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From Amazon to Andes

Indigenous struggle shakes up Peru

Published Jun 21, 2009 10:59 PM

On June 5, Peruvian President Alan Garcia unleashed his heavily armed repressive forces against Indigenous people in that country’s Amazonian region. They had been defending that enormous source of natural wealth against the voraciousness of transnational corporations. Ironically, that same day had been designated by the United Nations as World Environment Day to motivate awareness of environmental issues and encourage political action.

The attacks took place in the Curva del Diablo (Curve of the Devil), a section of the highway that links the jungle with the northern part of the country. For 10 days, thousands of Awajún and Wampis people had been occupying and blockading the road as a way to put pressure on the government.

At dawn, three Peruvian National Police helicopters flew over the region dropping teargas and shooting at the defenseless multitude. At the same time, police on the ground armed with rifles were also shooting at them. To this day, there is still no final and clear account of the casualties. The capitalist media, which has all along been hostile to the Indigenous people and loyal to the government, echoed Garcia’s accusation that the Indigenous are “terrorists” and reported that they had murdered 24 police, while only nine Indigenous had died.

However, a contradictory report appeared June 13 in Lucha Indígena magazine, edited by Hugo Blanco, from a person who was in Bagua—the site of the massacre. It replicates what many sources in the area are saying. “The corpses of the Natives were scattered throughout the nearby highway and in the vicinity of the Curve of the Devil. The police took control, imposed curfew, began to pile up the corpses, burning them in the highway, others were transferred to undetermined places, put in bags and transferred to the three police helicopters. Many of the corpses of these humble Peruvians were thrown into the Marañón and Utcubamba Rivers. The mestizos of Bagua Chica and Bagua Grande estimate a minimum of 200 to 300 dead civilians.” (www.luchaindigena.com)

Even though the police refused to allow journalists, relatives and other Indigenous persons into the area, an impressive amount of information has been provided by alternative sources, including a Belgian journalist who was present. It includes video footage on YouTube that has been seen around the world.

What caused the massacre?

On April 9, after futile attempts to negotiate with the government, the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP)—an organization representing 300,000 Indigenous people and 1,350 communities—began mobilizing the Amazonian people. The issue was the government’s implementation of several laws that the Indigenous say will privatize and endanger the Amazon and the livelihood of the numerous Native communities.

They started taking over highways, small airports, and gas and oil pipelines and interrupting river transport. These actions effectively paralyzed the region and disrupted the production and transportation of hydrocarbons throughout the area.

The Amazonian people were especially demanding the repeal of the new Law on Forestry and Wildlife and the Law on Water Resources, decrees 1090 and 1064. These laws would open up the Amazon area to increasing mineral, oil, gas and timber exploitation.

To put this into context, the Peruvian people of the Amazon comprise 11 percent of the total population. They reside in the north, center and southeast of the country, in the largest of Peru’s three natural resources areas.

These laws were imposed illegally. Under both Peruvian and U.N. laws of protection for Indigenous people, it is required that any regulation that could affect their communities must be negotiated first with those affected communities.

Instead, President Garcia imposed them in order to satisfy the requirements of Peru’s Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. This agreement, called the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (PTPA) was signed in 2006 and took effect on Feb. 1. The PTPA website says this agreement will “result in significant liberalization of trade in goods and services between the U.S. and Peru.... Peru immediately eliminated most of its tariffs on U.S. exports.... [It also] includes important disciplines relating to ... trade facilitation, technical barriers to trade, government procurement, services, investment, telecommunications, electronic commerce, intellectual property rights, and labor and environmental protection.” (www.ustr.gov/trade-agreements)

Solidarity brings concessions

An outpouring of solidarity with the Indigenous followed in the form of both statements and demonstrations. This support from all organized social sectors and progressive parties not only in Peru but internationally forced a concession from the Garcia government. On the evening of June 15, it was announced that the government would take measures the following day to repeal decrees 1090 and 1064.

In reaction to this news, the acting president of AIDESEP, Daysi Zapata, stated that “The government reaction is late. We want to see realities. ... The people are tired of promises ... there is great distrust.” She demanded an end to the persecution of the four leaders of the organization and an end to the state of emergency in Bagua. Zapata has been at the forefront of the organization since June 9 when its president, Alberto Pizango, had to take political refuge in the Nicaraguan Embassy because of death threats.

Most likely the government’s decision was influenced by the many demands that Garcia and all his administration resign. The rise of general mobilizations throughout the whole country on behalf of the Amazonian people is something that has never happened before. Probably Garcia thinks that repealing the laws, if in fact it does happen, will exonerate him. However, protests continue to grow daily.

An article by Carlos Quiroz, a bilingual blogger based in Washington who has constant contact with the Peruvian organizations, reported an interview with Zapata on Monday night after the government’s decision was known. Zapata says: “They want to silence us by incarcerating us, but that is useless because when one leader goes to prison, many more leaders will rise after them.” Referring to the massive character of the protests, she said: “Not a single region is staying quiet; they are protesting for justice after the deaths of our brothers and sisters in Bagua and for the repeal of the Garcia decrees that are so negative to our Indigenous peoples.”

In the same article Quiroz mentions that “Indigenous leader Miguel Palacin had previously told me that [a new constitution] is one of the Indigenous movement’s goals right now, following the example of neighboring Ecuador and Bolivia.” (peruanista.blogspot.com)

Indigenous uprisings in both those countries led to the removal of right-wing neoliberal governments and the installation of progressive presidents who then, together with the input of the people, created new constitutions. Will it happen in Peru?

E-mail: bjceci@workers.org

Next: Who is Alan Garcia? Washington’s silence.