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Joined by fellow Asháninka from across the border in Brazil, women decry lack of progress, ask for protection from government

Speaking from a press briefing in Lima, on 3rd December, a delegation of indigenous women from the native Ashéninka community of Alto Tamaya –Saweto affirmed their commitment to continue fighting to title their territory, a mission for which their husbands died in early September.

Following the loss of their husbands, the women—led by Ergilia Rengifo, widow of
Jorge Rios—have assumed leadership in the battle to obtain land rights for Saweto, an indigenous Amazonian community located near the point where Peru cedes to Brazil.

Saweto was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year following the brutal murders of prominent anti-logging activists Edwin Chota, Jorge Rios, Francisco Pinedo, and Leoncio Quinticima, who were also the leaders of the community.
In the face of constant threats and intrusions from illegal loggers and other illicit actors, these four men had lobbied the Peruvian government for more than ten years for title to their forests, which they saw as a critical step toward saving the forests of the Amazon from the criminal groups raid indigenous land for timber. The Ashaninka leaders continue to seek their title, and support from the Peruvian government to facilitate that title, including transportation to Saweto.

The violence and illegality that plague the Peruvian side of the border with Brazil reflect the wildly disparate policies in the two countries, which often determine the fate of the indigenous peoples who live in the region’s forests.

Asháninka indigenous leaders from both sides of the porous Peru/Brazil border call for the Peruvian government to title Saweto and other indigenous lands in the Amazon, and for both governments to protect indigenous forest communities and bring the perpetrators of their leaders’ murders to justice.

The Ashaninka also called for a joint response from the governments of Peru and Brazil to take responsibility for the border region, where lawlessness on the Peruvian side spills over into Brazil, leading to violence and social ills on both sides of the border.

Ergilia Rengifo stated, “Three months after the tragedy, the government still has not complied with our demands to title our land. We have received many promises, including from Prime Minister Ana Jara, but we have yet to see any concrete action. The community is still under constant threat from loggers; in fact, their presence has only increased in the months since the deaths of our husbands, and families in our community face threats of retaliation for reporting any incidents.”

“Investigations to find the perpetrators of the crime, as well as the search for our
husbands’ remains, are paralyzed,” Rengifo continued. “We demand justice for our
families and for our community, and title for our lands, which would allow us to protect our forests.”

She concluded, “Our community is aware of global concerns about climate change and agree with the need for solutions to protect the world’s forests. However, the lack of progress thus far is consistent with the neglect and lack of support we have encountered in our own initiatives to meet this goal. We ask that the governments and other groups participating in COP20 listen to our demands, and realize that the people of Saweto can do much to help, but we need their support.”