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Peter Guest

Journalism & Photography

Brutal Murder of Activists Raises the Stakes for Amazonian Tribes

Pucallpa is the end of the road – the last town before the Amazon becomes impenetrable overland. From here, logs floated down the river are loaded on to flatbeds and driven to Peru’s Pacific ports for export. Huge, gnarled tree trunks ­traverse the town, loaded from sawmills that line the riverbank. Some of the logs are two metres in diameter, ancient hardwoods culled from the primary rainforest.

This heartland of the timber trade in Peru’s Ucayali province has become an unlikely haven for the survivors of a massacre that shocked the conservation movement in Latin America and pulled into sharp focus the long – and often violent – struggle of communities on the front lines of climate change.

In September, four activists who were from the Alto Tamaya-Saweto Ashéninka indigenous community – Edwin Chota, Jorge Ríos Pérez, Francisco Pinedo and Leoncio Quinticím – were returning on foot through the Amazon from a meeting with another community close to the Brazilian border. As they reached a “tambo” – a shelter in the forest – they were ambushed and executed. Their bodies were dismembered and scattered into the forest: a mode of murder that recalled the atrocities of Peru’s Dirty War. The men’s remains have only been partially recovered, and are awaiting DNA identification.

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Dubbed Terrorists, Mayans Fight Back Against Guatemalan Mining Projects

The road between the Guatemalan towns of San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Quetzaltenango is guarded by a dozen thin, young, Mayan men in baseball caps and hooded sweatshirts, who mill around a truck parked across the road. “If you are from the mine,” the ringleader says, “you can’t come through.”

A mile or so away, the land falls away into a dust bowl, picked at by heavy machinery – the Marlin gold mine. All along the road, orange cliffs have collapsed onto the tarmac and the air is heavy with the stink of burnt clutches from the trucks that labour up the slope through the mountains, around 50km from Guatemala’s border with Mexico. The volcanic peaks are swaddled in gunsmoke drifts of cloud and patrolled by vultures; scattered settlements of adobe houses overlook a deep green patchwork of maize and coffee fields laid out across the ghosts of old Mayan terraces.

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Japan Takes on China in Africa

In the courtyard of a small compound in Geta, 1.7 miles above sea level in southern Ethiopia, members of a local farming cooperative pound and sift barley, the chaff picked up by the vicious wind that blows across the mountains. Behind them, taped to the wall of their packing house, is a poster bearing two kanji characters, hand drawn in marker pen: Kai and Zen.

Loosely translated as “changing for the better,” Kaizen refers to a Japanese management philosophy, pioneered by Toyota, that emphasizes constant innovation and improvement in business. It is an incongruous sight in a region dominated by small-scale agriculture, where incomes barely scrape above the $1.25-a-day poverty line.

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Getting Away with Murder

It was an open secret that one of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s worst tormentors, Bosco Ntaganda, lived on Avenue des Tulipés until 2012, crossing into Rwanda now and then despite a travel ban. Rich off the proceeds of the illegal tax revenues he imposed on local mines, he served as a general in the Congolese army.

For a wanted fugitive, the man nicknamed “the Terminator” lived a comfortable and unencumbered life.

Six years before, a warrant for his arrest had been issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his role in recruiting child soldiers. Goma, the capital of Congo, is still trying to reintegrate these former combatants: boys now in their teens who were forced to become killers before they had reached puberty and now struggle to be seen as victims.

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Waiting for the Next Revolution

Amadou Janneh knows firsthand the price of resistance in the Gambia. He was in prison in September last year when nine prisoners were dragged from the cells around him and taken to the firing squad. None had more than a moment’s warning that they were to be shot dead. “At around 9:30 p.m., they just came in and selected nine,” Janneh says. “It was somewhat random. No witnesses, nothing.”…

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