Operation Condor Trial Tackles Coordinated Campaign by Latin American Dictatorships to Kill Leftists March 14, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, History, Human Rights, Latin America, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay.
Tags: amy goodman, cia, dina, dirty war, ed koch, history, human rights, john dinges, juan gonzalez, kissinger, Latin America, letelier, operation condor, pinochet, roger hollander, ronni moffitt, U.S. imperialism
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Roger’s note: The world media is focused on Argentina from where the worlds largest patriarchal, misogynist, authoritarian, homophobic institution has chosen its new leader. At the same time in Argentina, a trial is being held which reflects on the world’s most violent imperial nation. The two events are related with respect to the massive and systematic violation of human rights.
http://www.democracynow.org, March 2, 2013
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: An historic trial that began Tuesday in Argentina is set to reveal new details about how six Latin American countries coordinated with each other in the 1970s and 1980s to eliminate political dissidents. The campaign, known as Operation Condor, involved military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. They worked together to track down, kidnap and kill people they labeled as terrorists: leftist activists, labor organizers, students, priests, journalists, guerrilla fighters and their families.
The campaign was launched by the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and evidence shows the CIA and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were complicit from its outset. At least 25 military generals are facing charges, and more than 500 witnesses are expected to testify during the trial. Last August, an Argentine federal judge issued a formal request to the Obama administration’s Justice Department to make Kissinger himself available for questioning. The Obama administration did not respond.
AMY GOODMAN: This trial is taking place in Buenos Aires, the site of a former auto mechanic shop turned torture camp. Argentina is where the greatest number of killings of foreigners was carried out under Operation Condor. All of this comes just weeks after Uruguay’s Supreme Court struck down a law that had allowed similar prosecutions in that country.
Well, for more, we’re joined by John Dinges, author of The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. The book brings together interviews and declassified intelligence records to reconstruct the once-secret events. Before that, Dinges was with NPR and worked as a freelance reporter in Latin America. He is currently a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.
John Dinges, welcome to Democracy Now!
JOHN DINGES: Yeah, nice to be here. Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of this trial that’s now underway in Argentina.
JOHN DINGES: Well, there have been several trials, and this goes back to when Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998. That unleashed an avalanche of evidence that went across Europe and led to trials in many places—Rome, Paris, Argentina, Chile—but all of them much smaller than this one. This one has 25 people accused. Unfortunately—or fortunately, who knows?—many of the people who were involved in this have already died, they’re getting old, of the top leaders. But this is 25 Argentinians and one Uruguayan, all of whom were in military positions, all of whom were involved directly with the actions of Operation Condor.
This is historic in the sense that we’re going to hear from 500 witnesses. And really, in the Latin American legal system, it’s unusual. It’s really only coming to the fore now that you hear witnesses, as opposed to just seeing them give their testimony to judges in a closed room, and then later on people like me might go and read those testimonies, but really it doesn’t become public. This is all public. And apparently, a lot of it is being videotaped. So this is—this is the first time that the general public is going to hear the details of this horrible, horrible list of atrocities that killed so many people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, John, for folks who have never heard of Operation Condor or know little about it, the origins of it, how it began, and the nations or the governments that spearheaded it, could you talk about that?
JOHN DINGES: Well, it is a Chilean invention. Augusto Pinochet had dominated his opposition by—the coup was in 1973; by 1974, there was no internal opposition to speak of. But many of the people who had been part of the previous government, that he had overthrown, had gone overseas. There was a very major, important general who was living in Argentina. Political leaders, for example, Orlando Letelier, the former foreign minister and former ambassador to the United States, somebody who would have lunch with Henry Kissinger, was living in Washington. People were spread around, in Europe and all over Latin America, and Pinochet wanted to go after them. And so he mounted Operation Condor.
And he convinced the other countries—Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay—to go along with him, with the argument that there are these guerrilla operations that are a threat to all of them. And there was indeed a guerrilla operation, called the Revolutionary Coordinating Junta, of people who were taking up arms against these governments. And the idea was that they would cooperate in tracking these people down. And they did.
Most of the—the biggest part of the exiles were in Argentina, because Argentina was the last country to give up its civilian government. It wasn’t a dictatorship until March of 1976. And this was created in late 1975. So they were all geared up. And when the coup happened in Argentina, they began killing hundreds of people, of these foreigners. And it’s interesting that you mentioned the Automotores Orletti. This is that auto repair shop that was used as a torture center, and that’s where they kept the international prisoners.
AMY GOODMAN: We, Democracy Now!, went there, visited this shop. I want to read from a declassified record of a CIA briefing that shows that American officials were aware that Latin intelligence services were casting their net wide in Operation Condor. It says, quote, “They are joining forces to eradicate ‘subversion’ … a word which increasingly translates into nonviolent dissent from the left and center left.”
It goes on to another document that you obtained, John Dinges, that’s from the Chilean secret police, known as the DINA. It details the number of dead and disappeared compiled by Argentine intelligence. The cable, sent by DINA’s attaché to Buenos Aires, says he’s, quote, “sending a list of all the dead,” which included the official and unofficial death toll. Between 1975 and mid-’78, he reported, quote, “they count 22,000 between the dead and the disappeared.” Talk about the the number of the dead and what the U.S. knew.
JOHN DINGES: Well, let’s do the U.S. first. The United States, in this period, the 1970s, was a major sponsor of the military dictatorships that had overthrown some democracies, some faltering civilian governments. Whatever it was, the result was governments, like Videla, like Pinochet, like Banzer in Bolivia, who were killing their citizens with impunity. The United States knew about the mass killing. We had this kind of schizophrenic, Machiavellian attitude toward it. We really don’t want these communists to be taking over governments, and we fear that democracy is leading to communist governments. Indeed, a leftist government led by Salvador Allende installed a democratically elected, civilian and revolutionary government in Chile, and that’s why—and Pinochet overthrew that government. The United States was deathly fearful that this would spread in Latin America, and so supported the coming of dictatorships.
When they began mass killings, the United States was aware of these mass killings. When they—they learned of Condor shortly after it was created. There’s no evidence that they knew about it the day it was created. The earliest evidence is a couple months after it began its operations. But they certainly knew these things were happening. And if you look at the meetings, the transcripts of the meetings between Henry Kissinger and these leaders, both in Argentina and in Chile, where we have the records, what do they say in private? You know, “We support what you are doing. We understand that you have to assert your authority. Try your best to release some prisoners, because I’m under a lot of pressure in Congress, because the Democrats are trying to make me, you know, defend human rights. Do the best you can, but I understand what you’re doing.”
And in one case, two weeks after Kissinger visited Santiago, there was a—the second major meeting of all the Condor countries to discuss Condor. And at that meeting, in June 1976, they approved operations for assassination outside of Latin America. The first assassination that occurred was in Washington, D.C. Orlando Letelier, the former foreign minister, was killed on the streets of Washington.
AMY GOODMAN: This is an astounding story. You wrote a book about it, in fact.
JOHN DINGES: And this is—I’ve written actually two books, one about the assassination, in which I, for the first time, wrote a chapter on the discovery of Operation Condor. I didn’t have a lot of detail. In fact, I was misled by the State Department, to a certain extent.
