One of the stations built to smoke meat found during the reconnaissance trip. Photograph: Edu Leon
DH: A group of you recently entered the region, right?
JP: We began to see [evidence of the logging] in 2015. Immediately we informed the authorities. Later, members of the [indigenous] communities along the Curaray spoke with researchers like myself as well as the authorities – those in charge of protecting the area, the park guards – and told them that there are outsiders logging in the park. The response by the government was inefficient or ineffective.
DH: What has it done?
JP: It appears that theyve entered the region three or four times and confirmed what is happening – so the government knows that outsiders are in territories used by indigenous peoples in isolation. . . We spoke to others living in the region, including the Waoranis in the [TTIZ], and it was decided, together, to make a reconnaissance trip. Accin Ecolgica, Land is Life and the Fundacin Alejandro Labaka joined forces. It was agreed we would enter via the River Shiripuno. . . Groups from different indigenous nations participated too.
DH: In the trip?
JP: Yes. Waoranis, Kichwas from Sarayacu, Zaparas, Kichwas from the region, and settlers too. . . We dont know if the Taromenanes [one of the indigenous groups in isolation] will respond like they have in the past – with attacks, violence – to defend their territories. Rather than attack the loggers, they might attack local people, particularly if they take part [in the logging], as has happened in the past. Thats very possible. Due to how abandoned the region is. The state has almost no presence there. There are no economic opportunities for local people. . . [and so] the only economic opportunity right now in the Curaray region is illegal logging. Were concerned that the communities could become involved.
DH: Do you think its possible some people [in the region] are working for the loggers coming from Peru? Theyre the ones who know the forest best. Or is there no evidence?
JP: There isnt any evidence for that yet, but thats what happened in the past. . . Something that we do know is that the military know the loggers and what theyre doing, but havent taken the necessary measures in response. I dont know if this is because of a lack of control, or lack of superiors. The military is abandoned too. There are just two or three posts protecting an enormous border. And the loggers are giving the military food and drink. Theres a kind of co-existence.
DH: You mentioned the Taromenanes earlier. Whats the main danger for them? What is your main concern about loggers invading this part of the park?
JP: Years ago, in the early 2000s, numerous loggers installed themselves at the other end of the park, near the oil roads, and there were various violent encounters. Loggers were speared by the Taromenanes – we dont know exactly what violence the loggers might have done to them. In 2003 it wasnt loggers directly, but they were involved in fomenting the Waoranis to attack the Taromenanes, and about 20 were killed. Today we know that there are indigenous peoples in isolation less than 20 kms from where the loggers are. In recent years the Taromenanes have shown theyre capable of attacking more than 40 kms away from their homes and gardens. . . I imagine the Taromenanes are very concerned [about the loggers], particularly because of the noise the chainsaws make and the pressure on resources. The hunting is intensive and commercial. [And these are] the resources the Taromenanes depend on.
DH: Are the Taromenanes the only group in isolation in this part of the park or are there others? The Tagaeris?
JP: I cant tell you if the group [closest to the border] is currently directly connected to the Waoranis or if its a group that separated from them many years ago. . . They could be [Taromenanes]. Well have to keep on trying to identify who they are.
DH: So when youre talking about the possible impacts of loggers on indigenous peoples in isolation in this part of the park, there is both this [unidentified] group near the border and the Taromenanes?
DH: And have you heard of any contact between them and the loggers?
JP: Not with the loggers, but yes with the communities along the Curaray.
JP: Weve been documenting the presence of isolated peoples [in this region] for the last few years. The military have reports of naked people approaching their camps. There are testimonies across the entire Curaray basin.
DH: And theres another danger of contact: the Taromenanes and others are very vulnerable to diseases. Right?
JP: Definitely. Thats the biggest concern with the stuff left by the loggers. The rubbish. They leave clothes, shoes, plastic, food. . . These are all vectors of new diseases for the Taromenanes.
DH: Have you seen the wood coming down the River Curaray? How is it transported?
JP: Floating. With big boats. They come upriver from Peru. The tree trunks are tied to them. They dont put the trunks in the boats.
DH: What are you requesting from the government – and maybe from Perus government too?
JP: In political terms: that the intangibility of the [TTIZ] and the human rights of the indigenous people in isolation and local communities are respected. In practical terms: that the logging and hunting stops. In order to do this, were preparing a formal complaint to the public prosecutors office. . . [saying that] illegal loggers are operating at these coordinates and these are the rights being violated, not only because its a national park, but because of the people living there. There must be better control along the border. And it must be permanent control. Its no good going in once and removing and detaining the loggers, and then no one goes back in. And the protocols for protecting the Taromenanes must be respected. We cant think of sending in the military to remove the loggers. This is territory inhabited by indigenous peoples in isolation. [We also believe there must be] more attention paid to the Waorani and Kichwa communities in the region. Other economic opportunities for them must be identified.
DH: What are the communities main concerns? What do they think about the loggers?
JP: There are several concerns. The first is that the loggers are operating illegally and exploiting resources that the communities – both the Waoranis and Kichwas – consider within their territories. Second, theyre scared of the Taromenanes possible reaction. This is another request to the authorities: that the security of the communities is guaranteed.
DH: Are you going to make any requests to Perus government too?
JP: We havent considered that yet. We need more information. Wheres this timber being commercialised? How are they operating? It doesnt seem that the people doing the logging are the owners of the wood. Theyre sub-contracted. The loggers themselves are mainly indigenous.
A Peruvian boat on the River Curaray in Ecuador, photographed during the reconnaissance trip.. Photograph: Edu Leon
DH: The loggers are indigenous Peruvians?
JP: Yes. But theyre very poor too. They have few economic alternatives and, in many cases, theyre effectively forced to do this kind of work. Were not trying to take to court – lets say – the most vulnerable people in the supply-chain. Thats why it would be good to understand how the business functions. Who provides the petrol? Who buys the meat? Who owns the boats? What kind of weapons do they have? . . . Were going to try and stop the wood coming out, but respectfully – not with some violent incursion by the military declaring war on the loggers. I dont think thats the right way to operate in indigenous territory. It has to be an exercise in which the communities participate fully. . . and about which they are consulted. It cant be just the military removing one or two loggers and establishing a post. That would further risk contact with the Taromenanes. It has to be well-thought-out and well-planned.
DH: Are you sure the loggers are Peruvian?
DH: Jos, thank you.
JP: Thank you.
Ecuadors Environment Ministry could not be reached for comment, but yesterday issued a statement saying that protecting indigenous peoples in isolation is a priority for the government. According to the statement, the Environment Ministry has just signed a five year agreement with two other ministries to develop an Action Plan.
Weve said that part of our policy will be controlling the traffic of wildlife and wood in the Intangible Zone [in the Yasun National Park], says Environment Minister Tarsicio Granizo in the statement. This [agreement] is a continuation of state policy that the government has been implementing over the last few years.