July 29, 2021

In the Peruvian Amazon, Amerindian leaders threatened by traffickers

Pair Amanda Chaparro

Posted today at 1:57 a.m.

He had arranged to meet us in Aguaytia, the last big town before entering the indigenous territory. Then, we had to join his village, Yamino, in the heart of the central Peruvian Amazon. But at the agreed time, Herlin Odicio, a young cacique of the Kakataibo ethnic group (around 5,000 people), did not show up. His cell phone was off. Was he afraid at the last moment, he who is threatened with death by drug traffickers? We had to go to meet him, take a small bumpy road through immense palm groves. In this region of Peru, deforestation has already done its work and the business of palm oil is in full swing.

A metal gate bars access to the village. Beyond, we can see a few wooden and brick houses, spread around a central clearing. The village of Kakataibo has about fifty families, who live on local agriculture – bananas, papayas, cassava and cocoa – in addition to hunting and fishing.

Herlin Odicio Estrella, Native American leader of the Kakataibo ethnic group, in the forest on the outskirts of the village of Yamino, in Ucayali, on May 8, 2021.
Production of coca leaves, Ucayali region, Peru, May 8, 2021.

A man is standing there, ready to go back in the opposite direction. It’s him: Herlin Odicio, 35, medium height, dark face, common appearance. He leads us aside to discuss. Since he decided to denounce the illegal activities on his territory, he no longer feels safe, even here, in his stronghold, where he no longer lives. His daily obsession: beware of “The invisible enemy”, as he names it. “I am one step away from being assassinated. They are looking for me. “

“They”, it is the drug traffickers who have invaded Kakataibo lands, to the point of making travel hazardous. They grow the coca leaf there – a plant consumed in Peru in a traditional way, but which serves as the basis for the preparation of cocaine -, which they transform in clandestine laboratories before sending it by plane, in the form of paste or powder, to Brazil or Bolivia.

The decline of the state

The region of Ucayali, close to the Brazilian border, has become, in recent years, a platform for this traffic. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that nearly 50,000 hectares of forest have been destroyed for drug trafficking in Peru, including thousands here, in Ucayali. Ordinarily, the authorities eradicate 25,000 hectares of these illegal plantations each year. But with the health crisis, these operations were interrupted.

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“We spotted airstrips and maceration pits, Herlin continues. We can no longer move freely in our territory. “ One day in October 2020, “narcos” even came to look for him in his house in Yamino. “’We want to negotiate with you,’ they told me. A Colombian offered me 500,000 soles [l’équivalent de 110 000 euros] for every flight in exchange for my silence. “ Herlin turned them away. No question of betraying his people, assures this orphan without wife or child. Since then, he has received anonymous calls. “We’re looking for you, dead or alive. “ He has requested state protection and must inform the police of all his movements. But it is insufficient in his eyes. “If they want to ambush me, I’m alone. “

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