And then, years later, after Pinochet was arrested in London, a flood of documents, including many, many—60,000 pages of documents released by—ordered released by President Clinton, I was able to then, you know, really dig in and understand it from the point of view of the United States. But also, many, many documents were revealed in Latin America. And that is, I think, even more important, because if we just had U.S. documents, it’s always subject to: “Well, that’s the U.S. view of these things.” What was really going on in those Latin American governments—
AMY GOODMAN: But explain how Ron—how Orlando Letelier and his assistant, Ronni Moffitt, were killed in the streets of Washington, D.C., in the United States, in 1976.
JOHN DINGES: Pinochet began this operation shortly after that meeting with Kissinger. Within a month, he gave the order approving this. They sent an agent who had been working for DINA for several years named Michael Townley, an American. I don’t believe it was any accident that they made an American working for them the hit man on this, because, obviously, as soon as suspicion was cast on them, they said, “Oh, this guy was working for the CIA.” And a lot of people like to believe the CIA does all these things. In fact, both the extreme right and the extreme left were saying, “Oh, it was the CIA who did it.” There’s no evidence that Townley was working for the CIA, but he certainly was working for the Chileans.
He allied with some Cubans up in New Jersey, anti-Castro Cubans. They came down to Washington. They—Townley crawled under the car, installed a bomb that he had constructed himself. It was run by one of those old beeper devices. They followed the car down Massachusetts Avenue, and at Sheridan Circle, right outside near the Chilean embassy, they pushed the button, killed him. Ronni Moffitt was the wife of Michael Moffitt, who was actually Orlando’s assistant. She was sitting in the front seat, and that’s why she was killed. Michael survived, and Orlando of course was devastated, died immediately.
AMY GOODMAN: And Townley went to jail for a few years. And then—
JOHN DINGES: Townley—the Chileans turned him over. The story of how we solved this case is incredible. The presumption was that the United States is not going to investigate this very strongly. Everybody that thought that was wrong. The FBI did—made an enormous investigation, solved the case, got pictures of the people. And that’s the long story that I tell in the book. When they identified the people that had come up to the United States to carry this out, they went down to Chile, asked for the cooperation of the Pinochet government. And Pinochet eventually—they had two choices: Either they were going to kill Townley—and there’s evidence that that was one of their plans—or they had to turn him over. And they eventually turned him over. He was taken to the United States, and he began to give testimony. And another flood of information came from Michael Townley. Townley still lives in the United States. He served only five years in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: And then went into witness protection.
JOHN DINGES: And was in witness protection for a while. I understand he’s not anymore in witness protection. He lives in the Midwest. And he’s—he has cooperated. I don’t know whether there’s any remorse on his part, but he has cooperated with many investigations since his imprisonment.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: John, I’d like to ask you about an unusual figure that you talk about in the book and his role in trying to end Operation Condor: Ed Koch, the recently deceased mayor of New York, who was then a young liberal congressman and who began asking all kinds of questions about what was going on and angered our own government. Could you talk about that?
JOHN DINGES: Ed Koch, a beloved figure in this city, and certainly everybody that’s dealt with him has had the same experience. And I was reporting this story. He was very cooperative with me. And he came to my book party, so I love him, too.
Ed Koch was a congressman. He spearheaded a bill, an amendment to a bill, to cut off military aid to Uruguay. The Uruguayans were members—this was 1976. The Uruguayans were members of Operation Condor. And the CIA discovered—and I think the evidence is that they discovered because they were—they talked about it in front of them, that they said they were going to get the Chileans to go up to Washington to kill Koch. And whether that actually was put into action, we don’t know. But George Bush, who was head of the CIA at the time, called up Ed Koch and said, “Ed” — and it’s wonderful to hear Ed Koch tell this story — ”I’ve got to tell you something: There’s a plot to kill you.” And Ed Koch said, “Are you going to provide me protection?” They said, “No, no, no. That’s not our job. We’re the CIA. We’re just telling you, and it’s up to you to provide your own protection.” Ed Koch didn’t know this was Operation Condor. He just thought this was some crazy people from the dictatorship.
Later on, in my investigation, I was—I actually talked to one of the people who was involved in this, one of the Uruguayans, and who—it was a Condor operation. It was kind of a typical one, even though it didn’t actually kill anybody, luckily. But it was the modus operandi. In order to cover their tracks, one country would use another country’s nationals to do their dirty work in the operations that were planned outside of Latin America. Inside of Latin America, you had a much more systematic and effective way of operating, in which they would just track down each other’s dissidents in whatever country they happened to be—Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, mainly in Argentina. And then they would—the methodology was simple: capture them, kidnap them, torture them, kill them, make their bodies disappear. Very few victims have survived Operation Condor, almost none. It’s very difficult to find a survivor.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet, today in Latin America, many of the leaders of the new populist governments were folks who had emerged from some of the very groups that Condor was tracking. And Uruguay especially, a former Tupamaro. And throughout the region, those dissidents now are part of the governing apparatus of their countries.
JOHN DINGES: I was in Bolivia just two weeks ago, and I interviewed one of the—one of the people in the Ministry of Communications, and a man who’s among the many, many, many indigenous people who are in the Morales government. And he described how his father had been a prisoner, had been in Chile as an exile. When the military coup happened, he was imprisoned and kept prisoner for seven months and tortured. And I talked to, in that same office, another person who also had been involved in the Bolivian resistance in the 1980s, going back with the group that had fought together with Che Guevara in the 1960s. His father had been involved with them.
These are revolutionaries, but they are a different brand of revolutionaries. They are as dedicated, I think, but they’re not taking up arms. I really believe that they realize that that did not lead to successful revolutions, and so I’m much more optimistic about what’s going on with the—with this current group of governments.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, a State Department cable, 1978, begins—the jacket of your book, says, “Kissinger explained his opinion [that] the Government of Argentina had done an outstanding job in wiping out terrorist forces.” The significance of the judge calling for Kissinger’s testimony and the Obama administration not responding?
JOHN DINGES: They have asked for Kissinger to give testimony many times. And in my book, I quote the one time where he actually responded to a petition from France, I believe it was. And he basically denied everything. This is very frustrating. I was able to—it was clear to me that, there’s no other word for it, these were lies. I mean, the documents say one thing; Kissinger said another thing. And he knew what those documents said. It’s not—the United States has never allowed any of its officials to face trial in other countries. We are not a member of the ICC. There’s never—
AMY GOODMAN: The International Criminal Court.
JOHN DINGES: The International Criminal Court. There’s never been any participate—there’s never been any trials that have brought Americans in the dock. There was an attempt in Italy; of course, all of those people were gone. The United States, for one reason or another, Democrats and Republicans, protect our own human rights criminals when it’s involving human rights crimes outside of the United States. It’s just the way it is.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you describe Henry Kissinger in that way, as a human rights criminal?
JOHN DINGES: Yes, absolutely.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the relevance of this history of farming out the battle against terrorism, and so you could have no finger marks—no fingerprints of your own involvement to the current war against terrorism in the United States?
JOHN DINGES: Well, I wrote—I was writing chapter one, when 9/11 happened, in my house in Washington. And as I finished the book—and I actually end with a reference to 9/11—I said this is not something that we’re condemned to repeat. And I was making the comparison between the war on terror in the 1970s and the current war on terror that was launched by President Bush. I thought we were going to—we had learned the lesson, that you don’t imitate the methods of your enemies and—or those who had been shown to be human rights criminals. Unfortunately, we crossed that line, I think, many times.
