Environmental Hero: Julio Cusurichi

Julio Cusurichi. Goldman Environmental Prize.

Environmental Hero: Julio Cusurichi

Each week One Earth is proud to feature an environmental activist and hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature can coexist in harmony.

Julio Cusurichi secured a national reserve to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon to maintain environmental sustainability.

Shipibo Indigenous leader of the Peruvian Amazon, Julio Cusurichi has a vision for Peru where the people live in a multiethnic and pluricultural society with respect and equal justice. He supports this vision by being active in working to protect the rights of the Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation and the rainforest in which they live, where miners and loggers illegally pillage the Amazon forest in search of gold, oil and mahogany. Cusurichi fought to abolish illegal logging and mining, working with the Peruvian government and engaging courts internationally. It’s this struggle between economic gains and Indigenous sovereignty that threatens the rainforest ecosystems and the rights of the Indigenous peoples, with populations estimated between a few hundred and a few thousand individuals, that have followed in their ancestral footsteps for hundreds of generations. 

Julio Cusurichi. Goldman Environmental Prize. 

Near the border with Brazil, a number of Indigenous peoples choose to live without contact with the outside world. We call them the “Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation,” but are also called the “uncontacted.” Those living in voluntary isolation are the most vulnerable people on the planet because they are defenseless against direct contact with socialized humans who can wreak havoc by spreading viruses easily. In the face of greed, these communities are threatened by the inflow of miners and loggers who trespass on their land for resources. This is extremely dangerous for Indigenous tribes causing destructive epidemics and potential violence which then diminishes the ancient practices of Indigenous cultures. 

After witnessing the depletion of the Amazon for decades, Julio decided to work with the Federation of Natives of the Madre de Dios River and its Tributaries (FENAMAD) and formed a partnership with loggers to convince them of the importance of environmental sustainability. At first his message was met with resistance, and a former logger who is now the president of the Federation of Sustainable Logging, even threatened violence on him, but is now a partner in fighting for the rights of the forest. He realized everyone depends on the forest, and the Indigenous deserve respect because they are the original inhabitants of the land. 

Cusurichi is responsible for bringing international awareness to the “uncontacted” and for spreading the message that the world doesn’t have the authority to impose a different way of life on people who choose to live in voluntary isolation. He feels we all have the duty to respect their right to live in peace in the rainforest. 

Julio achieved a major success in ceasing the intrusions on their land with the creation of a territorial reserve in a remote area of the Amazon larger than the state of Delaware. Initially the government established monitoring posts along the rivers to restrain illegal loggers, but after a while the government deserted the monitoring which prompted Julio, along with FENAMAD, to train the local Indigenous villagers to do the job and get paid by the government to do it. Working with other villages, they organized a huge monitoring network to protect the rainforest.

Despite threats against Cusurichi and his family from illegal logging and mining entities, he is not deterred from continuing the fight, even filing a lawsuit in New York against the US Departments of Homeland Security, Interior and Agriculture, and three American timber importers. Julio believes when it comes to advocating for the environment that ‘no matter how small and modest the help, it is always a great contribution. We can’t do it alone.’

Join the One Earth Community

Subscribe to receive monthly updates on climate solutions, environmental heroes, and the profound beauty and wonder of our shared planet Earth.