was killed along with three others by illegal loggers on September 1, 2014 – the resemblance was undeniable: every time he saw his eldest daughter he thought of that elusive little animal, which is why he began to call her Meiri when she was a child.

Accepting the death of a parent is painful, and to do so without a body to mourn is even worse. Six years after the murder of Rios Perez, the authorities have yet to search for his remains. And, today, although he does not physically accompany her, Diana Ríos Rengifo feels her father is still out there, in nature, the place where he taught her to stand up and fight.

“He is in the forest. The forest is life and, thanks to it, I am alive,” she says.

Ríos Rengifo is a reserved woman who divides her time between raising her children and defending the land. “Sometimes, I wish there were more than 40 Dianas who struggle, who propose things, and who get it all done,” she says, emphasizing her last words.

Six years after her father was murdered, she is determined to support any indigenous community that begins the process of securing deeds to its land or seeks to expand the areas recognized by the Peruvian state.  It is a struggle Ríos Pérez entrusted to her shortly before his death.

JUSTICE. For six years, Diana Rios and her mother, Ergilia Rengifo, have been waiting for those who murdered Jorge Ríos Perez and three other Saweto leaders to be sentenced. Credit: OjoPúblico / Geraldine Santos.

On Sunday, August 31, 2014 – the last time Diana saw her father – he was on his way to the indigenous community of Apiwxta, near the Brazilian border, to meet with other leaders who had allied themselves with Saweto’s fight against illegal timber trafficking. Before starting that trip, he made a brief stop at his daughter’s house to pick up a pair of propellers he needed for his little boy, a small boat named as such because of its noisy engine.

At that meeting, Diana gave him a bottle of masato – a fermented yucca-based drink that is traditional in the Amazon region – being certain she would see him again on Friday of the following week, at the very latest. That morning, she remembers he looked anxious about the meeting. And, shortly before saying goodbye, he said something that would stay with her throughout the day: “If anything happens to me along the way, you’ll be in charge of taking care of your mom and your little brothers and sisters, and continuing the fight,” he said.

Ríos Pérez’s death not only widowed Diana’s mother, Ergilia Rengifo López, but also left nine siblings without the head of their household. One of them was barely a month old. So, Diana – the eldest – had to take on a new role: that of becoming a leader to find justice for the murders and to persist in the defense of antamiki (the Amazon forest).

Asheninka Resistance 

Saweto is a Peruvian indigenous community located near the Brazilian border. To get there, one must travel by boat for a week from Pucallpa, the capital of the Ucayali region. Within its territory, which extends across 77,000 hectares of deeded land recognized by the State, there are trees whose wood commands a high price on the market: cedar, mahogany and shihuahuaco, the latter being threatened by indiscriminate logging.

The presence of illegal loggers is not unusual in region’s forests, and Diana’s father and the three community leaders who were killed with him – Edwin Chota Valera, Leoncio Quintísima and Francisco Pinedo – had been threatened previously on a number of occasions.

Since his death, Diana has been forced to deal with successive delays in the search for those responsible and with evasiveness on the part of the authorities who are in charge of the investigation. This had happened already in the past, with the complaints filed by Edwin Chota Valera, a former Asheninka chief in the community. Six years earlier, Chota had begun a legal battle to demand an investigation into the presence of illegal loggers in the forests of Saweto. And, although the authorities knew the community was being harassed by loggers, the inquiries by the Ucayali Environmental Prosecutor’s Office did not begin until the crime became known.

The investigation by the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office was analyzed in Saweto: The Violence of Impunity in the Amazon, a report by OjoPúblico, which revealed a chain of irregularities and efforts to dismiss the information presented by local leaders to support the complaint; namely, photographs of those involved in unlawful logging and the coordinates of where they were operating illegally.  Moreover, for four years, that office ignored the testimony of a witness regarding the identity of the person who masterminded the crime and the identities of those who carried it out.

VICTIMS. According to the Asheninka worldview, the leaders killed today represent four warriors who died defending their land. Illustration: Enrique Casanto Shingari.

Along with these problems, the task of representing the case before the media and international organizations fell to Diana. She was only 22 years old. That responsibility led her to travel outside Saweto for the first time, in November 2014. She left her community of 30 families and traveled more than 3,000 miles to New York City, a cosmopolitan American metropolis of more than 8.6 million people. The reason for the trip was to receive an award presented by the Alexander Soros Foundation to commemorate the Asheninka who have fallen in the fight against illegal logging.

Those were days of sudden changes for Diana. From a routine in a small community without basic services, she moved on to interact with news agencies and civil-society organizations in a city with inhabitants of different nationalities and cultures.

Robert Guimaraes, then leader of the Federation of the Native Communities of Ucayali and its Tributaries (Feconau) and the only Peruvian who accompanied her on that journey, recalls the culture shock: “She was surprised to be in a city this big and with such high buildings. She was attracted to modern things. But she was always sad because the events [murders] were recent.”

Guimaraes also remembers a moment during the ceremony when he believes Rengifo became convinced that she should continue to defend the Amazon region. “She broke down when they showed us a video on Saweto’s struggle. When pictures of Edwin Chota and his community were passed around, her eyes filled with tears. But I think she knew her struggle had to continue, and that gave her strength,” he says.

The Burden of Being a Leader 

Representing a community threatened by illegal logging is not easy, and even less so when it comes to a sudden legacy. For Margoth Quispe, a friend of Diana’s and a lawyer who is accompanying the Saweto case, Rios’ successor needed a break from mourning, but the opposite happened: Diana, along with the widows of those where killed, began to suffer a degree of exposure in the press that overwhelmed them.  Quispe says Diana did not show her discomfort in a categorical way, but you could see it in her short statements to reporters.

“She was not prepared for it. She needed to understand what had happened and what was going to happen to her and her family. She didn’t have time to pause and say, ‘I’m going to do this or that from now on.’ The pressure was intense,” says Quispe, who also witnessed Diana’s initiation to the cause at meetings to define strategies for securing deeds to the community’s land, something that was achieved almost a year after the multiple murders were committed.

LEADER. Today, Diana Ríos lives with her sons, brothers and mother on the outskirts of Pucallpa, the capital of the Department of Ucayali. She still awaits justice for the murder of her father. Photo: Diana Ríos’ personal file.

Progress like that helped Diana to persist in her defense of the Amazon region. After a decade of active participation in Saweto, she has become a reference in the environmental and indigenous struggle. That commitment, however, has not sidelined her search for justice or the need to one day find her father’s remains.

In the indictment against Eurico Mapes, José Carlos Estrada, Hugo Soria and the brothers Segundo and Josimar Atachi Félix, the alleged killers of the Asheninka leaders, it was suggested that the skeletal remains of the unidentified victims be found and identified; specifically, those of Diana’s father and Francisco Pinedo Ramírez. The process, however, is being held up due to lack of a response from the Ucayali branch of the judiciary.

This uncertainty led Diana to believe for a long time that her father had not died. “I found his sweater, his backpack, but not him. So, for me, it was as if he were alive,” she says in a broken voice.
However, in 2018, she performed a ritual with ayahuasca – a traditional Amazonian drink with hallucinogenic effects – as part of her mourning process. “I wanted to do a session, to see inside myself [and to check] if my father was alive or dead. For me, he was alive at every moment. But, when I took [ayahuasca], I saw what they did to him that day. Yes, it was him,” she says.

New Coexistence

Today, if Diana represents Saweto’s face to the world, her mother does the same within the community. Ergilia Rengifo López works on the town council, through which she organizes and coordinates social programs. At the beginning of 2020, Diana and her mother decided to move to the outskirts of Pucallpa to accompany the judicial process from the capital of Ucayali, but they are still in contact with local leaders to stay informed about what is happening in Saweto on a daily basis.

In this new coexistence with her large family – made up of her mother, siblings and children – Diana has not lost the opportunity to teach the youngest members of her household the significance of their culture. In Asheninka, she explains to them the importance of defending the Amazon, perhaps in the hope they will follow in her footsteps and help to realize her wish for “40 Dianas”.

ASHÉNINKAS. Representation of Alto Tamaya Saweto, a Peruvian community located on the border with Brazil. Ilustration: Enrique Casanto Shingari.

“I [want] them to understand a little tree is like a child, that you plant it and take care of it. If we don’t and we wrongly exploit that tree, it will die; and, it is as if a child were dying,” she says, imitating the teacher who was her father.

In the midst of the pandemic that paralyzed the entire apparatus of the government, Diana awaits the resumption of the judicial process far from Saweto, but with the hope of returning. There is no exact date for her return, nor for the start of the judicial hearing in Ucayali against those accused of the murders. On August 21, it was postponed for the fifth time.

Meanwhile, as part of her most urgent activities, Diana took quick tests and medicine to the indigenous communities bordering Saweto – San Miguel de Chambira, Putaya and Tomajau – that are combatting Covid-19. In Ucayali, the region where these and other indigenous communities are located, there are already more than 15,000 positive cases.