The current discussion about drones, I think, is very frightening, because I’m having a hard time distinguishing between what they did with Operation Condor, low-tech, and what a drone does, because a drone is basically going into somebody else’s country, even with the permission of that country—of course, that’s what Operation Condor did, in most cases: You track somebody down, and you kill them. Now, the justification is: “Well, they were a criminal. They were a combatant.” Well, that may or may not be true, but nobody is determining that except the person that’s pulling the trigger.
I just think that this has to be something that we discuss. And maybe trials like this, going back to the ’70s, people say, “Well, that was the dictatorships of the 1970s.” But the tendency of a state to feel that they can move against their enemies in the most effective way possible is still there, and it is certainly not limited to dictatorships.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, John Dinges, for being with us. John Dinges is author of The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. Before that, he was with National Public Radio, NPR, worked as a freelance reporter in Latin America, is currently a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be joined by filmmaker Dave Riker and actress Abbie Cornish about a new film about human smuggling on the border, called The Girl. Stay with us.
Tags: agribusiness, agriculture, capitalism, food, joanna blythman, nutrition, quinoa, thrid world
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Adventurous eaters liked its slightly bitter taste and the little white curls that formed around the grains. Vegans embraced quinoa as a credibly nutritious substitute for meat. Unusual among grains, quinoa has a high protein content (between 14%-18%), and it contains all those pesky, yet essential, amino acids needed for good health that can prove so elusive to vegetarians who prefer not to pop food supplements.
Sales took off. Quinoa was, in marketing speak, the “miracle grain of the Andes”, a healthy, right-on, ethical addition to the meat avoider’s larder (no dead animals, just a crop that doesn’t feel pain). Consequently, the price shot up – it has tripled since 2006 – with more rarified black, red and “royal” types commanding particularly handsome premiums.
But there is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.
In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there. It’s beginning to look like a cautionary tale of how a focus on exporting premium foods can damage the producer country’s food security. Feeding our apparently insatiable 365-day-a-year hunger for this luxury vegetable, Peru has also cornered the world market in asparagus. Result? In the arid Ica region where Peruvian asparagus production is concentrated, this thirsty export vegetable has depleted the water resources on which local people depend. NGOs report that asparagus labourers toil in sub-standard conditions and cannot afford to feed their children while fat cat exporters and foreign supermarkets cream off the profits. That’s the pedigree of all those bunches of pricy spears on supermarket shelves.
Soya, a foodstuff beloved of the vegan lobby as an alternative to dairy products, is another problematic import, one that drives environmental destruction [see footnote]. Embarrassingly, for those who portray it as a progressive alternative to planet-destroying meat, soya production is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in South America, along with cattle ranching, where vast expanses of forest and grassland have been felled to make way for huge plantations.
Three years ago, the pioneering Fife Diet, Europe’s biggest local food-eating project, sowed an experimental crop of quinoa. It failed, and the experiment has not been repeated. But the attempt at least recognised the need to strengthen our own food security by lessening our reliance on imported foods, and looking first and foremost to what can be grown, or reared, on our doorstep.
In this respect, omnivores have it easy. Britain excels in producing meat and dairy foods for them to enjoy. However, a rummage through the shopping baskets of vegetarians and vegans swiftly clocks up the food miles, a consequence of their higher dependency on products imported from faraway places. From tofu and tamari to carob and chickpeas, the axis of the vegetarian shopping list is heavily skewed to global.
There are promising initiatives: one enterprising Norfolk company, for instance, has just started marketing UK-grown fava beans (the sort used to make falafel) as a protein-rich alternative to meat. But in the case of quinoa, there’s a ghastly irony when the Andean peasant’s staple grain becomes too expensive at home because it has acquired hero product status among affluent foreigners preoccupied with personal health, animal welfare and reducing their carbon “foodprint”. Viewed through a lens of food security, our current enthusiasm for quinoa looks increasingly misplaced.
• This footnote was appended on 17 January 2013. To clarify: while soya is found in a variety of health products, the majority of production – 97% according to the UN report of 2006 – is used for animal feed.
The human rights detective May 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Guatemala, Human Rights, Latin America, Peru.
Tags: Efrain Rios Montt, guatemala, human rights, jefferson morley, kate doyle, Latin America, Peru, roger hollander, Vladimir Montesinos
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ROGER’S NOTE: NEEDLESS TO SAY, THE GOVERNMENTS OF PERU AND GUATEMALA UNDER WHOSE AUSPICES THESE ATROCITIES WERE COMMITTED, WERE AT THE TIME ACTIVELY SUPPORTED BY THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.
Friday, May 11, 2012 06:00 PM EST, www.salon.com
How Kate Doyle pursues war criminals in Latin America
Kate Doyle, human rights investigator, combines legal activism with forensic science. (Credit: Reuters/Jorge Lopez)
Kate Doyle’s job isn’t exactly journalism, though she’s nailed more big stories than many Pulitzer Prize winners. Her work does not quite qualify as law enforcement either, though a few bad guys living in confined quarters rue the day she came into their lives. “Human rights detective” sounds flippant, so she prefers “forensic archivist.”
Whatever you call it, war criminals have to pay attention. Last month Doyle, a senior analyst at the non-profit National Security Archive, testified as an expert witness in the Peruvian government’s prosecution of Vladimir Montesinos, the country’s former intelligence chief, who is on trial for ordering the execution of 14 captured leftist guerrillas in 1997. Doyle authenticated a declassified CIA cable she had obtained that included a first person account of Montesinos’s actions.
In the near future, she hopes to take the stand as an expert witness against former de facto Guatemalan president Efrain Rios Montt, who presided over a genocidal “scorched earth” war that killed an estimated 200,000 people in the early 1980s, the worst genocide in the Western Hemisphere in the 20th century. An investigation documented 626 different massacres committed by the U.S.-backed military forces between 1979 and 1984; most of the victims were unarmed Mayan Indians.
Doyle’s forensic investigations over the last 20 years have made her an irritant to governments everywhere — including Washington — as well a friend to the families of the victims of human rights abuses throughout Latin America. She has won a host of awards, including this year’s Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive and Puffin Foundation award for human rights activism, one of the world’s largest prizes in the field. She will share the award with fellow investigator Fredy Peccerelli, who is the executive director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation.
“She speaks with such strength because she speaks as an American,” Peccerelli said in an interview. “Very few times do you have someone investigating their own government and pointing to their own officials about their involvement. Kate speaks about the responsibility that Americans bear because of what they did. It’s very powerful.”
(Full disclosure: Doyle is a friend. I relied on CIA documents she obtained from the National Security Archive to write my book Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA. Like many journalists in Washington and Latin America, I have found her work to be built on a solid foundation of official documentation from the U.S. and other governments. )
She’s also a passionate advocate of freedom of information laws. Thanks in part to her work, seven Latin American countries have adopted freedom of information laws since 2000. The most distinctive feature of these laws is that, unlike the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, they explicitly forbid the withholding of information about human rights abuses on grounds of “national security.” A provision she calls “very important but untested.”
“Having a legal mechanism to obligate the state to provide information is just the beginning,” says Doyle. She shares the information with prosecutors to develop cases based on “criminal patterns of action” that yield specific details of a disappearance or a massacre. Peccerelli’s forensic anthropologists exhume bodies and do DNA analysis.
