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.”
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
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
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
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
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.”
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: [email protected]
Next: Who is Alan Garcia? Washington’s silence.
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