While flying over the area in a small plane, the Asheninka leader felt mixed emotions. Seeing the forest again brought back memories of her childhood. But, at the same time, she thought about the murder of her father.

“I was born in that forest and grew up around it. It’s up to everyone to understand, but for me it means a lot,” she said one night in August, while monitoring on her cell phone the latest emergencies of the day in Saweto.


Este artículo forma parte de #DefenderSinMiedo: historias de defensores ambientales en tiempos de pandemia, una serie periodística coordinada por Agenda Propia, y en la que participa OjoPublico junto a otros veinte periodistas, editores y medios de América Latina. Con el apoyo de Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

Export of palm oil does not guarantee full use of deforestation-free inputs

Since 2013, palm exports in Peru increased in 94%. The boom has gone hand in hand with social conflicts in agricultural areas, complains for deforestation in the Amazon region, and land trafficking. The Romero Group concentrates most of the industry, but still cannot guarantee the total use of palm in its supply chain which does not come from destroyed forests. Their company plans state that they will only be able to do so after 2025. The main export destinations during these years have been Colombia, Chile and Ecuador.

Soap, necessary to deal with the current Covid-19 pandemic, is largely made with palm oil. It is a silent ingredient in many products we use daily: from vegetable oils, cookies and detergents, to milk, bread, chocolates, and cosmetics. Their components include some of this input or its derivatives. The growing global demand for this product, which is rooted in social conflicts and deforestation, has forced many companies, such as the transnationals Nestlé, PepsiCo, Kellogg or Procter & Gamble, to adopt standards in their processes that guarantee that the oil used does not come from palm cultivated in destroyed forests.

These standards are based on environmental criteria developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which must be met by its more than 4,000 members, including seven Peruvian companies. Annual reports to RSPO show that none can still guarantee the sustainable use of palm in 100% of their supply chain. Not even the companies in the Romero Group that have exported more than two-thirds of refined oil and crude oil (69%).

If we separate the products, the Romero Group has an almost full monopoly of exports of refined oil (98%), and controls just over half of the foreign trade of crude oil (58%). This industry does not have much time in operation. Eight years ago there were no exports, but in the past seven years, 346 thousand tons (US$ 253 million) of crude and refined palm oil have been exported nationally.

According to figures from the National Superintendency of Customs and Tax Administration (SUNAT), in seven years (2013-2019), the Romero Group exported palm oil through four companies: Industrias del Espino SA (the largest exporter in the country with 39.5%, a value of US$ 100.2 million); Alicorp SA (25.7% or US$ 66.2 million); R Trading SA (3.5% or US$ 6.5 million) and Sociedad Industrial Yurimaguas SAC (today Industrias del Shanusi SA, with 1.7% or US$ 3 million).

However, the buoyant business of the country’s largest oil palm exporter is overshadowed by official investigations linked to deforestation and irregular environmental certifications.

This is shown by a recent court ruling of December 2019 for a case of illegal environmental certifications for agro-industrial oil palm projects of companies in the Romero Group. This case stirs the debate on the control of this industry. In the judgment, the Superior Court of Justice of Lima sentenced the former Agricultural Environmental Affairs Management Director from the Ministry of Agriculture, Ricardo Gutiérrez Quiroz, to four-year of suspended sentence for having illegally approved in 2013 the environmental certifications of four palm projects in Loreto belonging to companies of the Romero Group (Islandia Energy SA, Empresa Desarrollos Agroindustriales Sangamayoc SA, Empresa Agrícola La Carmela SA and Empresa Palmas del Amazonas SA).

The projects were located in areas of Amazon forests and would cause deforestation, but as the prosecution was initiated, they did not start operations. According to the English NGO Environmental Investigation Agency – EIA, 23,143 hectares were at stake among the four projects (“Maniti“, “Santa Catalina“, “Tierra Blanca” and “Santa Cecilia“), just over 30 thousand times the field area of the National Stadium of Lima. According to the judgment, the decision of the agricultural authority was to cause irreversible environmental damage against the Amazon region.

Although there are still no data on exports of crude palm oil in 2019, from 2013 to 2018 exports of crude and refined oil from the most prominent companies of the sector, such as Alicorp and Industrias del Espino, grew by 39%. Unlike their competitors, both companies always exported in the last seven years, although since 2018 their volume has declined, especially Alicorp (from US$3.6 million in 2018 to only US$89 thousand in 2019). If, in the last two years, the export of companies from the Romero Group reduced their exports, the opposite happened with four of their closest competitors: Industrias Oleana, Sol de Palma, Cargill Americas Perú and Exportadora Romex.

For example, exports from Industrias Oleana account for 2.8% of exports since 2013 (S/7 million with only two years of activity). This company started operations in October 2018 and its parent company is based in Ecuador. It has more than 50 years of experience in the country and since 2012 has been the main exporter of products derived from oil palm in Ecuador.

In the case of Sol de Palma, exports represent 8% of the total. The company went from selling US$ 62,000 in 2015 to US$ 9 million in 2019. This company, which began its operations in 2011, is defined as a consortium of six palm-growing companies working with 3,500 small- and medium-sized producers in the country.

North American Cargill Americas Peru SRL exported 9%, although it exported only in 2016 and 2017. It started operations in 1953 and its parent company Cargill is based in the United States. This US firm, with a presence in more than ten countries of the region, was part of a report by former member of the US Parliament and now president of Mighty Earth, Henry Waxman, where he noted that Cargill had poor environmental practices in their oil, cocoa, and soy production processes.

Finally, Exportadora Romex SA had 10.6% of all exports only in 2018 and 2019. This company was incorporated in May 2009, as a product of the of the Romero Trading Coffee and Cacao business division. According to their activities, they market and deliver services related to agro-industrial activity, such as the export of coffee, cocoa and cocoa derivatives. Their main brand is Cafetal.

These four companies together account for 30.5% of the exports from 2013 to 2019. The rest has been in the hands of the four companies of the Romero Group.

The companies of this economic group have a presence not only in the export stage, but in the entire oil palm production chain: from harvest to extraction, refining, production and marketing. They participate in all this process with a number of companies and with three extraction plants, which pool a working capacity of 140 tons of palm per hour, while their closest competition, the Ocho Sur Group, achieve only 45 tons of extraction per hour. The following infographic shows the business structure of the economic group in the oil palm industry:

The first destination of the oil

According to estimates by the Peruvian Oil Palm Board (Junpalma), Alicorp dominates 80% of the national refining market of the sector. The palm derivative that Peru has exported the most is crude oil, which is almost threefold the exports of refined oil.

The palm market in Peru began to revitalize in 2013. The three main destinations of Peruvian palm oil in the last seven years were: Colombia (US$ 134.4 million), Chile (US$ 53.5 million) and Ecuador (US$ 18.3 million). The chart in this section shows the full list of countries.

To explain the progress of exports, we will focus, to begin with, on the case of refined palm oil.

For example, of the fourteen destinations for this type of oil between 2013 and 2019, nine are Latin American countries, with Chile as the main buyer. In seven years, the southern country paid US$ 51 million for the more than 56,000 tons purchased from companies in Peru. Their purchases increased exponentially by 2,700% until 2018. Foreign trade of this product with Chile has accounted for three quarters of all exports since 2013.

From that year until 2018, Chile and Bolivia were the only countries that bought Peruvian palm every year continuously. Colombia, in turn the leader in palm exports in Latin America, is the second country that has bought the most from Peru. It is followed to a lesser extent by Brazil, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Spain. A 97% of exports of refined palm oil were sent by the company Industrias del Espino SA between 2013 and 2019. During that period, the company’s business grew by 1,470%: it went from exporting US$ 700,000 in 2013 to US$ 11 million in 2019.

Industrias del Espino SA is part of Palmas Group, an agro-industrial branch of Romero Group, which also markets finished products such as soap, oil, and butter. According to Minagri 2012 report, “the company marketed 90% of their production in the Peruvian jungle at that time, where they have the monopoly of the oil market. Because of their competitive prices it has displaced products coming from the coast and even those imported from Brazil.”

This company also manages a significant portion of processing plants throughout the country. By the end of 2018, they purchased 100% of the shares of Industrias de Grasas y Aceites (Igasa) corporation, which work in “the manufacture and marketing of plant and animal soaps, oils and fats, the industrialization of candles and other related inputs”.

Chart: Elaboración: OjoPúblico Source: Fuente: Sunat.

The Guarantee of Sustainable Palm

Together with seven other companies of the Romero Group, Industria del Espino SA is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) which, as we mentioned at the beginning of this report, is a non-profit organization that provides worldwide certifications for sustainable oil palm production to all its members (from producers, processors and traders to investors and transnational corporations such as Nestlé or Procter & Gamble).

The RSPO monitors that its members comply with international standards and ensure that they use 100% sustainable palm and RSPO-certified palm products throughout their production chain. In other words, RSPO make sure they provide guarantees that the palm they use does not come from deforested areas or other illegal activities.

