Richard Fasabi is standing on the sandy bank of the Aguaytia River, looking west, toward his father’s homestead, a small collection of thatch-roofed structures amid trees above the river. Fasabi grew up there, and when he started his own family, he built a home just a short walk down the high river bank.
He had no way of knowing that this place, an ethnic Shipibo community called Santa Clara de Uchunya, would become a battleground. Now 40, Fasabi is living under the threat of death by armed men who have moved to the area west of the Aguaytia and are cutting down the forest and planting crops. This establishes them as farmers in the area, so they can eventually get a formal land title. They then have the option of selling this land to an oil palm plantation aggressively expanding into the area. The land invaders, as Fasabi and others describe them, have come to his home, armed with guns and their faces masked, to tell his wife that if the couple does not leave the area they will kill him.
The land these outsiders are grabbing is the ancestral home of the Shipibo indigenous people, who have been here for centuries. But that history is not enough—yet—to convince the government to guarantee the Shipibo communal title to their territory, despite international and federal laws protecting those land rights.
Fasabi says he can’t imagine moving away, even just across the river.