With more than 30 years in journalism, Hugo Anteparra had never carried out an investigative feature story. Rather, he had devoted his professional life to day-to-day news reporting in various print and electronic news outlets in the San Martin region of northern Peru.
As an inhabitant of the Peruvian Amazon, for many years Anteparra had witnessed the seizure of timber logged illegally by mafias extracting resources from the jungle. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, he noticed that such seizures had decreased considerably. His journalistic instincts told him there was something strange behind the sudden inaction of authorities in the face of the logging mafias and he knew it was a perfect subject for an in-depth journalistic investigation.
However, the outlet he worked for did not have the resources to finance a project of such magnitude. So when, almost two years later, he heard about Peruvian investigative outlet Convoca's Investigatour Amazonía, he knew it was his chance to bring his idea of investigative reporting to fruition.
Anteparra was selected for the program, which is aimed at journalists from the Peruvian Amazon who wish to specialize in investigative journalism and develop collaborative investigations. Investigatour Amazonía, which this year will hold its second edition, consists of four months of online training and mentoring on skills including data journalism, new digital narratives and investigative reporting on environmental and organized crime issues.
As a result of his participation in the first edition of the program, Anteparra published the feature story "Santa Rosillo: An Amazonian community fighting illegal logging and the State’s abandonment." In this work, he demonstrated that Peruvian authorities had abandoned the Indigenous communities that protect the Amazon from illegal extractivism.
The work not only provoked a reaction from the Army, Prosecutor’s Office and Police of Peru, which culminated in concrete actions against criminal organizations involved in illegal timber trafficking. It also made the conflict in the Peruvian Amazon resonate in other continents — the investigation was translated and republished in international media such as the San Francisco Chronicle (United States) and the digital news outlet Rappler (Philippines).
For the Convoca team, Anteparra's story is an example of how training programs such as Investigatour help connect a regional issue with global realities through investigative journalism.
"To see how an investigation carried out by a regional journalist, with the support, of course, of Convoca's professional team, has that international reach, that cross-border reach. It’s a great impact, not only for us as a news outlet, which undoubtedly seeks to expose these problems, but also for the journalists themselves," Scarlett Cardoza, Convoca's project coordinator, told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR). "Not only do we want to give them new skills, but we also want them to be able to put it into practice and reap results, meaning the international impact they can have through their investigations."
Investigatour Amazonía came out of Convoca's Investigatour training program, which functions as a traveling newsroom in which the organization's team supports reporters from different corners of Peru in conducting research and data analysis, virtually and in-person. Since its founding in 2018, the initiative has toured the regions of Arequipa, Lambayeque, Piura, Lima, Loreto, Callao, Junín, Ayacucho, and Cusco.
However, Convoca saw that journalists in the Amazon had enormous needs for training and outlets to tell stories about environmental and social conflicts in the jungle. That is why in 2022 it created Investigatour Amazonía, with the aim of strengthening the abilities of journalists in that region, so they themselves can tell the stories of their own territory.
"In Peru, we are so diverse that we need that same diversity to be told from its own point of view. We are not looking for a person from the north, for example, to talk about problems in the south," Cardoza said. “That is why we are betting that the problems of the Amazon, the real problems and confrontations, this violation of human rights, these environmental crimes that exist, can be told by the same population that lives in this area.”
Investigatour Amazon, whose deadline for its second edition is July 30, will select a maximum of 20 journalists who will receive a full scholarship and funding to develop their investigations, thanks to the support of organizations such as the Foundation for the Conservation of Sustainable Development (FCDS) and The GroundTrudh Project. The investigations will be published on Convoca's website, as well as those of its media partners.
Investigatour Amazonía is based on four thematic axes of training. The first is the tools of data journalism, which is one of the points that has earned Convoca prestige throughout Latin America. This is thanks to the cross-border investigations in which it has participated, such as the Panama Papers and the coverage of the Lava Jato case. The other axes are new digital narratives, investigative reporting techniques, and standards of investigative journalism.
In his project, which was conducted in partnership with the journalism organization CONNECTAS, Anteparra was able to show the construction of illegal roads in the jungle and the existence of deforested areas thanks to digital and satellite tools that he learned to use during his training with Convoca.
He also learned to build databases with the information he obtained through the Transparency Law, with which he was able to cross-reference data that allowed him to demonstrate, among other things, what he had suspected from the beginning: that 2020 was the year in which the most permits were granted for the transfer of extracted timber, despite the lockdown imposed by COVID-19.
"The Convoca school, for example, provided specialists in map reading, which can now be visualized from a computer, see a deforested area, even measure how long is a fallen trunk, and this is done by satellite," Anteparra told LJR, "This has also helped me to have more or less an idea of where deforestation is taking place in the area I was visiting.”
The journalist, whose research took two months of fieldwork in addition to four months of training, also learned how to present, propose and develop an investigative project.
"At the university they didn't teach me that, but at the Convoca school they did. Starting from a hypothesis and from there creating a road map. And how to confront, in this case the authorities, with the findings that one has," Anteparra said.
Aware that covering the Amazon jungle carries multiple dangers for journalists, Investigatour Amazonía includes training on personal security and that of sources.
To carry out fieldwork for his investigation, Anteparra had to visit a forested area in the Santa Rosillo de Yanayacuque community in the Peruvian Amazon, which is protected by the Kechwa Indigenous people who live there. Before arriving in the field, the journalist learned that entering the Amazon jungle would involve taking precautions on several fronts.