Doyle has been largely frustrated in Mexico and El Salvador, where legal authorities are reluctant to confront the abuses of the past. But in Guatemala, she and her colleagues have uncovered some remarkable stories that have led to the prosecution of military officers involved in war crimes.
In the late 1990s, a source gave Guatemalan human rights activists a 54-page army log that revealed the fate of scores of people who were “disappeared” by security forces during the mid-1980s. The log included photos of 183 of the victims, along with coded references to their executions.
For the families of the victims, the results of the discovery of the so-called “death squad dossier” were close to miraculous. Not only are the officers named in the documents now under investigation, but thanks to Peccerelli’s DNA work, the bodies of five of the victims were identified and returned to their families, who had never known what had happened to their loved ones 30 years ago.
In 2009, another source gave Doyle a set of internal military documents about the scorched earth campaign of the early 1980s that were so damning in their details that the source recommended she immediately leave the country. “This person was worried that anybody who had possession of such incendiary documents would be targeted,” Doyle said.
The documents will be used by prosecutors in the trial of Rios Montt. “We have a very strong case,” Doyle says. But the continuing power of the Guatemalan military means the 86-year-old retired general may be able to avoid justice.
I asked her if she ever get discouraged by the enormity of the crimes she investigates.
“I don’t,” she replied. “I”ve met so many beautiful, dedicated people in Guatemala who have been working on this for 30 years that I feel privileged. What Fredy’s group has done with DNA findings is amazing. I’m inspired, not discouraged.”
Working with the families of people who have lost loved ones, she says, “is always painful. But I can bring them information that they’ve never been able to get. That’s mitigates the pain.”
I asked her if she ever gets scared.
“I have received threats,” she says with a rueful laugh. “But I’ve never felt one iota as frightened as my colleagues who have to stay in Guatemala all the time. Pressure and hostility and threats come with the territory” — the territory of the forensic archivist.
Showdown in Peru: Indigenous Communities Kick Out Canadian Mining Company September 21, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Latin America, Peru.
Tags: alan garcia, bear creek, benjamin dangl, Canada, canada mining, canadian mining, mining industry, ollanta humala, Peru, peru economy, peru indigenous, peru mining, peru poverty, roger hollander
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Why Washington Is Worried About Peru June 2, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America, Peru.
Tags: alberto fujimori, alejandro toledo, foreign policy, keiko fujimori, Latin America, mark weisbrot, monroe doctrine, ollanta humala, Peru, peru election, roger hollander, vargas llosa
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If its preferred candidate Keiko Fujimori loses to Ollanta Humala, the US will be isolated against South America’s left governments
In just a few days, on Sunday 5 June, an election will take place that will have a significant influence on the western hemisphere. At the moment, it is too close to call. Most of official Washington has been relatively quiet, but there is no doubt that the Obama administration has a big stake in the outcome of this poll.
The election is in Peru, where left populist and former military officer Ollanta Humala is facing off against Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Peru’s former authoritarian ruler Alberto Fujimori, who was president from 1990-2000. Alberto Fujimori is in jail, serving a 25-year sentence for multiple political murders, kidnapping and corruption. Keiko has made it clear that she represents him and his administration, and has been surrounded by his associates and former officials of his government.
Fujimori was found to have had “individual criminal responsibility” for the murders and kidnappings. But his government was responsible for many more widespread murders and human rights abuses, including the forced sterilisation of tens of thousands of women, mostly indigenous.
Between the two candidates, whom do you think Washington would prefer?
If you guessed Keiko Fujimori, you guessed right. I spoke Monday night with Gustavo Gorriti in Lima, an award-winning Peruvian investigative journalist who was one of the people that Alberto Fujimori was convicted of kidnapping. “The US embassy strongly opposes Humala’s candidacy,” he said. Harvard professor of government Steven Levitsky, who has written extensively on Peru and is currently visiting professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), came to the same conclusion: “It’s clear that the US embassy here sees Keiko as the least bad option,” he told me from Lima on Tuesday.
Humala’s opponents argue that Peru’s democracy would be imperilled if he were elected, pointing to a military revolt that he led against Fujimori’s authoritarian government. (He was later pardoned by the Peruvian Congress.) But his record is hardly comparable to the actual, proven crimes of Alberto Fujimori.
Humala is also accused of being an ally of Venezuela‘s President Hugo Chávez. He has distanced himself from Chávez, unlike in his 2006 campaign for the presidency. But all of this is just a rightwing media stunt. Chávez has been demonised throughout the hemispheric media, and so rightwing media monopolies have used him as a bogeyman in numerous elections for years, with varying degrees of success. Of course, Venezuela is also irrelevant to the Peruvian election because almost all governments in South America are “allies of Chávez”. This is especially true of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Uruguay, for example, all of whom have very close and collaborative relations with Venezuela.
As in many other elections in Latin America, rightwing domination of the media is key to successful scare tactics. “The majority of TV stations and newspapers have been actively working for Fujimori in this election,” said Levitsky.
The thought of another Fujimori government is so frightening that a number of prominent conservative Peruvian politicians have decided to endorse Humala. Among these is the Nobel prize-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who hates the Latin American left as much as anyone. Humala has also been endorsed by Alejandro Toledo, the former Peruvian president and contender in the first round of this election.
So why would Washington want Fujimori? The answer is quite simple: it’s about Washington’s waning influence and power in its former “backyard” of Latin America. In South America, there are now left-of-centre governments in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay. These governments have a common position on most hemispheric issues (and sometimes, other international issues, such as the Middle East), and it often differs from that of Washington.
For example, when the Honduran military overthrew the country’s elected left-of-centre president, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009, and the Obama administration sought to legitimise the coup government through elections that other governments would not recognise, it was Washington’s few rightwing allies that first broke ranks with the rest of South America.
Prior to last August, the only governments in South America that Washington could count as allies were Chile, Peru and Colombia. But Colombia under President Manuel Santos is no longer a reliable ally, and currently has very good co-operative relations with Venezuela. If Humala wins, there is little doubt that he will join the rest of South America on most issues of concern to Washington. The same cannot be said of Keiko Fujimori.
And that is why Washington is worried about this election.
Peru Indians Hail ‘Historic’ Day June 19, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Peru.
Tags: alan garcia, amazon environment, amazon rainforest, bolivia govenment, Evo Morales, Free Trade, fta, indigenous massacre, indigenous rights, peru amazon, peru congress, peru environment, peru government, peru indigenous, peru massacre, peru protest, peruvian amazon, roger hollander
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Indigenous groups in Peru have called off protests after two land laws which led to deadly fighting were revoked.
Hailing victory, Amazonian Indian groups said it was an “historic day”.
At least 34 people died during weeks of strikes against the legislation, which allowed foreign companies to exploit resources in the Amazon forest.
The violence provoked tension with Peru’s neighbour, Bolivia, where Preisdent Evo Morales backed the Peruvian Indians’ tribal rights.
“This is a historic day for indigenous people because it shows that our demands and our battles were just,” said Daysi Zapata, vice president of the Amazon Indian confederation that led the protests.
She urged fellow activists to end their action by lifting blockades of jungle rivers and roads set up since April across six provinces in the Peruvian Amazon.
The controversial laws, passed to implement a free trade agreement with the US, were revoked by Peru’s Congress by a margin of 82-12 after a five-hour debate.
