Forest Peoples Programme response to the smear and defamation campaign against IDL and FPP for their solidarity in the case of Santa Clara de Uchunya vs Ocho Sur in Peru

FPP | 21 March 2024

Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) strongly rejects the defamatory and false information that has been spread by the palm oil company Ocho Sur and subsequently by the Peruvian media about our organisation and our Peruvian partner organisation, the Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL). We ratify our commitment and solidarity with the territorial struggle that the community members of Santa Clara de Uchunya have been carrying out for years, today grouped in the Frente de Defensa (Defence Front) for the interests of the community.

We warned at the end of November 2022 of a smear and intimidation campaign in the Ucayali region aimed at silencing Indigenous leaders, human rights defenders, and Indigenous and human rights organisations, as a result of their work to defend the ancestral territory of the Shipibo-Konibo community of Santa Clara de Uchunya against land trafficking, massive deforestation and the expansion of oil palm monoculture plantations, promoted particularly by the Ocho Sur group and its US investors Anholt Services (USA) Inc. and AMERRA Capital Management LLC.

Likewise, in April last year, the historical Indigenous organisations and members of the Santa Clara de Uchunya community also rejected the persistence of a smear campaign and the company's interference in the community life of the Shipibo-Konibo people.

In the last few weeks, we have observed a new smear campaign, which we consider to have been driven as a reprisal against IDL and FPP for at least three reasons.

First, because in late 2023 we published the news that the Public Prosecutor's Office accused the company for the first time of aggravated usurpation against the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya, in case number 00102-2022-90-2406-JR-PE-01. This first accusation undermined the supposedly good image that the company was trying to convey to the public, where, according to the Public Prosecutor's Office, the oil palm company had violently entered the community's territory in order to open a road to facilitate its agro-industrial operations.[i]

Secondly, because Ocho Sur knows that the investigation by the Special Prosecutor's Office against Organised Crime has been completed, in which it has been charged as a civilly responsible third party, in relation to the criminal proceedings against more than 30 defendants for the commission of environmental crimes and organised crime, in the form of crimes against forests or forest formations, to the detriment of the native community of Santa Clara de Uchunya and the Peruvian State.

Thirdly, for having disseminated, as of 22 February 2024, a formal communication from the Working Group on Business and Human Rights and four United Nations Special Rapporteurs on alleged human rights violations committed by the Ocho Sur group.

Despite noting in the article linked above that the UN communication was welcomed by members of the Santa Clara de Uchunya community, who today make up the Frente de Defensa por los intereses de la comunidad Santa Clara de Uchunya (Defence Front for the interests of the Santa Clara de Uchunya community), Ocho Sur responded on 28 February 2024 with an article on its website (see a capture here) entitled, "ALERTAMOS QUE CONTINÚA LA CAMPAÑA DE DESPRESTIGIO DE ONGs CONTRA OCHO SUR, AHORA INTENTANDO USAR A LAS NACIONES UNIDAS" (“WE WARN THAT THE NGO SMEAR CAMPAIGN AGAINST OCHO SUR CONTINUES, NOW ATTEMPTING TO USE THE UNITED NATIONS”). The company also sent a notarised letter to the media outlet Servindi, asking for a rectification of a report it had published on the case (see SERVINDI's strong response here).

On the same day of 28 February, a publication appeared on a Facebook page, Comunidad Nativa Santa Clara de Uchunya, which community members say is managed in close coordination with Ocho Sur, with a statement entitled "La Comunidad Nativa Santa Clara de Uchunya denuncia nuevo intento de ONGs IDL Abogados y Forest People Program (FPP) de usar su nombre con denuncias falsas ante Naciones Unidas" (“The Santa Clara de Uchunya Native Community of Uchunya denounces new attempt by NGOs IDL Abogados and Forest People Program (FPP) for using its name for false denunciations before the United Nations”).

On 8 March, a publication was made on the same Facebook page about a visit by Washington Bolivar, Wilson Barbaran and others to Lima to denounce IDL and FPP to the Ombudsman's Office, accompanied by a press release "Comunidad indígena denuncia a ONGS IDL y FPP por violación de derechos humanos" ("Indigenous community denounces IDL and FPP NGOs for human rights violations").