Certifications are also used to establish chain traceability. “Currently, we have 20% RSPO certified oil in the world, but still 80% is not. Therefore, we understand that change in the businesses do not happen overnight, it is a process. Then, with these commitments, our intention is that companies make their corporate decisions transparent regarding sustainability,” said RSPO Director for Latin America, Francisco Naranjo, in an interview with OjoPúblico. 

Industria del Espino SA, represented before RSPO by another company in Romero Group: Palmas del Espino SA) has proposed to the RSPO in their last annual report submitted, that in 2025 they would achieve a 100% certification of their entire supply chain. This type of certification is renewed every year after the RSPO checks the progress and the attainment of the goals proposed by the company, until they achieve the certification of their entire supply chain, explained Francisco Naranjo, RSPO Director for Latin America.

In other words, only then will Industrias del Espino SA guarantee that there is no palm coming from deforestation in their supply chain. This intention to certify also the suppliers includes mainly the small independent producers in the country, from whom the companies in the Romero Group buy a total of 91,438 tons of fresh fruit bunches (according to Palmas Group website), that represents 13% of their total supply.

In short, the RSPO gives its members an ISO that provides them with credibility and openness in the markets. Therefore, the companies in the Romero Group are interested in receiving these certifications. OjoPúblico found that foreign companies that have purchased the most Peruvian palm oil are RSPO certified. In theory, as members of the RSPO, they should enter trade agreements with their peers who have the same certification.

Chart: Elaboración: OjoPúblico Source: Fuente: Sunat.

Another RSPO powers is to receive complaints about deforestation against companies, audit their work and punish them. There is a Peruvian case in its file that illustrates the irregularities of the palm industry in our country.

Chart: Elaboración: OjoPúblico Source: Sunat.

In April 2016, the RSPO ordered to stopthe Pucallpa plantation operations (now under another name and part of the Ocho Sur business group). This decision was based on a complaint by the Santa Clara community in Uchunya, which accused the company of destroying more than 5,000 hectares of their ancestral forest and intimidating their leaders, among other irregularities. In their investigations, the RSPO confirmed many irregularities in what the company did and ordered their operations to be paralyzed. When RSPO was processing the complaint, Plantaciones de Pucallpa left the organization.

At the beginning of 2018, as part of a precautionary measure requested by the Ministry of the Environment legal advisor, the Fourth National Preparatory Investigation Court temporarily suspended the activities that were then operated by Ocho Sur in the Tibecocha area of the district of Nueva Requena and adjacent to Santa Clara de Uchunya.

In February of this year, the Ucayali Regional Government handed over to the Santa Clara de Uchunya shipibo community a property title for over 1,544 hectares. However, many areas have been divided, generating disputes in this community, and in the control of Plantaciones de Pucallpa (who became Ocho Sur P SAC, the second business group, after the Romero Group, with more palm crops in the country with more than 10,000 hectares).

Ocho Sur P and Ocho Sur U are the new legal names of what used to be Plantaciones de Pucallpa and Plantaciones de Ucayali, respectively. The Czech-American businessman Dennis Melka had been the director of the last two, until the judicial investigations began to emerge; therefore he is considered to be involved in the Ochoa Sur Group until today.

In Peru, there are seven companies and associations members of the RSPO. Perhaps the biggest challenge for these companies and those of the Romero Group is to ensure the 100% use of both sustainable palm oil and RSPO-certified products throughout their supply chain.

For example, Oleaginosas del Peru S.A has offered to comply with this commitment in 2026. Industrial Alpamayo has been set 2023 as their deadline; Industria de Palma Aceitera de Loreto y San Martín S.A has offered to comply in 2030. In turn, as we already mentioned, Industrias del Espino (represented by Palmas del Espino) points at 2025; however, Alicorp believe they will be ready to ensure that sustainable palm is used throughout its supply chain in 2030.

This company, the most important one in food industry in Peru, explained the 10-year term: “Achieving a RSPO certification for our palm crude suppliers represents a long-term intervention, considering that the informality in which they operate in the productive sector and the lack of resources to invest in closing gaps. We believe that this work could take, in the best scenario, from 2 to 5 years of work and, in some cases, up to 10 years to be completed.”

OjoPúblico found that foreign companies that buy most of Peru’s oil palm are RSPO certified. This is the case with the two companies that bought the most refined palm in the last seven years. Both are Chilean. The third-place company is Bolivian and belongs to the Romero Group. These three companies concentrate 70% of total purchases of refined palm since 2013.

The Main Buyers

The largest buyer of refined palm oil is Camilo Ferrón Chile S.A., for US$ 22 million in six years since 2014 (equivalent to one third of the total foreign palm trade since it began exporting in 2013).

The company’s purchases grew by 114.5% until 2019. Camilo Ferrón Chile SA has more than 70 years of experience in the production of vegetable oils, margarines and butters. They have been a member of the RSPO since August 2013 and in their 2018 report indicated the use of sustainable RSPO-certified palm oil and palm for a year. The company committed to having 100% sustainable palm oil in its supply chain starting in 2030. OjoPúblico contacted the company, but at the close of this publication it had not responded to our inquiries.

In the second company buying the most of refined Peruvian palm is Chilean Watts S.A. for an amount of US$ 12.7 million. This amount represents 18.8% of the total exports of this type of palm since 2013. In seven years, the purchases of this company grew by 1,280%: from only US$ 203,000 (2013) to US$ 2.8 million (2019).

Watt’s S.A. was founded more than 80 years ago, and is today a conglomerate of companies linked to the Chilean and international food and wine industry. Their board is controlled by the Larraín family, one of the wealthiest in Chile. In Peru, they own 37% of the shares in Laive, sharing control with the Peruvian family Palacios Moreyra. Watt’s S.A. is one of the five most important suppliers of major supermarket chains in Chile such as Walmart and Cencosud, and has a significant participation in the production of all kinds of milk, yogurt, cheese, margarines, edible oils, juices, nectars, jams, preserves, fresh pasta, and wines.

This company has been a member of RSPO since 2014. In their 2018 report, they indicated that they would use RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil only since 2020. Regarding the question on the 100% use of RSPO-certified sustainable palm throughout its supply chain, the Chilean company also indicated that they would adopt this standard in 2020. Why didn’t they do it before? The company explained in its report that “their suppliers might have problems, but that was not their responsibility.” Watts did not respond to our inquiries either.

In the third place, we find Industrias del Aceite S.A., based in Bolivia, with more than US$ 11 million in purchases in seven years (17.7% of the total). This company has been part of the Romero Group since 1974 and its purchases have grown by 117% since 2013. We will come back to this company later.

Although Industria del Espino SA has 97% of the exports of refined palm oil, they leave Alicorp with a minimum sales margin. The three companies that have bought most from Alicorp are also Chilean: Importadora y Comercializadora (US$ 263,000); Inmobiliaria e Inversiones Kori Wasi (US$ 74,000) and Importadora y Alimentos ICB Food SE (US$ 40,000). The proportion of exports from Industria del Espino SA compared to Alicorp is 90 to 1. But their places are reversed when we look at exports of crude oil palm.

Chart: Elaboración: OjoPúblico Source: Fuente: Sunat.

Weed Around the Industry

According to figures from UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Peru ranks seventh in palm production in Latin America. At the top of the list we have Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras. In the region, Peru’s crops have accounted for 3.7% of the total over the past seven years.

In perspective, compared with Colombia (32.30%) or Guatemala (15.3%), the Peruvian industry is still small, but its rise is undeniable: palm production increased by 56% from 2013 to 2018. However, more and more facts and complaints prove that the growth of the palm industry seems inevitably linked to social conflicts, deforestation, land trafficking, and violence against Amazon populations in the country.

Eight months ago, in September 2019, and after six years of investigation by the environmental prosecutor’s office in Yurimaguas, The Superior Court of Justice of Lima resolved a complaint involving Palmas de Shanusi SAC, a company in the Romero Group, for the deforestation of 500 hectares of forests in the San Martín region, in order to expand its oil palm cultivation borders in the area.

The judgment acquitted two company representatives (Ronald Campbell García and José Mercado Bartolo, then general manager and legal representative of Palmas de Shanusi SAC, respectively), accused of being the mediate authors of slashing and burning forests; in addition, no registry links for the land was found for the company.

However, Milton Artiaga Díaz was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. He was accused of felling and burning 500 hectares of forests (almost 700 soccer fields), without a license to do so and having purchased land from a number of small owners. Artiaga Díaz, born in the Amazon region and identified by the prosecution as an independent worker, is the manager of Agroservices Altomayo EIRL, a company working in the agricultural and livestock sector.
In his statement, Artiaga Díaz (47) indicated that he had purchased land for agriculture and livestock, and that he did not remember how much he had paid to each owner, but that he did so with his savings and in cash. The prosecution argued that it was not credible that the defendant had bought the land on his own, as he could not prove the origin of the money with which he paid them. For the prosecution, Artiaga Díaz had been in charge of purchasing the land on behalf of Palmas de Shanusi SAC and the direct responsible for deforestation. The sentence ordered payment of half a million soles of civil damages, and reforesting the area for the irreversible damage caused. Prosecutor’s sources told OjoPúblico that the case is on appeal pending hearing.

