Sara, a Tikuna woman using a false name for security reasons, clearly remembers the day when the eradication campaign came to Cushillococha. It was 7:00 a.m., and the sound of the loudspeaker echoed through the area. Its message was clear and direct: the armed forces have arrived, and they need to be faced.
“The whole community rose up; there were 300 people. Children, teens, adults, elders — everyone. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I grabbed my baby and arrived. The young people started to have a confrontation with the police. The Corah people arrived behind them. There were not many people injured, but there were lots of confrontations, fights, and arguments. We told them that it is not fair to do these things to us, and that we live from that,” says Sara, who vividly remembers the look of desperation on the people’s faces.
Sara, like the majority of Tikuna people from Cushillococha, feared the beginning of the crisis. “Why do they do this to us if we are the most forgotten community of them all?” she wondered.
She remembers that DEVIDA (a government institution in charge of national anti-drug strategies) and PEDICP (a project by the Ministry of Agriculture that works on the development of the Putumayo River basin) arrived one year later.
Both institutions, according to those interviewed, proposed the same projects to all the communities in the area: cocoa or yuca crops, the latter to produce “fariña,” a type of flour made from small grains. Most people remember the intervention in the same way: the arrival of the promoters to the communities, the trainings, the large amounts of fertilizer left for the communities, and the absence of food.
“What happened with DEVIDA is that they brought enough material to work with: fertilizers, water pumps, and implementation,” explains the lieutenant governor of Nueva Galilea. “What they did not imagine —the communities— is that food did not arrive. Everyone was informed that there was no food to work with. Then in that moment, everyone went into crisis mode.”
According to Pablo García, from Buen Jardín, the poverty in the districts along the border is immense. He survives by selling his plantains, yuca, and cocoa, which he has learned to process traditionally. He grinds the cocoa by hand, makes small chocolate balls, and sells them in Tabatinga. Today, he has about three hectares of cocoa in production, but he recognizes that it is not sufficient.
“From money comes more money, but if you have no money, how will you make money? We live all our lives in this situation that we are in, and we want to make progress, but we have no one to support us. We make a farm, we do everything, but… ‘the business?’ is the question everyone asks.
Mongabay Latam requested an interview with DEVIDA about the intervention and about how the organization plans to meet the needs of the indigenous communities in the districts of Ramón Castilla and Yavarí. At the time of publication of this article, there was no response.
We were, however, able to talk with General Víctor Rucoba, the director of the Corah Special Project (which depends heavily on the Ministry of the Interior of Peru). When asked about future eradications in the area, he answered that there will be no interventions in the area this year, despite the reseeding described in the UNODC’s latest report.
“We do not have the operative capacity, nor the economic capacity, to be able to enter all the places that have coca plants,” says Rucoba. Regarding the work coordinated with DEVIDA, he indicated that his project should enter with them, just after the eradication, but there are not sufficient resources. According to him, DEVIDA does not have enough resources to have “the operative capacity to follow us. It is more difficult.”
The official website of DEVIDA, however, indicates that their strategy has made progress in at least 15 indigenous communities in Bajo Amazonas. They have announced the development of fariña production chains, community development, leadership training, capacity strengthening, technical advice, and more. The report mentioned the three indigenous communities that were highlighted in this article. However, community members have barely mentioned any improvements, nor were improvements evident when Mongabay Latam visited the area.
“There are people who are dedicated to planting cocoa and making their yuca, but nothing comes of it,” mentions Sara. She has a brother who completely dedicated himself to cocoa after the eradication. He has about three hectares of cocoa, but “he has done it for fun. What he got from it rotted, because DEVIDA will not buy it. Now, he has begun to plant coca within the past year,” says Sara.
Lorenzo Vallejos, the head of environmental matters for Peru and Ecuador at UNODC, says that planning is the basis for a successful alternative development, and that investigations are the best tool to use. “One real way to pull back the coca-growing activity is to know what types of products or services can be competitive for migrating from the coca-growing economy to a legal economy, through the use of ground aptitude studies or tools like the ZEE (Ecological and Economic Zoning), and even with business plans,” says Vallejos.
Only if the government offers viable and sustainable solutions, he adds, will the communities think of leaving behind coca. “They know that under a legal structure, they will not be worried that the authorities will eradicate their crops, making them lose money.”
In Buen Jardín de Callarú, Nueva Galilea, and other Tikuna indigenous communities, the neglect is seen in the details: nonexistent medical clinics and or clinics without enough medicine, schools with three teachers in one room who teach five different grades, basic needs that go unmet, the dependence on an illicit business to survive poverty, a lack of confidence in the authorities, drug trafficking, and many lives hanging by a thread. With everything seemingly against them, without seeing a close opportunity, and with threats coming from all directions, the group of forest monitors insists on conserving the forest that constantly faces the sound of chainsaws in an attempt to replace it with fields of coca.