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EMORY RICHEY/AP PHOTOThe body of Edwin Chota, a Peruvian activist who campaigned against illegal logging in the Amazon, was found last Monday, along with three leaders of the native Ashaninka community. Initial reports describe the men as having been killed by shotgun blasts.

Chota and his comrades were killed near the Brazilian border, in a region estimated to contain 80 percent of the illegal logging in Peru.

For years, Chota fought against the loggers in his native land, both politically and physically. Friends and fellow activists speak of him facing down gun-toting loggers armed only with his machete, which earned him both infamy and enmity throughout Peru.

“[H]e was an incredible incredibly dynamic and charismatic leader who gave hope to not just his community but many others by his courage and convictions,” said David Salisbury, a professor at the University of Richmond.

Salisbury was advising Chota on how to obtain the title for his native Ashaninka community. The region is estimated to contain 80 percent of the illegal logging in Peru, and Chota was adamant that his people should legally own the land. Over the years he wrote over 100 letters to the government about illegal logging and titling efforts, encouraging communities along the Tamaya river to fight for their rights.

But as more Ashaninkas protested, more became victims of violence from the loggers.

“He threatened to upset the status quo,” said Salisbury. “The illegal loggers are on record for wanting Edwin dead.”

On September 1, Chota was returning from a meeting with other Ashaninka leaders in the Brazilian village of Apiwtxa. He was returning to Saweto, the Upper Tamaya community he led, along with Jorge Rios, Chota’s deputy, and two other Ashaninka leaders, Leoncio Quinticima and Francisco Pinedo.

When the men did not appear in Saweto, villagers went in search for them. They were found six hours away, near some shacks on the Putaya river. The killers were not seen.

Chota’s loss has devastated native Peruvians, who are now more afraid than ever.

“We have been fighting for 12 years and now look what happens,” said Maria Elena Paredes, a schoolteacher in Saweto.

AIDESEP, an indigenous Peruvian federation, claim the authorities are “doing absolutely nothing despite repeated complaints.” Chota, they say, has joined “the long list of martyrs who fell in defense of their ancestral lands.”

According to David Salisbury, large amounts of timber is felled illegally in Saweto and nearby Brazil. The region is full of desirable hardwoods such as cedar and mahogany. In a 2012 report, the Environmental Investigation Agency writes that one old-growth mahogany can go for over $11,000 on the U.S. lumber market.

Photo: EMORY RICHEY/AP PHOTO

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3 Responses

  1. Brenda Davis says:

    How do we keep great societies? Be like Edwin Chota, and take some kind of stand for what is right. Good needs to defeat evil and greed, even though it's hard. I hope people with great wealth and even small wealth, and even everyday working people, put their money where it keeps society going in the right direction, for the benefit of all people.

  2. hikesocal says:

    Good comment Brenda and thanks for this piece PE.

    When considering how hard it is to get people to do the "right" thing in the nation with the highest GDP in the world, it's clear that for a country like Peru there needs to be something more than altruism at play.

    My understanding is that 80% of the timber exported from Peru is derived through illegal cutting. As it's clear that the government of Peru is only too happy to turn a blind eye to the long term ruin in lieu of a short term gain, there needs to be another body put in place that makes the decision for them.

    What I think it will take is an international organization to be created that is charged with creating environmental laws and ENFORCING them to protect human beings from ourselves. If countries were fined for importing illegally cut hardwoods like those found in Peru it will diminish the demand. If countries were fined for importing body parts of endangered species then the demand will diminish. Individuals need to pay a price but I believe that countries do as well.

    The world is becoming a much smaller place and we're more aware that what happens on one side of the world impacts the other side as well. So I think that demands a worldwide response.

    And let's not kid ourselves. The U.S is a major importer of illegal harvested lumber. This WSJ article that broke today lays it out very clearly. http://online.wsj.com/articles/commercial-farming

    So maybe what we can do is write our representatives and demand an end to importing timber that is illegally harvested. Maybe we can decide as a nation to stop purchasing products made from Peruvian mahogany and cedar.

    But then the question becomes, how do you get Americans behind an environmental movement when 50% don't believe that man is contributing to climate change?

    You don't. And that's why laws are necessary.

  3. Amazona48 says:

    I agree with Brenda. We need to put our money and efforts where it keeps society going in the right direction.
    It is sad what happened to Edwin Chota. Which is sadder is how media can manipulate our opinions with irresponsible information.
    US & Peru signed a free trade agreement in 2006. In that agreement, there is a strong annex regarding environment and forestry industry. This means that if Peru does not comply with all conditions in this annex, the Free Trade Agreement will be dissolved which will be very bad. For everybody's information, there is a penalty and jail time for anybody who brings any illegal harvested wood (Lacey Act -US law). Also, there is an international organization that regulates the trade of endangered species (fauna and flora) – it is called CITES. Genuine Mahogany and Spanish Cedar harvests are controlled by CITES. No one can trade any of these species without this permit.
    We should write to our representative to ask what? prohibit the illegal harvested woods – Done (there are laws and regulations already in placed). Cannot read the WSF article, but just by the title it refers to deforestation. Deforestation is a HUGE problem. Main cause of deforestation: cHange of land (cattling & agriculture : i.e. soya which is used to make our Tofu) – supported by UN studies and NGO's. How we know that our wood / furniture / doors are made from legal harvested wood. If it is already in the US, it is legal. Also ask if it is FSC Certified (this is an international certification – third party who already made the studies and confirmed that all was ok). Majority of people do not know what happens in the Amazon. Cattling and Agriculture are the cause of 95% of deforestation. 5% or less is assigned to forestry activities. In the Amazon, there is 1 tree (with commercial value) every 2.5 acres. And for 1 tree you take; the good companies MUST reforest (30-50 trees). The harvest is selective and when we buy wood products from The Amazon, we are contributing to the investment and care of the amazon by good companies dedicated to it. Peru is a beautiful country. Even though 60% of its territory is Amazon, the forest industry is NOT their main economic activity and US is not their 1st market either. We turned our backs to a country who has one of the richest forest (untouched) in the world. Check http://www.angrybirds.panda.org for more information.

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