Arbildo Meléndez Grandes, leader of the Cacataibo Indigenous community of Unipacuyacu, is the latest Indigenous leader of the Peruvian Amazon to be murdered for defending his Indigenous territory. He was a defender of his community – demanding that the government provide a land title – and had received death threats from land-grabbers and narco-traffickers who wanted to control the same territory.
Meléndez was particularly active in defending the territory against deforestation linked to drug trafficking, logging and mining activities.
On 12th April 2020. he had gone hunting and fishing for his family and was allegedly shot by the person accompanying him. However, it is believed that the killing was orchestrated by land grabbers in the area.
“Ever since he assumed the role, he has received threats,” said Zulema Guevara Sandoval, Meléndez’s wife, in an interview with Mongabay Latam. Guevara said that when her husband was named president of Unipacuyacu, he decided to push for the land title to their communal territory — a request that had gone unaddressed for more than 20 years since the community was recognised in 1995.
Meléndez also faced land-grabbers entering the community’s territory to illegally cultivate coca plants. Unipacuyacu is one of the communities in the region that has fallen victim to narcotrafficking. In November 2019, Mongabay Latam reported on the same problem in the community of Puerto Nuevo, located in the same area.
This killing is just the latest of at least nine Indigenous leaders who have been murdered in the Peruvian Amazon since 2013 (out of 17 total killings of environmental defenders across Peru). As detailed by the Peruvian investigative journalist cooperative Ojo Público, the responsible parties are often land invaders, miners, illegal loggers, and other mafias.