Edwin Chota: The Hero Of The Amazon
When somebody invades your home and destroys it, you have no choice but to stand up and fight.
This is what the Amazonian native Edwin Chota felt. Illegal loggers had repeatedly invaded the territory of his community, Alto Tamaya-Saweto, in order to extract timber. Edwin Chota, a native of the Ashaninka tribe, had continuously informed the authorities that his community had received death threats. He also warned them that these same illegal loggers were causing devastation in their forests.
The Ashaninka women and children lived under a climate of anxiety, fearing to cross paths with these groups of bandits. Several times, Edwin Chota had petitioned the authorities for help. Although they were natives, they also were Peruvian citizens and needed government protection.
The Peruvian government promised to help but nothing happened. Edwin Chota knew he only had to rely on himself and face the threats.
Timber And Illegal Logging
Image Source: Greenpeace
The Peruvian Amazon, along with the forests of Brazil, are the main suppliers of wood in Latin America. There is a huge demand for timber in the world market, which is used for construction and manufacturing. Although governments provide licenses to multinationals to exploit these resources, vast land areas still remain untouched. The reason is that exploiting these areas would seriously threaten the animal habitat and, mainly, place at risk the dozens of Amazonian communities that have lived in these reservoirs for centuries.
Unfortunately, driven by the “Red Gold Rush”, illegal loggers have taken control of these areas. There was so much profit involved that several mafias, determined to wipe out the forests, emerged in the region. These were not improvised organizations. The mafias actually owned expensive hydraulic equipment, large transportation trucks and modern tools for logging. It was strange that these illegal groups had the leverage to acquire such massive equipment and transport it to strategic areas, without any government interference. Specifically, these are the regions that multinational corporations were unable to exploit by legal means.
The Deforestation Of The Amazon
It is needless to mention the great damage this deforestation has caused. Illegal loggers have taken hold of vast areas and destroyed the ecosystem of animal species. Logging has also caused the loss of biodiversity and put some species to the risk of extinction.
Furthermore, the correlation between deforestation and global warming is extensive. Forests are the lungs of our planet, because they help to preserve a lower carbon emission rate. Illegal logging has contributed to the destruction of the ecology, and the brave individuals who dared to defend it, like the Amazonian natives, were fighting against it without any assistance. In fact, Amazonian natives were actually the ones being attacked, evicted, and prosecuted by the Peruvian state.
Edwin Chota And The Peruvian Moral Hypocrisy
Image Source: Nytimes
Edwin Chota was a courageous man. Unwilling to give up in the struggle, Chota continually wrote to the regional authorities. Over the years, he wrote more than one hundred letters. Almost all of these letters never received a reply. Chota also demanded titles for their land, better housing and schools for their children, but mainly, protection from illegal loggers.
Due to the indifference of Peruvian authorities, Chota was able to gain the attention of the international press. Edwin Chota told foreign journalists that their communities lived in a land without law, a land where the only law was “the law of the gun.” Chota showed the international press the desolate forest areas, the damage inflicted on the fauna, unveiling the operations of illegal loggers. Edwin publicly requested, once again, for their government to intervene and grant them land titles, because, more than 72% of Native Peruvian communities had no way of showing their land rights.
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Meanwhile, many natives and environmental activists were being prosecuted by the Peruvian state. According to Global Witness, 57 courageous environmental activists had already been murdered between 2004 and 2014. Such statistics have placed Peru as the fourth most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental or indigenous rights activists.
After exposing his case to the international community, the threats against Edwin’s life intensified. Aware of the pending dangers, sometimes he carried a rifle. But Edwin was a brave man, and he kept on encouraging the members of his community.
You must work for a goal larger than what you can see for the coming years. We walk and travel through the forest because we want this place to exist without danger or violence in fifty, one hundred, or even five hundred years. All the leaders who are active today will one day be gone, but our dream will stay alive as long as we set the ground for the children walking behind us.”- Edwin Chota
On August 31, 2014, Edwin Chota and three other indigenous leaders were on their way to another village. Deep into the forest, Chota and company were intercepted by illegal loggers and shot to death. His poor widow, Julia Perez, who had been pregnant, had to travel to Lima to inform authorities that his husband was murdered. Peruvian president Ollanta Humala regarded the crime as “barbaric”, and said he would send an investigation team. Still today, two years later, illegal logging in the Amazon continues without interruption.
Image Source: Democracynow
Months after his death, Chota’s widow said in an interview: “The people who killed our husbands were Brazilian illegal loggers, who operate in that region, who we’ve denounced multiple times, but the government did nothing to stop the situation. We protect our forests. We depend on our forests for fish, for the resources that are in the forest. We don’t live in the city. We don’t go to the supermarket. That is where we get what we need to live. We take care of the rivers, because if you cut all the trees, the rivers dry up.”
Although the Ashaninkas finally obtained their land titles, their safety remains at risk. Land titles are in vain, because illegal loggers, with their weapons, threats and violence, have become the only authority in the region.
Neoliberalism And The Destruction of Tribal Communities
It would be accurate to suspect a hidden alliance between Peruvian authorities and illegal loggers. The consistent rejection of indigenous complaints and prosecution of human rights activists assert the most outrageous speculations. The deep state corruption confirm that only those with the money have the rights and the authority to do as they wish. On the other end of the spectrum, the native communities survive in the shadows, in a state of invisibility and non- existence.
Peru, who became a neoliberal state two decades ago, has practically leased the entire Amazon to multinational corporations, damaging the ecosystem, expelling people out of their lands, and threatening the existence of uncontacted tribes. Of course, neoliberalism has increased the level of modernization and profits (mainly for the business sector). But it is shameful to admit that those profits and “improvements” were made at the expense of the suffering and deaths of Amazonian natives.
Edwin Chota is another sad example of how big corporations and illegal black market industries have ruined both the environment and native populations, who have maintained their ecosystem for themselves and the wider world.