Death of 'Irrepressible' Forest Defender Prompts Investigation

October 13, 2020 0 By HearthstoneYarns

Authorities in Peru are investigating the murder of environmental activist Edwin Chota, a leader of the Ashaninka Indian village of Saweto, who was killed along with three other men in a remote area of the Amazon jungle that they were attempting to protect from illegal logging.

Chota was murdered on September 1 after he left his home in Saweto to meet with other indigenous leaders and anti-logging activists who lived deeper within the jungle, a few days’ walk away, near the Brazilian border. His body, and that of the other three men who were killed with him, was discovered by villagers several days later. The distance from the village to the regional capital, Pucallpa, delayed news of Chota’s death for over a week.

Illegal loggers are suspected in the killings, according to Ashaninka regional leader Reyder Sebastián. Chota often spoke of receiving death threats due to his activism and told the New York Times in 2010 that “the law does not reach where we live.”

“They could kill us at any time,” Chota said.

Chota had long fought for the rights of indigenous people to reclaim their land and ban loggers who illegally cut trees and raided the region’s rainforests.

Reports of how the men were killed have differed. Some have said they were bound and shot in front of other villagers, while others have said they were dismembered. Chota’s widow, Julia Perez, who is pregnant with the couple’s third baby, told the Times, “We will see when they bring out his body if he was killed with gunshots or by machete.”

The Associated Press said the other slain men were identified by police as Jorge Rios, who was Chota’s deputy, Leoncio Quincicima, and Francisco Pinedo.

“The illegal loggers are on record for wanting Edwin dead,” University of Richmond environmental professor David Salisbury told Al Jazeera.

Salisbury, who had known Chota for 10 years, told NPR that the activist was often able to accomplish a seemingly impossible task — “to motivate the authorities to fulfill their functions and also to confront these well-armed, extremely powerful individuals.”