The worst of the clashes occurred on 5 June when police tried to clear roadblocks set up by the groups at Bagua, 1,000km (600 miles) north of Lima.
At least 30 civilians died, according to Indian groups, as well as 23 police.
Peru’s Prime Minister Yehude Simon said the reversal of policy would not put at risk Peru’s free trade agreement with the US, but he has said he will step down once the dispute is settled.
The dispute led to a diplomatic row between Peru and Latin American neighbours Venezuela and Bolivia.
Peru recalled its ambassador to Bolivia for consultation on Tuesday after Bolivian President Evo Morales described the deaths of the indigenous protesters as a genocide caused by free trade.
Peru’s Foreign Minister Jose Antonia Garcia Belaunde called Mr Morales an “enemy of Peru”.
BBC © MMIX
Massacre in the Amazon: The US/Peru Free Trade Agreement Sparks a Battle Over Land and Resources June 18, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Peru.
Tags: alan garcia, amazon, amazon ecology, amazon environment, APRA, environment, Free Trade, fta, human rights, indigenous, indigenous rights, oxfam, Peru, peru amazon, peru constitution, peru environment, peru government, peru massacre, peru politics, raul zibechi, roger hollander
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by Raúl Zibechi
On June 5, World Environment Day, Amazon Indians were massacred by the government of Alan Garcia in the latest chapter of a long war to take over common lands-a war unleashed by the signing of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Peru and the United States.
Three MI-17 helicopters took off from the base of the National Police in El Milagro at six in the morning of Friday, June 5. They flew over Devil’s Curve, the part of the highway that joins the jungle with the northern coast, which had been occupied for the past 10 days by some 5,000 Awajún and Wampi indigenous peoples. The copters launched tear gas on the crowd (other versions say that they also shot machine guns), while simultaneously a group of agents attacked the road block by ground, firing AKM rifles. A hundred people were wounded by gunshot and between 20-25 were killed.
The population of the nearby city of Bagua, some thousand kilometers northeast of Lima near the border with Ecuador, came out into the streets to support the indigenous people’s demonstration, setting fire to state institutions and local office of the official party APRA (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana). Several police officers were attacked and killed in the counter-attack, and other indigenous protestors were killed by police. At the same time, a group of 38 police who were guarding an oil station in the Amazon were taken hostage. Some were killed by their captors, while some 1,000 Indians threatened to set fire to Station Number 6 of the northern Peruvian oil pipeline.
The versions are contradictory. The government claimed days after the events that there are 11 indigenous dead and 23 police. The indigenous organizations reported 50 dead among their ranks and up to 400 disappeared. According to witnesses, the military burned bodies and threw them into the river to hide the massacre, and also took prisoners among the wounded in the hospitals. In any case, what is certain is that the government sent the armed forces to evict a peaceful protest that had been going on for 57 days in the jungle regions of five departments: Amazonas, Cusco, Loreto, San Martin, and Ucayali.
The Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH), part of the Organization of American States, condemned the violent acts on June 8 and reminded the Peruvian government of its obligation to clear up the facts and to compensate for the consequences and called on both sides to promote a process of dialogue.1 On June 9, the National Coordination of Human Rights announced that it found a series of irregularities and possible human rights violations in the Bagua area. It denounced the government’s refusal to divulge what police are in charge of the investigation of the events, and expressed concern for the situation of 25 detained at the El Milagro base and the 99 arrested since a curfew was imposed in Bagua.2
President Garcia accused the Indians of being “terrorists” and spoke of an “international conspiracy,” in which, according to government ministers, Bolivia and Venezuela are involved because as oil- and gas-producing countries they want to keep Peru from exploiting these resources and becoming a competitor.3 Just a few weeks ago, Peru granted asylum to the anti-Chavez leader, Venezuelan Manuel Rosas, accused of corruption, and three former Bolivian ministers from the government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lazada prosecuted for the death of nearly 700 persons during the “gas war” of October 2003.
On Tuesday, June 9, the minister of Women and Social Development, Carmen Vildoso, resigned in protest of the way the government handled the situation. According to Prime Minister Yehude Simon, her resignation was due to her disapproval of a publicity spot emitted by the government in which, with the background of photos of dead police and indigenous people throwing spears and arrows, it presented the natives as “savages,” “fierce assassins,” and “extremists” that follow “international orders” to “stop Peru’s development” and keep the country from taking advantage of its oil.” The spot claims there was no repression but rather “a savage assassination of humble policemen.”4
The leader of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP, by its Spanish initials), that groups some 300,000 indigenous persons and 1,350 communities, Albert Pizango, was considered a “delinquent” by the Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas and ordered captured. Pizango sought asylum in the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima. The parliamentary group of the official party accused the left, the leader of the Nationalist Party of Peru Ollanta Humala, and the media in the Amazon region of “having induced acts of violence so that the natives would attack the police,” and threatened to accuse them of terrorism.
History of the Conflict
The conflict began on April 9, when Amazon peoples mobilized to block the highways and gas and oil pipelines to protest the implementation of a series of decrees passed to implement the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. But the situation got worse on June 4, when the APRA stopped Congress from debating repeal of some laws questioned by the indigenous peoples that had already been declared unconstitutional by a Constitutions Commission.
The FTA with the United States was negotiated beginning in May of 2004 under the government of Alejandro Toledo (2000-2005). The treaty was slated to replace the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act signed in 2002 and in effect until December of 2006. The FTA eliminated obstacles to trade and facilitated access to goods and services and investment flows. Modeled on the North American free Trade Agreement, it also includes a broad range of issues linked to intellectual property, public contracting and services, and dispute resolution.5
The U.S-Peru FTA was signed on Dec. 8, 2005 in Washington by then-Presidents George W. Bush and Alan Garcia. In June of 2006 it was ratified by Peru and in December of 2007 by the U.S. Congress. On Feb 1, 2009, the agreement went into effect after Bush and Garcia signed it on January 16 of that year.
The signing of the FTA caused huge mobilizations in 2005, especially among peasant farmers who were the most harmed by the elimination of tariffs and trade protections. Although the government said it would provide compensation to producers, these never arrived. On February 18, 2008 they staged a National Agrarian Stoppage with road blocks throughout the country that led to four dead from police repression and the imposition of a state of emergency in eight provinces.
On October 28, 2007, Alan Garcia published a long article in the daily paper El Comercio of Lima under the title “The Syndrome of the Orchard Dog.” Garcia described nature as a resource, and maintained that to refuse to exploit it was foolish, ignoring the debate over the conservation of the Amazon region. “The old anti-capitalist communist of the 19th century disguised himself as a protectionist in the 20th century, and donned the label of an environmentalist in the 21st century.”
In his opinion, those who oppose the intensive exploitation of the Amazon region are like an orchard dog, that “doesn’t eat or let anyone else eat.”
“There are millions of hectares that the communities and associations have not cultivated or will cultivate, as well as hundreds of mineral deposits that cannot be worked and millions of hectares of sea that cannot be used for aquaculture and production. The rivers that run down both sides of the mountain range are a fortune that pours into the ocean without producing electric energy,” Garcia states in the article.
“The first resource is the Amazon,” he maintains. There are 63 million hectares that he proposes be parceled out into large properties of “5,000, 10,000, or 20,000 hectares, since in less land there is no formal investment long term and high technology.”