In recent years there has been an “interaction between large companies and networks of land traffickers” where “several of the past projects have had a degree of irregularity in the way they have accessed the land,” explains specialist Juan Luis Dammert, researcher and Director for Latin America at the Natural Resources Governance Institute (NGRI).

Although there are no updated official figures on palm crops and production (officials of the Ministry of Agriculture told OjoPúblico that the information on the subject is available at the offices of each regional government), according to Devida, Ocho Sur is the second largest private group with palm crops nationwide. Until 2018, they owned 10,040 hectares, representing 12% of 86.000 hectares of crops nationwide (the Palmas Group ranks first with 29%, just over 25,000 hectares (33,000 times the field of the National Stadium in Lima).

Chart: Elaboración: OjoPúblico Source: Junpalma.

In mid-2019, OjoPúblico revealed the scheme used by the land mafia in Ucayali. The documents in the prosecutor’s file show the participation of ghost farmers’ associations and former officials of the agricultural management in the same regional government. The prosecutor’s investigations describe a system that allowed the award of land for farmers’ associations represented by alleged front-men, and to be later sold to businesses linked to oil palm cultivation, such as Ocho Sur (formerly known as Plantaciones Pucallpa SAC), a company linked to US-Czech businessman Dennis Melka.

The evidence pointed to the former head of the Ucayali Agriculture Directorate and to the former Director of Sanitation and Land Titling of this office, as heads of an organization that traded at least three thousand hectares of land. According to the prosecutor, they simulated an award of 128 pieces of land to relatives and friends of former workers of the Ucayali Regional Agrarian Directorate, to later sell them to palm companies like Ocho Sur.

The case is still under investigation – today at the organized crime prosecutor’s office in Lima – and is called ‘Cocha Anía’. This is the name of the area where the land to be sold in Nueva Requena is located, a district today in the center of the criminal disputes of land invaders. In this Ucayali jurisdiction, six farmers were killed in the midst of a land-trafficking conflict in 2017.

Where does crude oil go?

Unlike refined oil, crude oil is extracted directly from the fruit. In other words, it has not gone through any chemical and industrial process modifying the original product. It is refined to make the most elaborate products like butter, cookies, cleaning products (disinfectants, detergents). Crude oil can be a raw material for biodiesel.

Alicorp SAA is the country’s largest exporter of this type of oil, with 34% of the total exports in the last seven years, even though they only exported for three years: 2013, 2014 and 2018 (US$ 64 million altogether). In the second place is the other company of the Romero Group, Industrias del Espino S.A., which exported just over half of what Alicorp did (18% of the total), even though they have not exported since 2016. However, in the last four years, three companies competing with the Romero Group have increased their exports: Exportadora Romex SA (US$ 26 million or 14% of the total), the US company Cargill Americas Peru (US$ 22 million or 12%) and Sol de Palma (US$ 20 million or 11%). Only Cargill is member of the RSPO.

Colombia is the first destination to which crude palm oil is exported. Since 2013, this country has been buying this product. Of the twelve destinations of palm oil, eight are Latin American countries. Colombia’s purchases represent 68% (US$ 127 million) of the total over the past seven years, with a 129% growth in volume. Ecuador follows, although falling behind in volume of purchases: 9.4% (US$ 17 million).

Purchased made by that country increased by 2.4% since 2013. Ranking third and fourth are the Netherlands with US$ 13.9 million (the names of the companies are not specified) and Mexico with US$ 13.6 million.

Chart: Elaboración: OjoPúblico Source: Fuente: Sunat.

Those who buy the crude oil

The company that has purchased the most crude oil from Peru is Colombia’s Tequendama SAS (23% of the total sold since 2013). This company only bought oil for three years (2014, 2015 and 2016). Unlike refined palm oil, where three companies concentrate 70% of exports, crude oil – with the exception of Colombia’s Tequendama SAS – there is not much different in the volume of purchases made by the other buyers.

Tequendama SAS is part of the Daabon group, a conglomerate with a presence in agriculture, industry, logistics and real estate. The company is a member of the RSPO. In their 2018 report, they pointed out that since 2011 they had been processing RSPO-certified palm oil. They also indicated that starting in 2021 they would achieve the RSPO certification for 100% of the palm supply chain. The press area of this company informed that they were going to respond to our inquiries, but at the close of this report they did not answer our messages again.

In the second place we have Mexico’s Industrializadora de Oleofinos, with a share of 9% of the total exports from 2013 to 2019. This company is part of the Oleomex group, one of the largest agro-industrial companies in that country. It produces dairy products, oil, breads, soaps, and other food products. He has been a member of RSPO since August 2009. In their 2018 report, they express that they have been using RSPO-certified oil palm certified since 2015.

They also point out that only in 2028 their production based on sustainable palm will reach 100% of the RSPO standard. The company explains this deadline as follows: “In Mexico, there are about 11,500 small producers, with an average of 8 hectares per farmer, making it very difficult to organize them for certification.”

In the third place is Ecuador’s La Fabril S.A., their purchases represent 8% of the exports since 2013. Their products in the food category include oils, margarines, butters, dressings. In the field of cleaning products, they manufacture disinfectants and dishwashers. The have been members of RSPO since November 2018, through their holding company La Fabril S.A. In their 2019 report they informed that they had started working with RSPO-certified palm oil that year. 2023 is the target year to ensure the use of 100% sustainable palm products in all their supplies.

Together, Alicorp and Industria del Espino SA concentrate 58% of crude oil exports (US$ 98 million). Alicorp is the main exporter with US$ 64.4 million. Among its clients, we find Tequendama SAS, mentioned above, and the Dominican company Mercasid S.A., a producer of beverages, margarines, oils and cleaning products. Mercasid S.A. is a product of the merger of Sociedad Industrial Dominicana (SID) and Mercalia, S.A.

In 2009, Mercasid S.A. purchased Clorox brand. Other companies that are listed as purchasing from Alicorp include Ecuador’s La Fabril S.A. and the UK’s Aarhuskarlshamn UK Ltd (AAK). The latter is based in Sweden and produces margarines, butters, oils, edible ingredients and baking products, food manufacturing and retail sales.

We were unable to identify companies buying 35% of Alicorp’s crude oil exports. We only know that this represents US$ 23.3 million, and that almost half of it goes to the Netherlands and the rest to other Colombian companies.

Latest news from the jungle

There are photographs from last April of palm-laden trucks leaving the district of Nueva Requena in Ucayali. The country was in full quarantine and the members of the Santa Clara de Uchunya community took the pictures. They claim to know the drivers. The leaders we interviewed (and who prefer to remain anonymous because of the constant threats received) say that the Ocho Sur Group is beginning to transform the palm extracted from their production areas in the Ucayali region. They mention that even during the quarantine the trucks have transported some of the fruits to the San Martín region to be sold to the Romero group.

This last 30 April, in the midst of a state of emergency, the Ombudsman’s Office asked the Environmental Assessment and Control Agency (OEFA) to ascertain whether Tamshi SAC (cultivation of cocoa in the Loreto region) and the Ocho Sur group (oil palm) were operating despite the pandemic. A week later, OEFA responded indicating that both companies would be supervised. In the case of Ocho Sur, he indicated that he had a November 2019 supervision “the results of which showed the existence of suspected non-compliance, among which activities without an environmental management instrument approved by the competent authority”.

In a new communication sent on 15 May, the Ombudsman’s Office requested the OEFA to prioritize the audit against the mentioned companies and, if necessary, “impose the relevant administrative measures”. To date, there is no response from the supervisory body, which has not responded yet to our requests for information on the register of sanctioning administrative processes for the agricultural sector.

State surveillance on this issue seems mild. The OEFA administrative processes search engine has not reported any penalties. The tool was updated to November 2019 and its search criteria do not include the agriculture and irrigation sector that corresponds to the cases of palm oil companies. At the close of this report, the OEFA press office had not responded to our enquiries on the subject.

PRODUCTION. In the country there are 19 processing plants for the oil palm fruit. These are located in the Huánuco, Loreto, San Martín and Ucayali regions. PHOTO: Andina.

The Ocho Sur business group carries over the liabilities of the former owner (Dennis Melka). As we indicated, in April 2016, the RSPO ordered to stop Plantaciones de Pucallpa operations (now with another name and part of Ocho Sur) until they can show compliance with all the legal requirements in the acquisition, logging and planting of the concession area and proving not having cleared the primary forest or another area of high conservation value, and not having been notified before the start of the company’s activities.

