WASHINGTON (April 25, 2007) — Julio Cusurichi Palacios, a leader of native communities in southeastern Peru and a recently announced winner of the 2007 Goldman Environmental Prize, is in Washington this week with a message about the impacts of U.S. timber imports on Peru’s native people. He will ask Congress to ensure that the U.S.-Peru trade agreement stops importation of illegally logged mahogany from Peruvian native lands. Cusurichi’s visit coincides with a visit to Washington by Peruvian President Alan Garcia Perez to urge passage of the agreement with Peru.
Cusurichi will meet with key members of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade issues, who have insisted that the U.S.-Peru trade agreement include additional labor and environmental protections—including specific provisions to prevent imports of illegally logged mahogany. “If it’s illegal to log in Peru, it should be illegal to import to the United States,” said Cusurichi. “And that is especially true if the wood comes from the territorial reserve for indigenous people living in voluntary isolation.”
Cusurichi Palacios was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize on Monday for his efforts to create a territorial reserve to protect isolated indigenous peoples in Peru’s remote Amazon rainforest from threats posed by oil drilling, mining and illegal logging.
“Cusurichi didn’t just dedicate himself to the creation of this important reserve and then walk away. He recognized the continuing threat from illegal loggers, oil companies and gold miners who all wanted access to the reserve,” said Ari Hershowitz, director of the Latin American BioGems campaign for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
After years of struggle, Cusurichi and other leaders of the Native Federation of Madre de Dios (FENAMAD) convinced the Peruvian government in 2002 to create a territorial reserve to protect Peru’s most vulnerable indigenous groups. These groups live in secluded regions of the Amazon—on the border of Brazil and Peru—in order to avoid the disease and violence brought by outsiders. Since the designation of the reserve—an area the size of Delaware—Cusurichi and FENAMAD have fought to keep out oil and mining companies, as well as thousands of illegal loggers who enter the reserve in search of valuable timber species like mahogany, primarily for export to the United States.
FENAMAD has teamed up with U.S.-based environmental groups, including NRDC, to urge the United States to crack down on imports of illegal Amazonian timber, which, they say, drives illegal logging. “We will keep up this fight until we get justice for our people,” said Cusurichi.
The $125,000 Goldman Environmental Prize, now in its 18th year, is awarded annually to six grassroots environmental heroes and is the largest award of its kind in the world. The winners were awarded the prize at an invitation-only ceremony on Monday and also will be honored at a smaller ceremony today at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington. The other 2007 prize-winners are Sophia Rabliauskas (Canada), Willie Corduff (Ireland), Orri Vigfusson (Iceland), Hammerskjoeld Simwinga (Zambia), and Ts. Munkhbayar (Mongolia).