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Peruvian rainforest defender from embattled Kichwa tribe shot dead in attack

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  • FOREST PEOPLES PROGRAMME VIA AP
                                This portrait provided by the Forest Peoples Programme shows Indigenous Kichwa tribal leader Quinto Inuma Alvarado in Tarapoto, Peru, on Oct. 11, 2019.

    FOREST PEOPLES PROGRAMME VIA AP

    This portrait provided by the Forest Peoples Programme shows Indigenous Kichwa tribal leader Quinto Inuma Alvarado in Tarapoto, Peru, on Oct. 11, 2019.

LIMA, Peru >> A Kichwa tribal leader has been shot to death in an area of the Peruvian rainforest that’s seen high tensions between Indigenous people and illegal loggers.

Quinto Inuma Alvarado was attacked as he was returning from presenting at a workshop for women environmental leaders in the San Martín region of the Amazon on Wednesday, his son, Kevin Arnol Inuma Mandruma, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. Peruvian police confirmed his death.

“He was travelling in a boat,” when assailants blocked the river with a tree trunk, Kevin Inuma said. “There were many shots fired.”

The boat carried six people, said Kevin Inuma, including his mother, brother, sister and uncles. Quinto Inuma was shot three times in the back and once in the head, and Kevin Inuma’s aunt was wounded too, he said.

Kevin Inuma was not on the trip. He said his brother and mother recounted the attack to him.

Quinto Inuma had received numerous death threats over illegal logging, said Kevin Inuma.

The loggers “told him they were going to kill him because he had made a report,” he said. “They’ve tried to kill him several times, with beatings and now gunfire.”

A joint statement from Peru’s ministries of Interior, Environment, Justice and Human Rights, and Culture, said Quinto Inuma was the victim of a “cowardly” attack. The statement promised a “meticulous investigation on the part of the National Police” and said a search for suspects was underway.

“We will continue working hard against the illegal activities that destroy our forests and ecosystems and threaten the lives and integrity of all Peruvians,” the statement said.

Peruvian Indigenous rights news service Servindi wrote in 2021 that the victim’s community had been left to combat illegal loggers alone, suffering frequent attacks “that could take their lives any day.”

The workshop Quinto Inuma had been attending was aimed at helping women leaders of the Kichwa exchange knowledge on how to better protect their land.

Last year, an Associated Press investigation revealed Kichwa tribes lost a huge chunk of what was almost certainly their ancestral territory to make way for Peru’s Cordillera Azul National Park, which straddles the point where the Amazon meets the foothills of the Andes mountains. The trees in it were then monetized by selling carbon credits to multinational companies seeking to offset their emissions.

The Kichwa say they gave no consent for that and received no royalties, even as many lived in food poverty after being barred from traditional hunting and foraging grounds. Quinto Inuma attended a meeting in 2022 with Peruvian national parks authority Sernanp, which was observed by The AP, to discuss the conflict.

The nonprofit Forest Peoples Programme wrote online that Quinto Inuma was a “tireless defender of the human rights and territory of his community.”

The lack of title to their ancestral land has left Kichwa communities in a “very vulnerable position,” it said, “unable to defend themselves from illegal logging” and “with no legal consequences for the perpetrators.”

“The death of Quinto Inuma highlights the impunity that prevails in cases of environmental crimes and violations of Indigenous peoples’ rights,” it said.

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