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Diana Rios, the guardian of the forest who risks her life for the Amazon

Il papà di Diana Rios è stato fatto a pezzi perché difendeva la foresta. Anche lei rischia la vita, ma non ha rinunciato a partecipare alla Cop 21.

Diana Rios is 23 years old. She has 2 children. Long, black hair frames her face marked by pain. A few tears stream down her face. She lives in an isolated village in the Amazon along the border between Peru and Brazil. Her father, Jorge, was killed last year because he was committed to safeguarding the forest in the areas populated by the Ashéninka Community of Alto Tamayo-Saweto.

Diana Rios
Diana Rios, daughter of an activist killed in Peru, at COP21 in Paris in 2015 to protect the rights of indigenous communities © Andrea Barolini

She’s also received death threats: some told her she wasn’t going to survive the five-day canoe journey to return home after attending COP21 at the end of 2015. “I’m afraid, but I went to Paris to honour my father. I went so that his sacrifice won’t have been in vain. I went for the future of my children”.

Diana, what happened to your father?
The entire story would take months to tell. In 2003 we started denouncing the deforestation of our lands, perpetrated by individuals as well as big companies. The phenomenon is without end since the timber industry is heavily subsidised, as is mining. Companies receive concessions for certain plots of land but my father found out that some cut down trees also in areas exclusive to us. He denounced this fact. Then he was killed.

indigenous forest map
A map shows how forests contribute to fighting climate change © Andrea Barolini

When did this happen?
The 1st of September 2014, just over two years ago. It’s very hard for me to talk about this. His body was cut into pieces: I wasn’t strong enough to go and see, my mother told me.

 

Did you think about running away?
Never, quite the opposite. My mother, after she saw my father’s body, asked us to continue his battle. “Because we are the guardians of the forest,” she said.

 

Did you appeal to the justice system?
Our people’s voice goes unheard. We’ve talked, explained, implored. The only thing we got is the presence of a policeman in our village. Just one, which solves nothing.

Numerosi rappresentanti dei popoli indigeni sono a Parigi per la Cop 21 ©Andrea Barolini
Numerous representatives of indigenous communities were in Paris to take part in COP21 © Andrea Barolini

What about the government?
Peru’s former Environment Minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, said he was committed to protecting indigenous people. I wonder how he could say something like that, while we’re dying to defend our land.

 

What did you expect from COP21?
I hoped it would be the right place to have our voice heard, and show the world our commitment to fighting climate change. Back home, we’re frightened of living. But we want everybody to understand that our lands can provide us with everything we need to live whilst contributing to safeguarding the environment, as long as our security is guaranteed and the word “justice” means something.

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