According to RSPO, “the complaint mentions the devastating impacts on rivers and the forest ecology on which community members rely for subsistence, the destruction of community homes and the restrictions imposed on community members who want to enter the forest.” The shipibo community of Santa Clara de Uchunya indicated that more than 5,000 hectares of its forest were destroyed (half of Paris, one quarter of Montevideo).

When consulted on the possibility of Ocho Sur joining RSPO as an active member, the director of RSPO for Latin America, Francisco Naranjo, told us that the “issue of the pending complaint should be clarified” before and that it was difficult (to know) whether or not they could be accepted because the case should be analyzed and understand its relationship with Plantaciones de Pucallpa.”

OjoPúblico also consulted Ocho Sur whether they were planning to achieve a certification of compliance with sustainable palm production standards, for example by becoming an official member of the RSPO.  The company’s sustainability manager, Ulises Saldaña, told us that they were working on several options “that would allow us in the near future to establish ourselves as a company aimed at promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through global standards, and RSPO was one of these options, as it covers not only the application of principles of transparency, law enforcement and regulations, best practices, environmental responsibility, resource conservation and biodiversity, etc. but, especially, responsible consideration with employees, individuals and communities, topics that we are very interested in developing.”

Mentioning the deforestation cases in which the company and its former owners were involved, the Ocho Sur sustainability manager told us that “there were no judicial issues about deforestation investigations, but fiscal investigations. We are aware that they are currently being processed before the relevant authorities”.

When asked about the activities at their processing plant in Ucayali that started operations this year, and whether Alicorp was the end-customer for the palm oil they extract, or how their product was diversifying, the manager said he couldn’t tell us because of a business strategy issue and because of the confidentiality that his customers owe and demand. He also avoided responding if they were thinking of exporting their oil and what destinations they were considering. On June 9, after the publication of this report, Alicorp sent a letter to OjoPúblico by e-mail pointing out that they had never had any commercial relation with Ocho Sur, and that their palm oil comes from 9 extraction plants that bring together 7,000 families cultivating sustainable oil palm as producers associated with Junpalma.

In Peru, there are 19 palm oil processing plants; according to Junpalma, 68% of them are in the Ucayali region. In this area of the country, by the end of last year, Ocho Sur started operations at their extraction plant with a capacity of 45 tons per hour. This volume makes them the second largest in the country, behind Palmas Group, which has three plants with a joint capacity of 140 tons of palm per hour in the San Martín and Loreto regions.

Table: Elaboración: OjoPúblico Source: Junpalma


Chart: Elaboración: OjoPúblico Source: Junpalma.

Before the palm enters the extractors, the Palmas Group supplies 86% of the production from its own plantations, but the rest (91,000 tons of fresh palm fruit bunches) comes from third parties. When we asked Alicorp about how they were ensuring that the palm oil they export did not come from deforestation, the company sent OjoPúblico a letter to Llorente y Cuenca consulting firm. They told us that the extraction plants supplying them with palm “have committed themselves and have formally declared that they do not, or will not supply us with bunches of fresh fruit from deforested land”.

Alicorp explained in their e-mail statement that in 2018 they had designed “a responsible procurement policy to strengthen their chain management and compliance of standards by our suppliers”. They have not responded us if to date they have a registry of suppliers sanctioned or removed from their supply chain because they could not guarantee sustainable palm oil.

For RSPO director for Latin America, Francisco Naranjo, the exporting companies – members of this organization – must meet their commitments and assume “their responsibility” while reporting on their suppliers. “Alicorp should have made public who he buys from. That information is public. All members of the RSPO are obliged to provide this information to any interested party who asks them.” However, we asked Alicorp for this information, but the company did not respond until the close of this report.

For the period 2018-2019, the RSPO audited the supply chain of Alicorp. Auditor Leonardo Gomes, author of the report commissioned by IBD Certificações Ltda, explained the process to OjoPúblico via e-mail:
– Leonardo Gomes: Alicorp did not buy RSPO-certified products such as palm oil. They probably bought non-certified oils but in those cases we did not record purchases.

– OjoPúblico: What do you mean when you say that Alicorp did not purchase or sell RSPO products?

– Leonardo Gomes: There were no purchases or sales of RSPO certified products, so we have no information regarding Alicorp supply base. They were audited under 2017 version of the standard.

– OjoPúblico: So in their audit, you did not detect that Alicorp had purchased RSPO-certified raw material, in any percentage?

– Leonardo Gomes: Exactly. But as I said, it does not mean that they have not bought conventional oil.

– Ojo Público: Is there a supplier list in the auditing processes? What information is taken in to account to certify the supply chain?

– Leonardo Gomes: During the audit, we find out [who are] the suppliers, but only if they are also RSPO-certified. We do not audit conventional suppliers. For the next audit, due to an update of the standard, we will do so as they will have to provide this information publicly.

– OjoPúblico: Will that new audit be conducted at the end of this year? When are you planning to conduct it?

– Leonardo Gomes: The next audit would be by the end of 2020.

Junpalma’s former General Manager, Gregorio Sáenz, believes that the palm production route is “traceable because everything goes down the same road and there are 19 oil palm extraction companies clearly defined in the country.” Saénz also points out that companies such as Alicorp must provide information about who they buy palm from and how much. “Each company reports the palm exits from the field to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Production.”

Meanwhile, a draft land-use change regulation is being prepared at the summit of the Ministry of Agriculture. This is linked to the desire to expand the palm sector, Luis Alberto Gonzales-Zúñiga, the outgoing director of the National Forest and Wildlife Service (Serfor), explained in an interview. He talked about the recent interests and obstacles he encountered in the Ministry of Agriculture in his quest to improve controls in the forestry sector and that triggered his sudden dismissal from on 5 June, precisely on the World Environment Day.

Given the lack of capacity and willingness of the State to regulate and watch this industry better, we can only expect that the main Peruvian oil palm producing and exporting companies will self-regulate their processes and ensure that all their suppliers in their production chain meet international standards. It will take several years for this to happen. Amazon forests and their communities will continue to be at risk.

Carlos Nobre: “Estamos muy cerca del punto de inflexión en la Amazonía”

PREMIO NOBEL. El ganador de ese reconocimiento por el Panel Intergubernamental del Cambio Climático estudia la Amazonía desde 1975. Foto: Universidad de Sao Paulo (USP)

Algunos de los recientes problemas globales han demostrado estar relacionados con cambios en el ambiente. Desde la actual pandemia de la Covid-19, cuyo origen apunta a estar vinculado al salto de un virus desde la especie animal hacia el humano, hasta las sequías en países como Estados Unidos y México, y los incendios en la Amazonía en el 2019 y en Australia en el 2020. Los científicos lo han advertido: la deforestación y el calentamiento global alteran los ecosistemas e impactan en nuestras vidas.

Carlos Nobre, científico y meteorólogo brasileño, ha dedicado su vida a estudiar la Amazonía. Comenzó en 1975 en el Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA) y, desde entonces, investiga la relación entre el clima y la región amazónica. Su trabajo lo ha llevado a concluir que estos bosques y sus ecosistemas son claves para mantener el equilibrio climático y que factores antropogénicos como la deforestación y el calentamiento global podrían empujarlo hacia, lo que él ha definido, la “sabanización de la Amazonía”.

El investigador sostiene que si la deforestación excede del 20% al 25% del área total de bosque amazónico brasileño, se cruza un punto de inflexión, de no retorno. “Estamos en alrededor del 17% de deforestación, por lo que, no estamos muy lejos de superarlo”, alerta.

¿Cuál es la importancia de la Amazonía para el balance climático?

La Amazonía es una región en la que el bosque juega un papel muy importante, puesto que mantiene la estabilidad climática. El bosque a lo largo de la Amazonía evolucionó durante millones de años, particularmente en las tierras bajas, reciclando agua de manera muy efectiva.

¿Cómo funciona este reciclaje del agua?

Llueve, las raíces absorben el agua y luego las hojas transpiran, por lo que la atmósfera se moja y eso ayuda a producir nuevas nubes y nueva lluvia. Ese ciclo continúa a través del Amazonas proveniente de los vientos alisios que llegan del Océano Atlántico. Se recicla muchas veces, las nubes de agua se reciclan de 5 a 8 veces.

Lo que se conoce como “ríos voladores” 

Sí, este es un aspecto evolutivo del clima amazónico, que es totalmente causado por los bosques, principalmente, de tierras bajas cerca de los Andes. Esto es único en términos de mantenimiento de la Amazonía; en resumen, la selva tropical solo existe porque existe la selva. Entonces, el bosque no es solo una respuesta a la meteorología, sino que ayuda a producir la lluvia que mantiene los bosques.

¿Qué papel juega la región amazónica a nivel global?

A nivel mundial, los bosques almacenan entre 120 y 150 mil millones de toneladas de carbono, por lo que es una gran reserva de carbono. Eso es muy importante para la estabilidad climática: mantener el carbono en los bosques.

No podemos perder la Amazonía si queremos mitigar el calentamiento global.

¿De qué manera la deforestación altera este sistema natural?