On the land, he notes that one should not “deliver small lots of land to poor families that do not have a penny to invest,” and that “this same land sold in large lots will attract technology.” He cares little that these lands are the collective property of the communities, since in his opinion they are just “idle lands because the owner does not have the training or the resources economic, that’s why their property is feigned.”
The Free Trade Agreement and the Legislative Decrees
Based on this logic of converting everything into merchandise, the government asked Congress for faculties to legislate issues relative to the implementation of the FTA through Legislative Decrees (LD). On December 19, 2007, Congress gave full faculties to the government to legislate for six months by decree issues related to the FTA, through Law 29157. Mandated by these powers, the executive drafted 99 laws that are at the root of the current conflict.
An independent judicial report distributed by Oxfam America concludes that the executive branch took advantage of the powers granted it by Congress “to issue a large number of norms with no or very little effective links to the FTA, distorting and alienating the terms of the delegation of powers approved by Congress.”6
Consequently, the report establishes that “such decrees can be qualified as unconstitutional for reasons of form,” and that therefore “merits their derogation” by Congress or the Constitutional Tribunal. It also notes that through the 99 LDs “a substantial reform of the organizational and jurisdictional framework of various government entities has been attempted, as well as the regulatory framework applicable to economic activities of special relevance,” without strict relation to the FTA.7
The most controversial of the degrees are numbers 1015 and 1073, declared unconstitutional by the Oxfam report. Theses decrees modify the number of votes required to sell communal lands (just three votes could place community land up for sale). Number 1015 was repealed by Congress in August of 2008. Decree 1064 (legal Framework for Use of Agrarian Lands), abolishes the requirement of the previous agreement to undertake projects and is also considered unconstitutional.
LD 1083 (Promotion of Efficient Use and Conservation of Hydraulic Resources) favors the privatization of water to large consumers such as mining companies. LD 1081, 1079, and 1020 deregulate diverse aspects of legislation in areas of mining, timber, and hydrocarbon exploitation. But it is LD 1090 (Forestry and Woodland Fauna Law) that is at the crux of the debate. It leaves out of the forestry framework 45 million hectares, that is, 64% of the forests of Peru, including their biodiversity in flora and fauna, making it possible to sell them to transnational corporations.
On April 9, the 1,350 communities that make up the AIDESEP agreed to start demonstrating within their communities. Prime Minister Simon called the April 18 indigenous demands “capricious.” On May 5, the bishops of eight Catholic dioceses demanded that President Alan Garcia repeal the decrees because they consider them “a threat to the Amazon.” On May 10, the government decreed a State of Emergency in five regions of the country where road blocks and blockages of ports and oil pipelines were taking place.
On May 19, the Constitution Commission of parliament declared LD 1090 unconstitutional. The report of the Commission8 concludes that the decree “does not respect the limitations that are established in Articles 101 and 104 of the Political Constitution, in terms of areas that cannot be legislated.” It also notes that “it goes against Article 66 of the constitution, by regulating in the area of natural resources, that is exclusively reserved for the organic law.”
In short, legislators agreed that the executive branch does not have the faculties to legislate by decree in certain areas according to the constitution, and that must be done in Congress. The decision of the Commission must still be debated in Congress, but on May 22 the minister of justice, Rosario Fernandez, denounced Alberto Pizango, leader of the AIDESEP, for sedition and conspiracy. On May 26, Awaj’un and Wampis took over the Belaunde Terry highway on Devil’s Curve and some 1,200 indigenous people surrounded Station 6.
On May 26, there was a huge demonstration in Lima in support of the Amazon struggle. On May 28, community landholders from the Cusco jungle took over a second valve of the gas pipeline of Kamisea. On June 1, industrialists and exporters demanded that the government “apply the law” to free the highways and pipelines in the Amazon. On June 2, the president of the Permanent Forum of the United Nations on Indigenous Questions asked the Peruvian government to “immediately suspend the state of siege against indigenous communities and organizations and “avoid any action, such as military intervention, that could increase the conflict.”9
On June 4, the APRA majority of parliament decided to suspend the debate on the unconstitutionality of LD 1090. The People’s Defender presented a grievance of unconstitutionality against LD 1064. On June 5, 639 agents of Special Operatives and staff of the armed forces attacked the indigenous on Devil’s Curve with dozens of dead, and hundreds of wounded and disappeared.
The Amazon protest has not died down since the massacre-nearly all the 56 Amazon indigenous peoples reaffirmed that they would continue the road blocks until the government repeals the Legislative Decrees that the violate Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization and their rights over their territories. According to their testimonies, the situation is explosive. Alan Garcia has a history of violent repression. Under his first presidency in 1986, the armed forces forcefully put down a coordinated prison riot that left over a hundred prisoners shot dead. In this context, the Peruvian government could very well increase the violence unleashed on the indigenous movement.
Hugo Blanco, a well-known Peruvian movement activist and editor of the monthly Lucha Indígena, takes a long look in a recent editorial: “After 500 years of silencing, the Amazon peoples receive the support of the peoples of Peru and the world. It could be the greatest achievement of this campaign has been to make these nationalities visible, weaving links between diverse sectors of the country, as divided as those who dominate. By defending the Amazon we are defending the life of all of humanity; and by not ceding to the deceit of the government, they are rewriting history, recuperating for all the sense of the word dignity.”
- Servindi, June 9, 2009.
- La Jornada, June 7, 2009 base on reports from Reuters, AFP, and DPA.
- Página 12, June 10, 2009.
- Peru Gets its Free Trade Agreement with the United States, http://americas.irc-online.org/am/4726.
- Francisco Eguiguren, ob. cit. p. 96.
- Idem p. 97.
- “Informe sobre DL 1090. Comisión de Constitución y Reglamento,” May 19, 2009 at www.servindi.org.
- Chronology taken from Lucha Indígena No. 35 and Ana Maria Vidal ob. cit.
Translated for the Americas Program by Laura Carlsen.
© 2009 Center for International Policy (CIP)
Raúl Zibechi is an international analyst for Brecha of Montevideo, Uruguay, lecturer and researcher on social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and adviser to several social groups. He writes the monthly “Zibechi Report” for the Americas Program (www.americasprogram.org).
US-Peru FTA Sparks Indigenous Massacre June 12, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Environment, First Nations, Human Rights, Latin America, Peru.
Tags: alan garcia, amazon ecology, amazon rainfores, environment protection, Free Trade, fta, human rights, human rights abuses, indigenous protest, indigenous rights, peru free trade, peru government, peru massacre, peru military, peru protests, peruvian amazon, peur disappeared, rainforest, roger hollander, tom loudon
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Thursday 11 June 2009
During the last week, deep in the Peruvian Amazon, confrontations between nonviolent indigenous protesters and police have left up to 100 people dead. The vast majority of the casualties are civilians, who have been conducting peaceful demonstrations in defense of the Amazon rain forest.
For almost two months, as many as 30,000 indigenous people have been blocking road and river traffic, demanding the repeal of presidential decrees issued last year to facilitate implementation of the US-Peru FTA. According to the indigenous leaders, several of these decrees directly threaten indigenous territories and rights. After having attempted several times to negotiate with the government the repeal of the most egregious of the decrees, and faced with a permanent influx of extraction equipment into the region, the people decided it was imperative to “put their bodies in front of the machines” in order to prevent this equipment from entering their territory.