Regarding this incident, the President of the Defence Front of Santa Clara de Uchunya, Luisa Mori, said,

"We continue in the struggle. It is a lie that there is no struggle... We are fighting with Ocho Sur, not with the leaders who are backing Ocho Sur. We are not fighting with Mr. Wilson, we are not fighting with Mr. Jacson, we are not fighting with Mr. Alex, and we are not fighting with Washington Bolivar. We are fighting with Ocho Sur."

That same 8 March, Peru's national and best-selling newspaper, Trome, published an article entitled “Comunidad nativa Shipibo Koniba denuncia a ONGs por violación de derechos humanos” ("Shipibo Konibo native community denounces NGOs for human rights violations"). In the following days, other national media published similar articles:

None of these media outlets made any effort to contact IDL or FPP, or to speak to other members of the community and the Frente de Defensa por los intereses de la comunidad de Santa Clara de Uchunya, or leaders of the organised Indigenous movement in Peru, who have been denouncing human rights abuses and dispossession associated with the plantations operated by Ocho Sur and before them Plantaciones de Pucallpa since at least 2015.

Additionally, on 15 March 2024, Lampadia published "El IDL en acción. ONGs contra comunidades nativas” (“IDL in action. NGOs against native communities"):

In this way, these media outlets violate constitutional rights and put themselves at odds with the purpose of journalism, framed in the Code of Ethics of the Peruvian Association of Journalists of "providing complete information that allows the people to orient themselves correctly on economic, social and political events (...)", and "respecting the private life of individuals, their honour, good reputation and image (...)". 

It is also striking that none of these media have made a single mention of the company Ocho Sur, despite the fact that the complaint against IDL and FPP originated with the company and that in the last year alone, this case has made international news on multiple occasions.

Recall the scandal provoked by the US Ambassador's visit to the plantation and the recent coverage of Ocho Sur's problematic supply chain links with large transnational consumer goods companies such as Nestlé, Kellogg's and Colgate. Nor did they mention the recent UN communication on this case, which expressed concern about the company's alleged attempts to foment divisions within the community in order to overcome any resistance to its activities. Much less any mention that some international buyers have recently suspended or withdrawn Ocho Sur from their supply chain, after having investigated the allegations of human rights violations that the Santa Clara de Uchunya community members have been denouncing. In this regard, these companies have reportedly determined that for the moment, Ocho Sur does not meet the minimum standards that these companies impose on their suppliers in order to be able to form part of their supply chain.

FPP has also warned of Ocho Sur's tactic of sending legal letters to silence public criticism of its operations and this has been seen again in recent weeks in the case of Servindi.

In our view, the company wants to control the flow of information circulating about its operations at a critical moment, when the investigation by the Special Prosecutor's Office against Organised Crime has just been completed. However, we are well aware of the precariousness of this process, especially in light of the recent modifications to the Forestry Law by the Congress of the Republic, from which companies operating on illegally deforested land, such as Ocho Sur, may benefit.

In the context of a fierce wave of violence against Indigenous defenders, and a climate and ecological emergency that threatens the future of the Amazon itself, FPP has a mandate to amplify the voices of the Indigenous peoples with whom we walk as they open pathways towards full respect for their autonomy and self-determination, and the defence of their territories and livelihoods. Not even the most sophisticated and well-funded corporate communications strategy can mask the pain left by the dispossession in Santa Clara de Uchunya, the scars carved into the ancestral territory of the Shipibo-Konibo people, and the uncertainties about their future in the face of deforestation and colonisation.

We close with the words of Luisa Mori, President of the Defence Front for the interests of the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya,

"After doing so much damage, so much harm that Ocho Sur has done to us, now in 2024, they want to do forest conservation. Why? What conservation are they talking about, after hurting us? Our streams, our forests, our medicines. After all of this, Ocho Sur wants to be good, conserving the forest.

We will not allow it. Our struggle is still going on. We are fighting for our children, for everyone. So that my children can also work in this territory that we have".

[i] On 15 November 2023, Pueblo y Sociedad Noticias, a news portal that has consistently reproduced many communications from the Ocho Sur group, published "Ucayali: Comunidad Santa Clara de Uchunya rechaza nueva falsa denuncia de ONGs IDL y FPPD” [sic], 
On the same date, the media outlet Trome published "Comunidad Santa Clara de Uchunya defiende su integridad en medio de controversias",

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