Widows of slain indigenous leaders complained of stalled investigation

By , on November 20, 2014


Indigenous groups are seeking title to more than 77,000 square miles (20 million hectares) of Peru’s Amazon, according to the country’s main indigenous organization, AIDESEP. Tadd and Debbie Ottman / Flickr.
Indigenous groups are seeking title to more than 77,000 square miles (20 million hectares) of Peru’s Amazon, according to the country’s main indigenous organization, AIDESEP. Tadd and Debbie Ottman / Flickr.

LIMA, Peru—The widows of four indigenous leaders allegedly slain by illegal loggers in Peru’s remote Amazon complained Monday that the investigation into their husbands’ September deaths is stalled.

Only two of the four bodies of the Ashaninka leaders have been recovered so far, including of village chief Edwin Chota.

Chota petitioned for more than a decade for title to the ancestral 300-square-mile (80,000-hectare) tract on the border with Brazil, resisting death threats from illegal loggers, several of whom have been arrested as suspects in the killings.

The widows complained on Monday in Lima that the investigation is stalled. They say authorities’ claim a lack of funds to hire a helicopter to visit the remote village of Saweto.

Late Monday, prosecutor Edder Farfan confirmed the difficulty of reaching the village but described the investigation as “very active.” He said that despite the difficulties, a third suspect in the case had been arrested in the regional capital of Pucallpa.

The widows, who have been staying in Pucallpa, said they continue to receive threats and fear the journey home, a strenuous three-day river trip.

David Salisbury, a University of Richmond geographer who has long assisted Saweto in its land ownership quest, said the widows don’t believe all the killers have been caught.

“The community feels there are more people involved, not just intellectually but materially,” he told The Associated Press.

After the killings, Prime Minister Ana Jara promised a thorough investigation. And authorities told the widows they would expedite the land title request.

“Without title to our property in the jungle we are nothing. We are rich in natural resources but without titles, without the paper, we can’t get loans or economic support,” Chota’s widow, Julia Perez, told the news conference.

Indigenous groups are seeking title to more than 77,000 square miles (20 million hectares) of Peru’s Amazon, according to the country’s main indigenous organization, AIDESEP.

The non-profit group Global Witness says Peru is the world’s fourth most dangerous country for environmental activists after Brazil, Honduras and the Philippines, with 57 slain since 2002.

Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report