On Friday, June 5, the government decided the protests needed to end and launched an aggressive assault against the people protesting on the road outside of Bagua. The dislocation was conducted from helicopters and the ground, with police and army using automatic weapons and heavy equipment against people armed with only rocks and spears. As videos, photos and testimonies from the region slowly emerge, it is clear that this was designed to inflict as many civilian casualties as possible, and deter those in other regions from continuing protests. Pictures circulating on the Internet depict snipers in uniform firing at protesters from the streets, tanks and from on top of buildings. On Saturday, in Lima, Peru’s capital, a large spontaneous demonstration in support of the Amazonian indigenous was broken up by police.
In the wake of what appears to be a massacre perpetrated by the police, the government of President Alan Garcia is mounting a massive propaganda campaign, claiming that indigenous protesters attacked the police, and accusing them of being terrorists. Human rights lawyers have accused Peru’s government of a cover-up, and have been impeded from getting in to investigate more fully. The Bishop’s Vicariate for the Environment for Jaen, Nicanor Alvarado, said “The main problem is that injured and deceased civilians are being transferred to the “El Milagro” military base … so, it’s possible that a group of injured and deceased people are disappeared later on.”
Credible accusations are emerging that the police are systematically disappearing civilian bodies by burning or throwing then in rivers. Right now, people in the region are preparing lists of those missing to document the large number of civilians disappeared. Amnesty International has issued a warning expressing concern for the scores of demonstrators who were detained last weekend.
The head of Peru’s Justice Ministry issued a warrant for the arrest of Alberto Pizango on sedition charges. Pizango is president of AIDESEP, the main indigenous organization involved in the protests. Pizango has taken refuge in the Nicaraguan Embassy and it appears that Nicaragua will grant him asylum. Arrest warrants have been issued for several other leaders as well.
The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues issued an urgent call to the government of Peru, demanding that the violence against the indigenous people cease, that medical attention be made available to the wounded and that the Peruvian government abide by its international obligations regarding the protection of all human rights, especially the people’s right to life and security.
The tragic violence currently unleashed in the Peruvian Amazon is directly linked to the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the US and Peru. On Sunday, interviewed at one of the many roadblocks set up by the demonstrators, indigenous leader and protester Luis Huansi stated, “We will not give up until they reverse the laws that damage us. They want to take away our lands and forests and make our traditions disappear.”
Indigenous leaders promise that the protests will not end with this latest violence from the government. There have already been calls for international tribunals to investigate and, if their findings so indicate, to hold the government responsible for this massacre.
On June 8, Minister Carmen Vildoso, the Women’s Issues and Social Development minister, announced her resignation in protest of the government’s response. There is building pressure for the resignation of Cabinet Chief Yehude Simon and Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas. Although President Garcia has stated that he will not backpedal, international pressure is growing for the actions of the police and military to be brought to light.
A national strike has been called in Peru for June 11 by the newly formed “National Front for Life and Sovereignty,” which includes a broad spectrum of Peruvian national organizations. Protests in solidarity have happened in many parts of the world, and people will be watching closely for how the Peruvian government responds to the strike.
Tom Loudon is co-director of the Quixote Center in Washington, DC.
Peru: Save the Amazon June 11, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Environment, First Nations, Human Rights, Latin America, Peru.
Tags: alan garcia, amazon ecology, amazon farming, amazon peoples, amazon rainforest, avaaz, environment, environmental protection, human rights, indigenous rights, peru free trade, peru government, peru human rights, peru indigenous, peru massacre, peru protest, roger hollander
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The Peruvian government has pushed through legislation that could allow extractive and large-scale farming companies to rapidly destroy their Amazon rainforest.
Indigenous peoples have peacefully protested for two months demanding their lawful say in decrees that will contribute to the devastation of the Amazon’s ecology and peoples, and be disastrous for the global climate. But last weekend President Garcia responded: sending in special forces to suppress protests in violent clashes, and labelling the protesters as terrorists.
These indigenous groups are on the frontline of the struggle to protect our earth — Let’s stand with them and call on President Alan Garcia (who is widely known to be sensitive to his international reputation) to immediately stop the violence and open up dialogue. Click below to sign the urgent global petition and a prominent and well-respected Latin-American politician will deliver it to the government on our behalf.
More than 70 per cent of the Peruvian Amazon is now up for grabs. Giant oil and gas companies, like the Anglo-French Perenco and the North Americans ConocoPhillips and Talisman Energy, have already pledged multi-billionaire investments in the region. These extractive industries have a very poor record of bringing benefits to local people and preserving the environment in developing countries – which is why indigenous groups are asking for internationally-recognized rights to consultation on the new laws.
For decades the world and indigenous peoples have watched as extractive industries devastated the rainforest that is home to some and a vital treasure to us all (some climate scientists call the Amazon the “lungs of the planet” – breathing in the carbon emissions that cause global warming and producing oxygen).
The protests in Peru are the biggest yet and the most desperate, we can’t afford to let them fail. Sign the petition, and encourage your friends and family to join us, so we can help bring justice to the indigenous peoples of Peru and prevent further acts of violence from all parties.
Luis, Paula, Alice, Ricken, Graziela, Ben, Brett, Iain, Pascal, Raj, Taren and the entire Avaaz team.
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Tags: alan garcia, amazon rainforest, amazon watch, human rights, indigenous protest, indigenous rights, milagros salazar, Peru, peru agribusiness, peru amazon, peru biofuel, peru environment, peru free trade, peru human rights, peru indigenous, peru logging, peru massacre, peru mining, peru neo-liberal, peru oil, roger hollander
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LIMA – There are conflicting reports on a violent incident in Peru’s Amazon jungle region in which both police officers and indigenous protesters were killed.
The authorities, who describe last Friday’s incident as a “clash” between the police and protesters manning a roadblock, say 22 policemen and nine civilians were killed.
But leaders of the two-month roadblock say at least 40 indigenous people, including three children, were killed and that the authorities are covering up the massacre by throwing bodies in the river.
And foreign activists on the scene in the town of Bagua, in the northern province of Amazonas, report that the police opened fire early in the morning on the unarmed protesters, some of whom were still sleeping, and deliberately mowed them down as they held up their arms or attempted to flee.
In response, the activists quote eyewitnesses as saying, another group of indigenous people who were farther up the hill seized and killed a number of police officers, apparently in “self-defense.”
National ombudswoman Beatriz Merino reported Sunday night that at least 24 police and 10 civilians had been killed, and that 89 indigenous people had been wounded and 79 arrested. But the figures continue to grow.
“We have killed each other, Peruvians against Peruvians,” lamented indigenous leader Shapion Noningo, the new spokesman for the Peruvian Rainforest Inter-Ethnic Development Association (AIDESEP) – which groups 28 federations of indigenous peoples – said Sunday night.
AIDESEP has led the protests that began two months ago, which have included blockades of traffic along roads and rivers and occupations of oil industry installations in various provinces.
A few hours earlier, President Alán García had said there was “a conspiracy afoot to try to keep us from making use of our natural wealth.” He was referring to the fierce opposition by the country’s native peoples to 10 decrees issued by his government that open up indigenous land to private investment by oil, mining and logging companies and to agribusiness, including biofuel plantations.
