Indians blog to defend against illegal logging along the Brazil-Peru Frontier

The Ashaninkas are the largest indigenous group in the Peruvian Amazon and differently from the majority of the South American original dwellers, their cultural identity is greatly preserved. Apart from being among the native nations of the continent connected with the traditional use of Ayahuasca, the Ashaninkas are specially known for their use of beautiful cotton robes, or cushmas, which are woven by the Ashaninka women for the men of their tribe. Cushmas are an Ashaninka's most prized possession and there is a very long tradition of giving and exchanging cushmas and cloth with nyomparis (or trading partners) which linked distant Ashaninka villages into cycles of meetings, collaboration and resource sharing.

Accounts from the beginning of the last century tells about some Ashaninka groups that escaped from the Peruvian “caucheiros” [rubber tappers], and today a few hundred of them live on the Brazilian side of the border. There are stories about the braveness of the skilled warriors who expulsed the wild Amahuakas from the area around the Amonia River in the Upper Juruá. These few groups achieved the ownership of their land in the 90s, after many decades of struggle against the successive waves of colonization, and nowadays they strive to engage in activities that can help them to communicate with the world, and better defend their land and their culture from their current enemies.

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Venao Logging RoadIt's been a month since the blog of the Ashaninka Society of the Rio Amônia (Apiwtxa), has been decrying that workers from the Peruvian company Venao Forestal had illegally crossed into Brazil, and were now logging mahogany and cedar there. On a recent expedition to supervise the border, the Brazilian Ashaninkas were received with death threats from a task leader of the Peruvian company, which raised some worries about the possibility of violent clashes in the region. The power of the Internet and the blogs for outreach and networking have recently been discovered by some of the young leaders of these communities, and this fact is surely making a difference in the present struggles faced by their people.

Tenho um amigo que pra mim é uma espécie de guardião, um guardião da fronteira. Ele mora no Alto Juruá, na comunidade Apiwtxa, é da etnia Ashaninka. Seu nome é Benki Piyãko. Há alguns dias recebi um email dele contando um caso sobre o qual ele não tinha ainda muitas informações, mas que o deixou bastante preocupado. Para os que não estão acompanhando os últimos acontecimentos na fronteira acreano-brasileira e peruana, continua a invasão das nossas florestas por madeireiras peruanas. Há um verdadeiro cerco se formando. A Terra Indígena do Benki e seu povo já vem há anos sendo vitimada, e a triste novidade é que a invasão chegou a Reserva Extrativista do Alto Juruá, no seu flanco oeste e sul (cf. postagem “Cerco na fronteira”). Pois bem, houve uma ação do Ibama e do Exército na fronteira, quando prisões foram feitas. Todo o trabalho sujo das madeireiras peruanas envolve alianças suspeitas (quais seus termos?) com povos indígenas que vivem na região. Há coisas como madeireiras financiando planos de manejo de comunidades indígenas, que depois a elas venderão suas madeiras. Um dos tenentes do Exército relatou ao Benki que um morador da Reserva Extrativista, que atuara como guia naquela expedição, estaria sendo ameaçado de morte por “índios peruanos”, que o teriam procurado em sua casa. O caso, do pouco que se sabe até o momento, não teve maiores desdobramentos, mas deixou o guardião em estado de alerta. “Como líder da comunidade Apiwtxa vejo que isso é um jogo sujo da empresa Venao [empresa madeireira] por estar manipulando nossos parentes indigenas para entrar em conflito com o nosso País brasileiro ameaçando pessoas e comunidades”.
A Flora

I have a friend who I see as a kind of Guardian, a Guardian of the border. He lives at the Upper Juruá, in the Apiwtxa community, and he is from the Ashaninka people. His name is Benki Piyãko. Some days ago I received an email from him reporting about a case not detailed, but which has troubled him. To those who are not following the recent events at the Brazilian-Peruvian border, Peruvian logging companies continue to invade our forests. An encirclement is advancing. Benki's indigenous territory and its people have been victimized for years, and the sad new is that the invasion has reached the Upper Juruá Reserve on its West and South borders (see post “Encirclement on the Border). Well, there was an Ibama's [Ministry of Environment] action along with the Army on the border, and some persons were imprisoned. All the dirty work from the Peruvian companies involves suspect alliances (on which terms?) with indigenous people living on the region. There are things like logging companies backing handling plans of indigenous communities, who will in the end sell them the wood. One of the Army's tenants told Benki that a resident from the reserve who had guided that expedition was receiving death threats from “Peruvian Indians”, who might have been looking for him at his house. The case has not unfolded into a more serious situation, but it has alerted the Guardian. “As a leader of the Apiwtxa community, I see it as a dirty strategy of the company Venao to manipulate our indigenous relatives to generate conflict with our Brazilian country, threatening persons and communities”.
A Flora

What makes this case notable, however, is that Venao Forestal has been FSC certified by SmartWood, which awarded the certificate in April 2007 after an evaluation in September-October 2006. According to OlyEcology, “Forestal Venao is infamous in Ucayali, Peru for their indifference to laws, indigenous people, and the rainforest environment. They have built an illegal, non-state sanctioned logging road from the banks of the Ucayali to the Juruá basin on the Brazilian border. This is no small skid trail, but a network of roads whose main trunk extends over 120 kilometers”.

