By Barbara J. Fraser, Catholic News Service
PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru -- At a fork in a muddy road, Juana Payaba gestures to a cluster of makeshift buildings as motors rumble nearby, where wildcat gold miners are churning a palm swamp into a quagmire.
Payaba, who is president of Tres Islas, an indigenous community of Shipibo and Ese'eja people in this corner of Peru's Amazon region, is determined to take on gold miners who she says are occupying her community's lands illegally, destroying the forest and poisoning the rivers and streams with mercury.
"We want to do community tourism here and put in a fish farm," says Payaba, who estimates that 200 illegal miners stand in the way of those plans.
Experts who are helping the community, including a lawyer from the Peruvian bishops' Social Action Commission, say they are willing to take the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights if Peruvian courts do not protect the community's land rights.