Deadly start of first day of forced evacuation of illegal settlers with Bosque de Pomac reserve
Yesterday, two police officers were killed in an ambush and more were wounded during the forced evacuation of some 100 families occupying 1400 ha of the 5887 ha Bosque de Pomac archaeological and ecological reserve. The dislodging continues today. What price are we prepared to pay to conserve Peruvian patrimony? The lives of two policemen seems too high of a price.
I don’t really want to blog about this now. I am blogging about my birding experiences, mainly from Peru, but also from my travels elsewhere. I was preparing a short trip report about my birding in Southern Florida last weekend, but now this comes up, and I feel a urge to tell the world about a very sensitive conservation issue that unfolds here in Peru right in front of my eyes. Well, not really in front of my eyes cause it is in Chiclayo not in Lima. And I am not presently there. In this time and age it is just as much right in front of my eyes as the inaugural speech of a new US president or the war in the Gaza strip. But, perhaps a bit more present as I have often visited the area of concern.
Bosque Pomac – a relatively new birding site for Peruvian Plantcutter and Rufous Flycatcher
In 1999-2000 I was making surveys in Northern Peru, trying to find new localities and checking out past localities for Peruvian Plantcutter that then was categorized as Critically Threatened according to Birdlife International. First days of January, I was invited by Jeremy Flanagan to participate in a short visit to the Prosopis forest of Pomac together with Piura University and their former director Antonio Mabres. At this point after the experience I had gained visiting several dozens of sites, I could not predict presence of the Peruvian Plantcutter by just looking at the habitat. We did not find it at Pomac, but the habitat looked excellent. I said to Jeremy, that it really should be there as well. We did however find another good species here – the Tumbes Swallow – which then was little known. It made it sufficiently interesting to include Pomac in our future itineraries – and with the hope naturally that we would also find the plantcutter here.
Later in 2000 Simon Allen found Peruvian Plantcutter and Rufous Flycatcher in good numbers during the Kolibri Expeditions trip to Northern Peru. (Find trip report here – note that lodging is now much better throughout the itinerary – see the blog about Abra Patricia here). After our discovery, soon everyone included Pomac in the birding itineraries.
Taking the law in your own hands- the confessions of a former tree-hugger.
Conservationist have often taken action against assaults on the environment. Legally, in some cases laws have been breached. Greenpeace is perhaps the most flagrant example. I admit to also have broken the law for the sake of conservation. I even painted walls with graffiti saying “Rädda Hansta” (Save Hansta – see this wiki if you read Swedish.) Yes, I was a tree hugger, and I would proudly have chained myself to the tree if necessary to stop the chain saw. Some things are just above the law, don’t you think?
Now, I see myself being on side of those that want to move people against their will, for the higher purpose of conservation. The land occupants have been there for seven years. I wonder what human right advocates would say about dislodging families that have been living in one place for so long. If the Peruvian authorities cannot grant these people a dignified living, can they then be condemned for defending “their right” to a home? Why was not the issue addressed much earlier before the new settlers were rooted and settled? I wonder! I don’t have any easy answers of course. I am just putting down some thoughts on paper.
The new war! Conservationists against illegal settlers in reserved areas. To what price?
For a couple a months it has been announced that the illegal land occupants will be evacuated. I am not too familiar what has been offered as “compensation” to the dislodged families, but I know the Peruvians in general are terrified about setting an example that will inspire others to occupy land. After all, this was the working strategy behind the uncontrolled growth of Lima in the 80s-90s. Move with 1000 landless people from your poor village in the Andes to a deserted area, that somebody owned, but that nobody cared about. Put up some basic construction of reed walls to claim your area and little by little improve your house. Soon a new young village – Pueblo Joven – has mushroomed from nowhere in the dessert. By the time the authorities can do anything about it, it shall be too late, and in the end land titles will be granted and sewage and electricity will be put in. And if they are to be dislodged they will be moved to a public housing project. The landless occupant will win, no matter what the outcome. In spite of positive economic growth figures for many years in a row and the fastest growing economy in South America, the people below poverty line are still 39%. While the state cannot provide work and housing, we are likely to see more land seizure by the poor.
The evacuation was supposed to start today, but something went wrong. So wrong!
During the past two days I noticed hints that the dislodging, that finally should give Peruvian plantcutter and the archaeological riches proper protection, maybe was not so well organized. There were deficiencies.
Rob Williams asked on the Birding Peru listserv for donations to buy fuel for the vehicles that were to pass the ditches that the occupants had made around the area as protection two days ago and yesterday Fernando Angulo asks for money to by food for the police on the same list and Spanish language birding and conservation listserv Incaspiza.
I have no problem in supporting a good a cause. But it strikes me a bit odd, that a political decision is not better backed up logistically.
Additionally, Tino Aucca of ECOAN informs on Incaspiza today, that they found a backpack with a gun and ammunition inside the reserve when they were doing surveys of the Plantcutter some time ago. So, with this knowledge it strikes a bit odd that there was not more intelligence been made in advance. It sounds incredible that they could send in the police unarmed into an ambush with shooters in the trees. Two dead and several wounded. Is there really a political commitment to carry out the dislodgement peacefully? Or is this a set-up, with the sacrificed police as cannon fodder, to later be able to use much more violent means? Time will tell! The current feeling of the Peruvian people translates to “nuke them”! Meanwhile the latest report says that the police do not even have water to drink.
The 1000 police are stationed outside of the park does not have an easy task. I can imagine they are being very frustrated in this situation. Additionally, the land occupants inform that they are armed and that more violence can be expected. They have support from Rondas campesinas – armed civilian defence squads of the program initiated in 90s to defend the Andean rural communities from the Shining Path movement – that have arrived from Cajamarca – presumably because of the nexus of the occupants. Looks like we are in for a bloody battle.
I don’t feel comfortable to send a donation at this point for the cause of dislodging in spite that the money shall be used to feed the police. I made a post to Incaspiza stating my concern, I had expected some opinions against, but not the almost unanimous replies against my standpoint. I even got some glitches that I would later reap the commercial benefits of bringing my birding groups to the freed Pomac reserve. Shame on me!
If you like to follow the events and you speak or understand Spanish two good sources are the following.
I don’t expect there shall be any problems when our next programmed trip to Pomac during the comfortable birding Northern Peru tour.
Any questions, just ask me on firstname.lastname@example.org