The decrees, which were passed by the government under special powers received from Congress to facilitate implementation of Peru’s free trade agreement with the United States, are considered unconstitutional by the indigenous protesters. A legislative committee also recommended last December that they be overturned.
On Thursday, Jun. 4, governing party lawmakers suspended a debate on one of the decrees, the “forestry and wildlife law”, fueling the demonstrators’ anger.
“In whose interest is it for Peru not to use its natural gas; in whose interest is it for Peru not to find more oil; in whose interest is it for Peru not to exploit its minerals more effectively and on a larger-scale? We know whose interests this serves,” said García. “The important thing is to identify the ties between these international networks that are emerging to foment unrest.”
The president blamed the conflict on “international competitors,” but without naming names.
Two neighboring countries that are major producers of natural gas and oil, Venezuela and Bolivia, are governed by left-wing administrations that have been vociferous critics of “neoliberal” free trade economic policies like those followed by the García administration.
“We will not give in to violence or blackmail,” said the president, who maintained that Peru “is suffering from subversive aggression” fed by opponents who “have taken the side of extreme savagery.”
A large number of the traffic blockades on roads and rivers are in the northern and northeastern provinces of Loreto, San Martín and Amazonas, which have large natural gas reserves.
According to the 1993 census, indigenous people made up one-third of the Peruvian population. But more recent estimates put the proportion at 45 percent, with most of the rest of the population of 28 million being of mixed-race heritage.
In Loreto, indigenous protesters reportedly attempted to occupy installations belonging to the Argentine oil company Pluspetrol. The company said it had closed down activity on its 1AB lot, to avoid violent clashes.
Business associations estimate the losses caused by the protests at more than 186 million dollars.
The government is broadcasting a television spot showing images of dead policemen, along with messages like: “This is how extremism is acting against Peru”; “extremists encouraged from abroad want to block progress in Peru”; and “we must unite against crime, to keep the fatherland from backsliding from the progress made.”
Leaders of the indigenous protests say the government is manipulating information and blaming them for incidents that could have been avoided if Congress had repealed the decrees that sparked the first native “uprising” in August 2008, which flared up again in April this year.
“The government is underreporting the number of indigenous people killed and missing. It is insulting us and treating us like criminals, when all we are doing is defending ourselves and our territory, which is humanity’s heritage,” Walter Kategari, a member of the AIDESEP board of directors, told IPS.
Kategari forms part of AIDESEP’s new leadership, which was formed when the group’s top leader, Alberto Pizango, went into hiding after a warrant for his arrest was put out on Saturday. Pizango said he fears for his life.
The leaders of the indigenous movement are demanding that the curfew prohibiting people from leaving their homes in Bagua between 3:00 PM and 6:00 AM be lifted. According to Kategari, the curfew is being used to conceal the bodies of the Indians who were killed.
“Our brothers and sisters in Bagua say the police have been collecting the bodies, putting them in black bags and throwing them in the river from a helicopter,” Kategari told IPS. “The government cannot make our dead disappear.”
There is great insecurity and fear in the jungle, he added. “People are calling us on the telephone, desperate.” He said he is preparing a list of victims based on the names he has been given by people in Bagua, to counteract the official reports.
Gregor MacLennan, program coordinator for the international organization Amazon Watch, said “All eyewitness testimonies say that Special Forces opened fire on peaceful and unarmed demonstrators, including from helicopters, killing and wounding dozens in an orchestrated attempt to open the roads. “It seems that the police had come with orders to shoot. This was not a clash, but a coordinated police raid with police firing on protesters from both sides of their blockade,” added the activist, speaking from the town of Bagua. “Today I spoke to many eyewitnesses in Bagua reporting that they saw police throw the bodies of the dead into the Marañon river from a helicopter in an apparent attempt by the government to underreport the number of indigenous people killed by police,” said MacLennan, in an Amazon Watch statement.
“Hospital workers in Bagua Chica and Bagua Grande corroborated that the police took bodies of the dead from their premises to an undisclosed location,” he added.
According to MacLennan, shortly before the killings in Bagua, the police chief and mayors met with the indigenous leaders, and the police chief said he had orders to dismantle the roadblock.
Early Friday morning, the activist told Amy Goodman in an interview on the Democracy Now radio program, an estimated 500 police bore down on the protesters at the roadblock, some of whom were still sleeping, and opened fire.
MacLennan said a local leader told him that demonstrators kneeling down with their hands up were directly shot by the police. After that, he said, the police continued firing as the demonstrators attempted to flee.
With respect to the deaths of the policemen, he said “All the indigenous people I’ve spoken to are very upset about that equally…they say…they’re all Peruvians, and they all have families. It appears that as the police were attacking this huge group of indigenous people…some people came down from the mountains, who were sleeping up there, and jumped on the police and killed some of the police in self-defence, an act that’s understandable, but, as the leaders I’ve spoken to say, not excusable.”
He said the indigenous leaders want a “transparent” investigation and for all of those responsible for the killings to be brought to justice.
Unconstitutional government decrees
AIDESEP spokesman Noningo said “the political system has fomented this confrontation.” He pointed out that a multi-party legislative commission recommended in December that the decrees be repealed.
The congressional constitution committee also said the “forestry and wildlife law”, which according to critics endangers the rainforest that is home to the indigenous groups, is unconstitutional.
On Thursday Jun. 4, the ombudsperson’s office filed a lawsuit against the law, alleging that it is unconstitutional and that it undermines indigenous peoples’ rights to cultural identity, collective ownership of their land, and prior consultation.
Under the Peruvian constitution and International Labor Organisation (ILO) Convention 169, indigenous groups must be previously consulted with respect to any investment projects in their territory.
The “forestry and wildlife law”, whose stated aim is to “create the necessary conditions for private sector investment in agriculture,” violates the property rights of indigenous communities, according to the ombudsperson’s office.
But the president of Congress, Javier Velásquez Quesquén, said the legislators will not give in to “blackmail” by indigenous people.
Sociologist Nelson Manrique at the Pontificia Universidad Católica, a private university in Lima, said “the indigenous protesters are being accused of asking for too much because they are demanding compliance with the constitution, when it is the government that is breaking the law by refusing to revoke the decrees.”
The analyst told IPS that the arguments set forth by the authorities are like those of the ruling elites, who “use two stereotypes in their depictions of indigenous people: the manipulated savage who cannot argue anything in legal terms because he is incapable of thinking, or the bloody, irrational savage who is a threat to the country.
“With this discourse, the government feeds into old racist prejudices that have deep roots in Peruvian society: that of the uncivilised, inferior native. And democracy is impossible with a view like this,” said Manrique.
He said the controversial decrees form part of García’s free trade political agenda based on promoting foreign investment.
Manrique supports the indigenous groups’ demand for an independent commission to investigate what happened in Bagua, saying it was hard to believe that police armed with AKM assault rifles simply fell prey to indigenous people armed with bows and arrows and homemade weapons.
Wilfredo Ardito, lawyer for the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos human rights association, told IPS that international bodies should intervene, because “there is a climate of total distrust and fear that evidence of the massacre will be hidden.”
Ardito said that since García took office in July 2006, there have been 84 reports of deaths of protesters or extrajudicial killings by the security forces. “This is a regime that undermines human rights and that is doing nothing to redress its errors,” said the legal expert.
Copyright © 2009 IPS-Inter Press Service