The journalist put together a route on a map application that he shared with Gonzalo Torrico, Convoca's general editor, who served as his editor for the journalistic project. Before entering a patch of jungle where, according to satellite monitoring, there had been deforestation in recent months, he waited two days while he assessed the situation.
Anteparra had previously contacted the apu (as the Kechwa Indigenous authorities are called) of that community and made arrangements with him to enter the jungle in the company of one of the patrol groups. The journalist showed up in regular clothes, with only a smartphone as a working tool, and received a uniform to pass as a member of the patrol group.
Despite applying, to the letter, the security measures he had learned, Anteparra and the Indigenous patrol were shot at by a group of "mestizos," as the natives call the people who have settled in their territories to carry out agricultural activities and who are allegedly involved in illegal logging.
Although the group managed to flee and return to the village after 10 hours of walking and entering an unexplored area of the jungle, the journalist ended up with more than 50 thorns embedded in one hand, which took more than a month to be removed.
"[Investigatour instructors] gave us guidance on security issues in conflict zones, in areas where there could be people who do not look favorably on investigations," Anteparra said. “Security has been fundamental. First, to find a contact within the community and for them to provide security. If not, it would have been a different story.”
Anteparra's local view of the social and environmental phenomena of the Amazon was key for his story to have the explanatory clarity that he achieved, according to Cardoza. Understanding the culture and correctly transmitting the knowledge and customs of the communities of the Amazon regions is important to achieve the multicultural aspect Convoca seeks in its training initiatives.
For this reason, in the 2023 edition of the Amazon Investigatour, Convoca seeks to encourage greater participation of journalists from Indigenous communities in Peru.
"We are looking for representatives of the Indigenous communities themselves to be trained, precisely so they can lay out the reality in which they live," Cardoza said. "We saw that these same [Indigenous] journalists were the ones who were presenting these approaches of specific investigations, of their own communities, the problems they have in their lives, that is what they were wanting to tell. So we saw the need to give them a greater opportunity."
In addition to the fact that journalists in the Peruvian Amazon lack sufficient training in investigative journalism, the lack of media budgets and of spaces that’d guarantee a long reach for their stories are some of the other impediments for regional communicators to tell their stories in an investigative format, Anteparra said.
The journalist, who after his participation in Investigatour Amazonía became part of Convoca's Network of Amazon Journalists to help develop new investigations, said that his feature story had national and global repercussions because he was able to portray the Amazon as a lung of the planet that must be protected, and because it resonated with the environmental and social realities of other countries.
"That is what Convoca offered me, the budget - through CONNECTAS - and the dissemination. So that's what has created a major impact," he said. "If you want to transcend as a journalist with informative [day-to-day] local issues, you're never going to make it. But if you do investigative work that has repercussions at a national level and in other media, then yes, the work will have that transcendence that is needed as journalists to motivate us to move forward."
Just as Convoca perceived a need to strengthen the skills of Amazonian journalists in Peru, the organization for the protection of journalism and freedom of expression in Ecuador, Fundamedios, also saw an urgency to promote journalism in the Ecuadoran Amazon.
When Convoca was working on launching Investigatour Amazonía, Fundamedios learned about the methodology of this initiative and decided to replicate it. Thus, after organizing the first Amazon Summit on Journalism and Climate Change in June 2022, Fundamedios launched a call for Investigatour Ecuador.
"Our need was basically to boost journalism in the interior of Ecuador, and it seemed very logical to us to link it to the Amazon Summit and to concentrate efforts to do investigative journalism in the Amazon," César Ricaurte, director of Fundamedios, told LJR. “Of course, while trying to make sure that Amazonian journalists could also have access to funds and training to be able to investigate what was happening in the Amazon region.”
Fundamedios designed the first Investigatour Ecuador with the support of Convoca's director, Milagros Salazar, who advised the Ecuadoran organization on the implementation of the training and mentoring methodology.
As part of the first edition of the initiative, Fundamedios offered grants to six investigative projects. Coincidentally, all six participants were women journalists who worked hand in hand with Alexis Serrano, editor of Ecuador Chequea, in the development of their investigations. Unlike the Convoca version, the Ecuadoran Investigatour focuses on a specific theme each year. In 2022, the theme was illegal logging, while this year's edition will be on water.
"We are very satisfied with the impact these works have had. They were works that, apart from the original news outlets that were going to publish them, were published in many other media, regional media such as Mongabay," Ricaurte said. "Now, in the second Investigatour, we are basically continuing with the same successful methodology of the first one, that combination of mentoring plus workshops with experts from various fields that can help build investigative projects."
The feature stories that came out of Investigatour, in both Peru and Ecuador, have shown the conflicts in the Amazon are not isolated and are linked to social conflicts and criminal activities that transcend borders. For this reason, both Convoca and Fundamedios see the need to expand the program to other countries that have a piece of the Amazon region within their territory, such as Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela.
"We are aiming for the project to expand. We don't just want it to be in Peru, [...] because the Amazon region is not only in Peru, but rather there are more countries in Latin America that are part of the Amazon," Cardoza said. "It’s necessary for these investigations to be transborder to show that problems do not belong only to one side or the other, but they are shared problems that need to be addressed in a systemic and multidisciplinary way, so that concrete solutions and real solutions can be provided by the authorities."