Muchos estudios han demostrado que si quitas el bosque, pierdes esa capacidad de reciclar el agua, luego la estación seca comienza a alargarse y esa área se vuelve más caliente. Esos son los impulsores de lo que llamamos sabanización. Esas áreas tendrían el clima tipo sabana. Esa era una hipótesis en 1990, entonces la cuestión es que muchos otros estudios están mostrando estas tendencias de sabanización en la Amazonía. Estamos muy cerca de este punto de inflexión.

¿Cúal es la situación actual?

Si miramos el sur del Amazonas viniendo desde el sur de Bolivia hasta el Atlántico, vemos que la estación seca se está alargando. En los últimos 40 años, ha aumentado de tres a cuatro semanas. En estas áreas, durante la estación seca, hace más calor hasta tres grados más caliente. Además, el bosque está perdiendo la capacidad para reciclar agua.

La deforestación impactaría, principalmente, en la temperatura de la Amazonía

Así es. Además, las estadísticas muestran que la tasa de mortalidad de árboles típicos del bioma amazónico y típicos del clima húmedo están aumentando. La tasa de mortalidad de esas especies está aumentando en áreas donde la estación seca es cada vez más larga, particularmente en el sur del Amazonas. Entonces, cuando se juntan todos estos elementos, podemos ver estas tendencias hacia la sabanización. Estamos muy cerca del punto de inflexión.

¿Cuál es el punto de inflexión o no retorno de la deforestación en la Amazonía y cómo nos encontramos actualmente?

En un estudio en el que participé calculamos que si la deforestación excede del 20% al 25% del área total de bosque amazónico brasileño, se cruza el punto de inflexión. Estamos en alrededor del 17% de deforestación, por lo que, no estamos muy lejos de superarlo. Si no llevamos la deforestación a cero muy pronto, entre 15 y 30 años podríamos pasar el punto de no retorno. Y si superamos el punto de inflexión, la sabanización se vuelve irreversible.

La deforestación sería el principal causante…

Además de la deforestación, el cambio climático debido al calentamiento global también puede causar el punto de inflexión, porque si continuamos con el calentamiento global, los sistemas hidrológicos, los sistemas de lluvias en la Amazonía cambiarán. Incluso si se logra la deforestación cero, pero el calentamiento global continúa, cuando la temperatura alcanza los cuatro grados, los ciclos hidrológicos cambiarían muy marcadamente en la Amazonía, habría menos lluvia y la estación seca sería mucho más larga.Es por eso que el documental “Breaking Boundaries”  habla de la conectividad entre estos elementos de inflexión: calentamiento global y deforestación regional.

¿Qué medidas se deben adoptar para revertir esta situación?

Hay pruebas claras de que estamos muy cerca del punto de inflexión. Entonces, la acción inmediata es la deforestación cero en unos pocos años antes de 2030, y al mismo tiempo, tenemos que comenzar a aumentar la restauración. Tenemos que liderar muchos programas de restauración forestal, en particular, los países con mayor deforestación. Esto es obligatorio, tenemos que ir muy rápido en esa dirección. En segundo lugar, tenemos que encontrar un nuevo tipo de desarrollo económico para la Amazonía: lo llamamos “una nueva bioeconomía”. Hay ejemplos emergentes como los sistemas agroecológicos que aportan ingresos a las poblaciones locales, mejor calidad de vida, y dan el ejemplo de que el potencial de esta nueva economía es muy grande. Esto también necesita inversión en ciencia y tecnología para convertir el producto forestal en productos que lleguen a los mercados globales.

Este artículo, publicado por primera vez aquí, fue compartido como parte del World News Day 2021, una campaña global que destaca el papel fundamental del periodismo basado en hechos a la hora de proveer noticias e información fiables al servicio de la humanidad. #JournalismMatters

La Amazonía del bicentenario: entre la explotación y la amenaza del punto de no retorno

HISTORIA. En 200 años de independencia, la población indígena de la Amazonía ha registrado abusos y ha sido marginada de la sociedad peruana. Composición: Claudia Calderón.

En noviembre de 1832, apenas 11 años después de la proclamación de la independencia en Perú, el Congreso aprobó la creación de Amazonas, un nuevo departamento que según el documento de la época buscaba tener una gran influencia en “la civilización de las tribus salvajes”. Unos años más tarde, en 1868, se constituyó Loreto y se oficializó a Iquitos como su capital. El desconocimiento y los prejuicios del Estado sobre este territorio y los pueblos que lo habitan continuó durante los siglos siguientes. Solo después de más de 150 años de vida republicana se reconoció la existencia legal de las comunidades indígenas, que hoy suman más de 2.300 en 11 regiones del país. ¿Qué ha cambiado más allá de eso en 200 años de Independencia?

Antes de la constitución de los departamentos ubicados en la frontera peruana, las expediciones de extranjeros hacia la Amazonía ya habían empezado. Pereyra Plasencia recuerda la visita del inglés Henry Lister Maw a fines de 1827 e inicios de 1828, época donde navegó el río Amazonas para llegar a Chachapoyas, Moyobamba y Loreto. “Es el primer viajero moderno del siglo XIX que recorre transversalmente el país”, señala el cuarto volumen de la Relación de Viajeros incluido en la Colección Documental de la Independencia del Perú.

El investigador Alberto Chirif señala que en las primeras décadas de la independencia la Amazonía “era vista como un espacio vacío, por colonizar y que estaba llena de recursos que podían solucionar todos los problemas del Perú”. En el libro “Después del caucho” (2017), el reconocido antropólogo sostiene que para el reciente estado, el imaginario de la selva era de una región “de gran riqueza, pero habitada por pobladores salvajes”.

La creación de los departamentos de Amazonas y Loreto, en los primeros años de la república, respondió sobre todo a una motivación geopolítica para establecer las fronteras con la entonces Gran Colombia y Brasil. “Había un interés de los nuevos estados de América del Sur de afirmar su independencia”, explica Hugo Pereyra Plasencia, historiador y miembro de la Academia Nacional de la Historia.

Viñeta Claudia Calderón

Aunque estos territorios, remotos en su acceso, eran usados por personas que huían de la justicia. Lo cuenta el antropólogo e investigador del Laboratorio de Antropología Social del Colegio de Francia, Esteban Arias Urízar: “en los escritos del siglo XV se indica que muchos españoles fugaban a la selva para huir de la justicia del virreinato y fundaron pequeñas colonias en comunidades que eran indígenas. Entre el siglo XVII y XVIII se dan cuenta que la Amazonía es tan rica que podría ser explotada”, explica.

Con el avance de la república, el interés por explorar la Amazonía fue el de buscar rutas de comunicación, conocer potenciales recursos para la industria y ubicar tierras que podían ser colonizadas. El reconocimiento de las comunidades indígenas llegó más de 150 años después, con la promulgación de una ley durante la dictadura militar de Juan Velasco Alvarado, en 1974, que reconoció la “existencia legal y la personalidad jurídica de las comunidades nativas”.

A lo largo de todo el proceso republicano, la Amazonía peruana también ha registrado una serie de demandas de los pueblos indígenas que en los últimos años enfrentan no solo el avance de las actividades ilegales en sus territorios, sino también las amenazas y asesinatos de sus defensores: desde 2013, un grupo de 14 líderes indígenas ha sido asesinado en Perú.


Época del caucho: abusos y transición

En 200 años de historia republicana, la Amazonía ha sido vista como un territorio para la extracción de recursos naturales. María Luisa Burneo De la Rocha, antropóloga e investigadora principal del Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP), coincide en que parte de la sociedad del siglo XIX tenía un imaginario de la selva como una “tierra de frontera para ir a explorar y extraer”.

Sostiene que esta mirada predominó durante el primer período republicano (1821 – 1899) y que a fines del siglo XIX, esa idea de que “la Amazonía era tierra de nadie”, desencadenó “las atrocidades durante la primera fase de extracción y explotación del caucho”. La antropóloga hace énfasis en uno de los temas en que varios investigadores coinciden: “Hay poblaciones amazónicas que históricamente no solo han sido marginadas del Estado en formación, sino que han sido sujetos de despojo de sus territorios y explotación”.

El aumento de la población en la ciudad de Iquitos durante aquellos años refleja el interés económico detrás de la migración hacia la Amazonía a fines del siglo XIX. En 1900, la capital de Loreto registró 20 mil habitantes, 100 veces más personas respecto a 1851, según cifras recogidas en una publicación del Banco Central de Reserva del Perú y el Instituto de Estudios Peruanos.

Históricamente las poblaciones amazónicas no solo han sido marginadas por el Estado en formación, también han sido sujetos de despojo del territorio.

Los abusos y violaciones de derechos humanos impulsados durante la época del caucho fueron recogidos en parte por Roger Casement, canciller inglés que investigó las denuncias contra la compañía The Peruvian Amazon Co, en 1910. En sus informes, recogidos luego en el denominado Libro Azul se incluyen transcripciones de entrevistas realizadas a trabajadores y extrabajadores de la cauchera, quienes describieron los abusos cometidos contra los indígenas explotados por la empresa, que operaba en la triple frontera del río Putumayo en Brasil, Colombia y Perú.