The blog from the Ashaninka Society of the Rio Amônia (Apiwtxa) has been the instrument for announcing that the group would “take immediate action to stop the advance of this exploitation”, and the intention to “appeal to international courts to protect Brazilian sovereignty, their territory, the preservation area, and the still existent biodiversity of the region.” It is important to follow what will be done in a certification system which certifies a company deserving the blacklist.

Da nossa parte, exigimos ser consultados desta vez, algo que não aconteceu antes da SmartWood/Rainforest Alliance ter concedido a certificação à Forestal Venao, em abril deste ano. Esperamos que, com a confirmação das atividades ilegais da Forestal Venao em Território brasileiro, assim como no Peru, a sua certificação seja imediatamente cancelada, conforme compromisso assumido pela Alliance.
Forestal Venao investigada no Peru e no BrasilApiwtxa

From our side, we demand to be consulted this time, which is something that did not happen before the SmartWood / Rainforest Alliance certified Forestal Venao in April of this year. We hope that as long as we obtain the confirmation of its illegal activities on Brazilian territory, as well as in Peru, the certification will be immediately canceled, according to a commitment by the Alliance.
Forestal Venao investigada no Peru e no BrasilApiwtxa

The Ashaninka are so intimate with the forest that they see their own clothing as akin to the plants covering of the earth. The young Ashaninka leader Benki Piyãko actively uses the latest Internet tools to reach out to the world, giving a global voice to the forest and the wisdom of his people, as the following eloquent message testifies.

Images: Incabocla


  • steve

    I hope that the “Smartwood” certification is cancelled and that the Peruvian and Brazilian governments stop Forestal Venao’s illegal activities.

  • I wish Ashaninka all the best, even though (as far as I know) Brazil is not standing for preservations of biodiversity and has a very good record regarding the extinction rate of species still alive. They should cut down GM crops and respect the indigenous minorities. And this should imply that US and European multinationals should back off from Brazil and their lobbying and illegal activities… A merry wish for New year? La la

  • […] that fortunately missed 2 workers on a canoe yesterday, in an event that can be linked with the illegal logging dennounced by Ashaninka bloggers. “We call for the diligence of prevention, and not for the rescue of bodies“, Meireles […]

  • Ange

    I hope Benki and everyone else can get this message out to a wider audience, it’s great work they have been doing for years, have seen many films made by the Ashaninka in Brazil which are truly inspiring. The Peruvian Ashaninka in the eastern forests, who met the Brazilian Ashaninka on a cultural exchange program a few years ago are trying to do the same, they face the same threats but have less access to technology to get their message out at present.

    I hope that all indigenos people worldwide can work together through podcasts, internet, blogs, photography and film one day. Greater access to wide communication for all Indigenous people is the new way forward, this untapped and transforming power of technology is part of the future for indigenous people, they are best placed to confront these issues on their own behalf and have the intimate daily knowledge of the impact of environmental degradation and the experience of how to best manage the lands for a viable sustainable future – this needs to be heard and seen by the world.

  • Davian

    This tragedy gets replayed over and over as the grim realities of a globalized marketplace allow corporations aided by, sometimes staffed by, former government officials, and vice-versa in the revolving door of corporate controlled governments. These governments often claim timber extraction is in the interest of economic well-being of the people but ignore the brutal aftermath of devasted communities it leaves behind.

    All standing forests throughout the world are imperiled by Globalization through supposed “free trade agreements”. Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, a world-class coastal temperate rainforest is managed by the United States Forest Service, currently under the direction of Mark Rey, a former timber industry lobbyist.

    Until the people everywhere demand that these practices stop, this tragedy will be replayed until there is nothing left.

  • Yes Davian I agree with you, it’s going like that all over. But for instance people have other options to lift up their voices… People could start to boycott. Don’t buy GM food, don’t buy Starbucks!!!

    This is news I receive form Grain, a Spanish NGO.

    Why did Ethiopia sign an agreement critics say is favoring Starbucks? Wondwossen Mezlekia, an Ethiopian working and living in Seattle,Washington — where Starbucks is also headquartered — has been following the trademark dispute through his well-read blog, In his contribution to a series of articles that appeared on this newspaper, Wondowssen sheds some light on the issue.

    ETHIOPIA’S LOSS IN THE STARBUCKS AFFAIR Ethiopia, one of the ancient civilisations in the world, collided with a symbol of globalisation and, to some extent, challenged the status-quo without success. The outcome should serve third-world countries as a reminder of the harsh reality that they have a long way to go to get control of their intellectual property rights.

  • […] The blog from the Ashaninka Society of the Rio Amônia (Apiwtxa) has been the instrument for announcing that the group would “take immediate action to stop the advance of this exploitation”, and the intention to “appeal to international courts to protect Brazilian sovereignty, their territory, the preservation area, and the still existent biodiversity of the region.” It is important to follow what will be done in a certification system which certifies a company deserving the blacklist. (source) […]

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