Community leaders in Chaparrí face threats from land traffickers
11 March 2018
Since December 2017, the Chaparri reserve (in Lambayeque region) has seen an alarming increase in incidents of surveillance, death threats and attacks against community leaders defending their land against illegal land grabbing.
Between August and December 2017, there were also ten reported cases of fires in this area, believed to have been caused by illegal traffickers seeking to clear the land of zapote trees for future agricultural development.
The Chaparrí Reserve was declared a Private Conservation Area in 2011 to preserve its fragile ecosystem and the habitat of the nearly extinct spectacled bears.
In the past few weeks, community leaders have received death threats, including those of the Frente de Defensa Salvemos Chaparrí: Javier Ruiz Gutiérrez and Wilson Sánchez Gutiérrez. They have also been the subject of surveillance, as reported in Mongabay Latam.
No less a figure than the president of the judiciary, Duberlí Rodriguez, has also been the target of threats, following his visit to the region on 27 January to assess the situation. Subsequently his brother and sister-in-law were visited at their homes and told “to tell your brother Duberlí to stop interfering with Chaparrí. This is a warning”. Rodríguez has requested special police protection for himself and his family; he claims it was the first time that he had ever received a death threat. He warned of the threats to community leaders in Chaparrí and has requested their protection.
In December 2017, local community activist José Napoleon Tarrillo was killed in his home; he was tortured while his wife was forced to listen in an adjacent room. She has fled in fear for her life.
The conflict over began in 2014 when a new junta directiva was constituted. Since then an influx of comuneros from outside the area has taken control of the communal assembly and demarcated land in the reserve into blocs. To date, more than 1,000 hectares have been deforested with the apparent intent of making way for planting crops.
Amid the increased media attention of recent days, the regional government of Lambayaque issued a resolution on 1 March granting special protection measures to 25 people living in the Chaparrí. However, nothing much appears to have changed on the ground.
Given the vulnerability of community leaders and those trying to preserve the habitat in the area, several human rights organisations, including the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos, are urging the Peruvian authorities to take immediate and effective measures to guarantee their safety, including:
implementation of measures to protect those at risk;
a thorough investigation into the killing of Tarrillo, the causes of the fires and the latest threats to those seeking to defending the reserve; and
measures to protect human rights defenders, as recommended by the UN Human Rights Council and several other international human rights organisations.