“Las flagelaban [a las mujeres] si tenían un hijo que no traía suficiente caucho; si era un niño demasiado pequeño para ser flagelado, flagelaban a la madre”, indica uno de los relatos incluidos en el texto que cuenta cómo actuaban los administradores de la compañía cauchera contra los indígenas de la zona.

En las décadas posteriores —entre 1930 y 1940—, con el avance del negocio del caucho, la política del estado hacia la Amazonía estuvo centrado en la construcción de nuevas carreteras. A la par, comenzó un proceso de migración y la incorporación de misiones religiosas.

El antropólogo Esteban Arias sostiene que en 1941 se registró un hito en la migración más intensiva hacia la Amazonía. Ese año se inauguró la vía Huaura – Pucallpa que conectó la costa peruana con la selva de Ucayali. La instalación de este camino se dio en medio de la Segunda Guerra Mundial y cuando en Perú había la necesidad de llegar a Brasil para “conectar con el Atlántico”, un hecho que no había ocurrido en un siglo de la era republicana.

La conexión terrestre hacia la Amazonía generó que en los años y décadas posteriores aumente la migración de personas del centro y sur peruano, quienes se establecieron en la selva para dedicarse a la pequeña agricultura y la extracción de madera. El interés por la construcción de carreteras que atraviesen y corten los bosques persiste hasta la actualidad.

Entre 2016 y 2021, diferentes bancadas del Congreso de Perú presentaron 14 proyectos de ley para declarar de interés nacional la construcción o mejoramiento de vías en regiones de la Amazonía.


Años extractivos 

La migración hacia la Amazonía, como consecuencia de la actividad cauchera, instaló la idea de que esta parte del país era un territorio por conquistar. La mirada económica sobre los bosques se acentuó durante el primer gobierno de Fernando Belaunde Terry (1963 – 1968), quien en su primer Mensaje a la Nación del 28 de julio planteó la unificación de todas las Fuerzas Armadas para crear “cuerpos de colonización y desarrollo del país” en zonas de selva alta y baja.

Durante este gobierno también se registró una de las peores masacres contra los pueblos indígenas del Perú. A inicios de 1964, en Loreto, miembros del pueblo matsés enfrentaron a invasores que pretendían construir una trocha hacia la frontera de Brasil con el fin de extraer madera de forma ilegal. Al tomar conocimiento de los hechos e intentar controlar la disputa, el gobierno ordenó a los militares contener el enfrentamiento con el uso de helicópteros. Los investigadores de la época, entre ellos Alberto Chirif, señalan que los militares arrojaron contra los indígenas napalm, un líquido inflamable usado en la guerra y que causa quemaduras severas.

A partir de 1960 empiezan otras actividades extractivas que también han generado disputas en la Amazonía como el gas, petróleo y la pequeña minería. A ellas se sumó la deforestación, en su mayoría generada por la agricultura migratoria de personas provenientes de otras regiones del país y extranjeros que se establecieron en la selva de Junín y Pasco. “Los bosques van siendo depredados a gran velocidad porque los recursos se explotan sin ninguna racionalidad”, resume Alberto Chirif sobre las actividades de esos años.

La migración hacia la Amazonía instaló la idea de que esta parte del país era un territorio por conquistar.

El avance económico de otros sectores en la Amazonía también coincidió con la organización de territorios indígenas en diferentes asociaciones con representatividad hasta hoy. En este contexto, hay tres hechos que cambiaron a la Amazonía desde 1980 hasta fines de 1990: “la época cocalera, la tala ilegal que es violenta y la minería informal”, dijo la antropóloga María Luisa Burneo, antes de mencionar las últimas décadas de extracción intensiva de recursos en la Amazonía.

En la etapa que empezó a mediados del 2000, la expansión de industrias agroindustriales y monocultivos —como palma aceitera y cacao— han desencadenado conflictos por tierras sobre todo en las regiones Loreto y Ucayali, pero también en algunos casos asociados al avance de cultivos de hojas de coca. Por ejemplo, a mediados del año pasado, OjoPúblico informó que la exportación de palma aceitera no garantizaba el uso de insumos sin deforestación. En otra publicación, este medio advirtió sobre cómo otra empresa del sector operaba sin certificación ambiental.


El estudio de la deforestación 

En el campo científico, el ecólogo y docente de la Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, Ernesto Ráez Luna, destaca para la historia de la Amazonía el papel de la Estación Biológica de Cocha Cashu (EBCC), un centro de investigación instalado hace más de 50 años en el Parque Nacional del Manu en Madre de Dios. “Mucha de la investigación que se ha producido sobre la Amazonía proviene de ese lugar. Es considerada una de las más importantes estaciones biológicas de bosques tropicales en el mundo”, explica Ráez Luna.

Desde inicios de la décad de 1970, a la Amazonía peruana también empezaron a llegar científicos extranjeros como John Terborgh, John W. Fitzpatrick o Ted Parker, quienes iniciaron el camino de la investigación en este territorio. “No sé si haya sido una revolución, pero la comprensión del ecosistema amazónico ha tenido un gran cambio a partir de ese momento”, agrega Ráez Luna.

Una de las principales amenazas para esta región es la deforestación. El biólogo señala que las primeras advertencias sobre la pérdida de bosques datan de 1980. “Hubo campañas para salvar la Amazonía y se llegó a detener hasta cierto punto ese avance, pero eso se ha perdido en gran medida en este siglo. Estamos viendo el extractivismo más salvaje”, dijo.

El investigador y actual director ejecutivo del Instituo del Bien Común (IBC) explica que desde 1990 se desarrollaron los denominados sistemas de información geográfica que han pretendido monitorear la selva por encima de un análisis realizado al interior de los mismos territorios amazónicos, “que permiten un estudio cercano de las especies, y generar una mejor relación con las comunidades y autoridades”.

“Tenemos un montón de observatorios manejados con personas de no mucho o nulo conocimiento ecológico, que producen mapas de colores que muchas veces registran la destrucción. Pero lo que están haciendo es registrar el apocalipsis. Si tú compruebas que alguien deforestó, ya es encontrar un homicidio. Una alerta temprana sería evitar el homicidio”, explicó.

Shihuahuaco OP

RETROCESO. El año pasado se registró la deforestación más alta desde el 2001. Se perdieron más de 203 mil hectáreas de bosques.
Foto: OjoPúblico.

Entre 2001 y mediados del 2021, en el Perú se han deforestado más de 2,6 millones de hectáreas de bosques. Esta cifra representa más de 2.600 veces el área del distrito de San Isidro o 200 veces la extensión del centro de París, una de las principales capitales europeas para el mercado de la madera de origen peruano. Los datos oficiales del Ministerio del Ambiente (Minam) señalan que solo el año pasado se tuvo el registro de deforestación más alto desde 2001: se perdieron 203 mil hectáreas de bosques. Las regiones más afectadas fueron Ucayali, Loreto y Madre de Dios.

Si se revisan los datos históricos de deforestación por distrito, la provincia de Puerto Inca (Huánuco) tiene a cuatro localidades entre las  diez más afectadas: Yuyapichis, Codo del Pozuzo, Puerto Inca y Tournavista acumularon en conjunto más de 228 mil hectáreas de bosques perdidos entre 2001 y 2019.

De acuerdo al plan de desarrollo regional de Huánuco al 2030, el cambio de uso de tierras para fines agrícolas fue la principal causa de la deforestación en esta región. La coordinadora del programa de bosques y cambio climático de la organización Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), Isabel Gonzales Icaza, explica que este tema local se extiende al resto de la Amazonía debido a que los pequeños agricultores son quienes deforestan por “una necesidad de generar sus ingresos o cultivar sus propios alimentos [para el autoconsumo]”.

Los datos oficiales del Minam señalan que solo el año pasado se tuvo el registro de deforestación más alto desde 2001 en Perú.

Si bien las cifras del 2020 todavía son preliminares, los entrevistados coincidieron en que una de las razones del aumento en la pérdida de bosques estuvo relacionada a la pandemia porque limitó el trabajo de supervisión del Estado y las actividades ilegales no se detuvieron. El procurador del Ministerio de Ambiente, Julio Guzmán Mendoza, indicó que la ausencia de las actividades representó un “repliegue de las fuerzas” y que en términos generales fue un “retroceso” en el trabajo contra la reducción “del desbosque y la pérdida de cobertura no autorizada”.

En su respuesta sobre los resultados del año pasado, el Minam indicó a este medio que el aumento de cifras de deforestación respondía a una “reducción de la capacidad de monitoreo y control por parte de los agentes de gobierno” y que “una reversión repentina de la ciudad al campo había gatillado altas tasas de deforestación en todo el mundo y el Perú no es la excepción”.


