The US ambassador to Peru has sparked outrage among Indigenous groups and environmental NGOs by visiting a controversial palm oil company and praising it for abstaining from deforestation and as a leader of sustainable agricultural practices.
In a tweet last week, Lisa Kenna commended the company, Ocho Sur, as an example of US-Peruvian ties and as the leading employer in the Peruvian Amazon region of Ucayali. Her expression of support came after she made the solo visit last week while on a trip with her British, German and Norwegian counterparts to the Peruvian Amazon city of Pucallpa.
But nearly two dozen Indigenous federations as well as Peruvian and international environmental NGOs including Amazon Watch and the Environmental Investigation Agency have condemned her visit, calling on her to delete the tweet and apologise to the affected Indigenous populations.
In a joint statement, they claim the palm oil company is operating on illegally deforested land, lacks forestry and environmental permits, and has used media campaigns to defame Indigenous leaders and deliberately foment division among Indigenous communities. The company denies all the allegations.
“The mere existence of this plantation represents a mockery of all the efforts being made by the national and international community for the conservation and sustainable development of the Amazon and respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples,” the statement read.
“[The ambassador] has overridden the decisions of the Peruvian authorities and has been advertising a company widely questioned for violations of human rights and Peruvian laws,” it added.
The Santa Clara de Uchunya Indigenous community claims 7,000 hectares (17,000 acres) of the land occupied by Ocho Sur is part of their ancestral territory. They claim it was usurped through a complex and illegal land trafficking scheme with the participation of Peru’s agriculture ministry and the agricultural directorate in the Ucayali regional government.
Last month, a court in Lima admitted a case presented by three civil society organisations against the related transnational company Ocho Sur P, one of the major producers of palm oil in the Peruvian Amazon. Media reports suggest the company is linked to US-Czech citizen Dennis Melka, whose companies were delisted from the London Stock Exchange in 2017 after allegations of illegal deforestation in Peru. Company representatives deny ties to Melka.
Michael Spoor, the CEO of Ocho Sur, denied that the company had deforested any land and claimed the land it operates on was purchased in a public auction in 2016.
“Agricultural activities on our land began years, and even decades before Ocho Sur acquired the land,” he said in an email to the Guardian.
“The land was titled by the Peruvian government years before we existed,” he added.
The US embassy in Lima did not respond to a request for comment.
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