The illegal cultivation of coca leaves has expanded in the Peruvian Amazon in recent years, causing deforestation and violence. In 2020, the Peruvian Amazon had the largest primary forest loss recorded (forest that has never been cleared before), according to the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP, in Spanish), an initiative of the nongovernmental organization Amazon Conservation.
According to MAAP, the loss exceeded 190,000 hectares. The vast majority of this total was attributed to illegal logging, agriculture, illegal mining, and illegal coca production.
“Drug trafficking has become a reason for concern in the Ucayali region […]. In addition, authorities of the Ucayali regional government detected 54 clandestine runways between 2020 and 2021 so far,” the environmental magazine Mongabay Latam reported.
According to Mongabay Latam, the most impacted regions of the Peruvian Amazon are Huánuco, Loreto, Madre de Dios, Pasco, and Ucayali, home to hundreds of indigenous communities. “Coca plantations are spreading outside the traditional coca growing areas of the Valley of the Rivers Apurímac, Ene, and Mataro [VRAEM, in Spanish], deeper into the Peruvian Amazon,” said the investigative journalism organization InSight Crime.
Under threats of violence
As drug cartels move to the Amazon to plant coca crops deep in the rainforest and clear vast areas of trees in the process, indigenous communities find themselves under threats of violence for denouncing the activities.
“Attacks and threats are constant and even our children cry when we leave home; they think we won’t come back, that they will kill us as they have done in other communities,” Martínez Guimaraes, from a community of the Shipibo-Konibo people in Ucayali, told Peruvian magazine Ojo Público. According to Mongabay Latam, 10 environmental defenders in Peru, including seven indigenous leaders, were killed in 2020.
“This year  the Kakataibo and Asháninka peoples mourned five more losses to murder in the regions of Ucayali, Huánuco, Junín, and Pasco,” Mongabay Latam said.
In April 2021, the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA, in Spanish), an umbrella organization that coordinates the indigenous organizations from the nine countries that share the Amazon Basin, issued an emergency declaration in response to the more than 200 deaths of human rights and environmental defenders throughout the region in 2020 (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru accounted for 77 percent of the cases).
“Behind the murders of indigenous human rights and defenders of Mother Nature, there are problems […] directly linked to […] indiscriminate mining, aggressive deforestation, and drug trafficking, […] which threaten the physical and cultural integrity of our peoples,” COICA said.