El futuro de la Amazonía peruana

El gobierno de Pedro Castillo, eligió al abogado y militante de Perú Libre, Rubén Ramírez Mateo, como ministro de Ambiente. Sin embargo, no registra ningún tipo de experiencia vinculada a la gestión de estos temas.

Pese a la incertidumbre por el escenario político, el procurador del Minam, Julio Guzmán, es optimista respecto al trabajo pendiente de los próximos años, entre ellos la ejecución de la estrategia de lucha contra la tala ilegal 2021 – 2025. Este documento, aprobado a inicios de julio pasado, ha considerado criterios para enfrentar de manera efectiva a este delito.

“Te aseguro que vamos a descender la deforestación por debajo de las 100 mil hectáreas año año. Por primera vez en la estrategia se va a articular la utilización de las imágenes satelitales con otras instituciones operativas del gobierno”, dijo a OjoPúblico el procurador Guzmán.

Por su parte, el biólogo Ernesto Ráez apunta como prioritaria la titulación y ampliación de territorios indígenas. Esta medida, señala, debe ir acompañada del compromiso de los gobiernos regionales para “facilitar y dar viabilidad a las solicitudes de las comunidades”.

De acuerdo a un análisis de la Defensoría del Pueblo, al 2017 todavía habían más de 600 territorios indígenas de la Amazonía que aguardan por completar este proceso, mientras que más del 90% de comunidades tituladas carecía de georeferenciación, situación que ha desencadenado conflictos por superposición o tráfico de tierras.

La bióloga Karina Pinasco Vela, presidenta de la Asociación Amazónicos por la Amazonía, sostiene que se debe empezar a “democratizar la conservación” para que se le otorgue más valor a los bosques de pie debido a que representan el “mejor activo y la conservación y la restauración de los paisajes nuestra mejor inversión”.

La mirada de los diferentes expertos entrevistados aguarda las próximas decisiones del ministro Ramírez, al igual que nuevas iniciativas legislativas que puedan involucrar a los territorios amazónicos. “Por lo menos 200 años después sabemos que existe la Amazonía. La miramos más, aunque todavía no todos la entienden. Hemos tenido y tenemos oportunidades para la gente y los pobladores locales, pero poco a poco vamos perdiendo esas oportunidades por no saber entender este fabuloso escenario y contexto nacional”, finalizó la exministra del Ambiente Lucía Ruiz Ostoic.

Este artículo, publicado por primera vez aquí, fue compartido como parte del World News Day 2021, una campaña global que destaca el papel fundamental del periodismo basado en hechos a la hora de proveer noticias e información fiables al servicio de la humanidad. #JournalismMatters

Perú, Colombia y Ecuador entre países con más muertes relacionadas a la crisis climática

ANÁLISIS. Estudio detectó que en promedio el 37% de muertes por altas temperaturas podían atribuirse al cambio climático. Foto: Andina.

A unos días de la segunda vuelta electoral y en medio de una campaña en la que ninguno de los candidatos presidenciales ha dado propuestas concretas para el sector ambiental, un estudio sobre el impacto del calentamiento global en la salud de las personas, publicado en la revista Nature Climate Change, brinda una alerta respecto a la necesidad de implementar estrategias para reducir los efectos del cambio climático.

La investigación, coordinada por la Universidad de Berna (Suiza) recogió datos de tres décadas pertenecientes a 732 localidades de 43 países y concluyó que, en promedio, el 37% de las muertes mundiales relacionadas al calor se puede atribuir al cambio climático inducido por el ser humano.

En América Latina la relación es aún más preocupante. En Ecuador el 76,6% de las muertes vinculadas con altas temperaturas está relacionado con el calentamiento global, en Colombia, el 76% y en Perú, el 73,5%.

El estudio consideró datos de más de 29 millones de muertes y la carga de mortalidad relacionada con el calor.

Para llegar a estas conclusiones, los investigadores trabajaron la información disponible bajo dos escenarios: uno donde se consideró la temperatura que se observa en la actualidad y otro alternativo, donde se removió el efecto de cambio climático inducido por el hombre. Es decir, excesos de dióxido de carbono (CO2) y otros contaminantes que hacen que varíe la temperatura del planeta.

Como parte de la metodología, detallaron los autores, se construyó la base de datos más grande sobre el clima y la salud, con información obtenida a través de la Red de Investigación Colaborativa Multipaíses y Ciudades (MCC) Research Network, el mayor consorcio de datos meteorológicos y sanitarios disponible a la fecha.

Este, sin embargo, no es el primer estudio que analiza la salud en relación con el medio ambiente. En los últimos años, diversos científicos han alertado sobre las respuestas que genera en el organismo la exposición a demasiado calor, humedad o ambos. Por ejemplo, en una publicación de la Asociación Americana del Corazón se identificó que las altas temperaturas podrían generar “un impacto crítico” en siete órganos vitales -cerebro, corazón, intestinos, riñones, hígado, pulmones y páncreas-; y, en última instancia, la muerte.

El impacto del cambio climático en Perú

La nueva investigación señaló que, en promedio, el 73,5% de muertes por calor en Perú estuvieron relacionadas con el calentamiento global, un indicador que casi duplica el promedio mundial. Las cifras ubican al país como el tercer país de América del Sur con mayor relación, solo detrás de Ecuador (76,6%) y Colombia (76%).

Además de Lima, en el estudio se incluyeron otras 17 localidades del norte (Piura, La Libertad, Lambayeque y Cajamarca), centro (Ayacucho, Junín, Huánuco y Huancavelica), sur (Arequipa, Cusco, Puno y Tacna) y oriente peruano (Loreto, San Martín y Ucayali). En todos los casos se superó el promedio global de 37%, y hubo registros por encima del 80%, como ocurrió en Puno (86,8%) y Lima (81,4%).

En este caso se empleó información del Ministerio de Salud (Minsa) respecto a 208.060 muertes por todas las causas naturales del período 2008-2014. Mientras que las temperaturas revisadas -para la época de verano- se obtuvieron de 18 estaciones regionales del Servicio Nacional de Meteorología e Hidrología del Perú (Senamhi).

Las 18 localidades peruanas incluidas en el estudio superaron el promedio global (37%) de muertes por calor atribuidas al cambio climático.

El epidemiólogo Gabriel Carrasco Escobar, único científico peruano que participó en el estudio, señaló a OjoPúblico que esta investigación es la primera que contempla un número tan amplio de países y localidades. Esto, destacó, permitió conocer que territorios como Perú, al igual que otros de Sudamérica y del Sudeste Asiático, son zonas donde se registraron más decesos a pesar de tener una menor emisión de gases de efecto invernadero.

“Estamos pagando el pasivo de lo que otros países desarrollados están emitiendo. [Por eso,] tenemos que empezar a hablar en términos de salud global o planetaria. Estas políticas ya cruzan las fronteras de los países. Necesitamos ponernos rápidamente al día para armar planes de mitigación y ponerlos en la agenda con un presupuesto suficiente para lo que viene en los próximos 50 o 70 años”, explicó.

Hallazgos globales

El análisis total de la investigación consideró datos de más de 29 millones de defunciones y la carga de mortalidad relacionada con el calor entre el 1 de enero de 1991 y el 31 de diciembre de 2018. Así, se estudiaron series históricas de ambas variables para todas las localidades, con el objetivo de calcular la relación entre la exposición a temperaturas medias diarias -en épocas cálidas- y la mortalidad por todas las causas o causas no externas.

Si bien la estimación global es del 37%, este porcentaje varía mucho entre las subregiones y los países revisados. Los grupos más altos se detectaron en Asia Occidental (Irán y Kuwait), el Sudeste Asiático (Filipinas y Tailandia), países de América Central y el Caribe (Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panamá y Puerto Rico) y de América del Sur (Ecuador, Colombia y Perú).

En la publicación también se reconocen las limitaciones del análisis respecto a países donde no se logró acceder a información, como gran parte de África y el sur de Asia. En estos casos, el estudio advierte que es difícil predecir los resultados. Por otro lado, los autores señalaron que las estimaciones no deben considerarse necesariamente representativas para cada país porque, en algunos casos, se tomaron datos de apenas una o dos localidades.

La investigación recuerda, asimismo, que el ser humano y la actividad industrial han influido en el aumento de la temperatura global, que hoy tiene una media de un grado centígrado adicional que en la era preindustrial. Algunas ciudades, incluso, se han calentado más de dos grados, exponiendo a las personas a un mayor riesgo de muerte prematura.

“Nuestros resultados proporcionan una prueba más de los beneficios potenciales de adoptar políticas de mitigación fuertes para reducir el calentamiento futuro y de promulgar intervenciones de adaptación para proteger a las poblaciones de las consecuencias de la exposición al calor”, destacaron los investigadores.

Este artículo, publicado por primera vez aquí, fue compartido como parte del World News Day 2021, una campaña global que destaca el papel fundamental del periodismo basado en hechos a la hora de proveer noticias e información fiables al servicio de la humanidad. #JournalismMatters