The Uprising in the Amazon Is More Urgent Than Iran’s: It Will Determine the Future of the Planet June 23, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, First Nations, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: alan garcia, amazon ecology, amazon ecosystem, amazon environment, amazon indigenous, amazon massacre, amazon oil, amazon rainforest, APRA, chevron amazon, ecuador oil, ecuadorian amazon, Free Trade, indigenous rights, johann hari, occidental petroleum, peru free trade, peru government, peru massacre, peru protest, Rafael Correa, roger hollander, texaco amazon
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Columnist, London Independent
While the world nervously watches the uprising in Iran, an even more important uprising has been passing unnoticed — yet its outcome will shape your fate, and mine.
In the depths of the Amazon rainforest, the poorest people in the world have taken on the richest people in the world to defend a part of the ecosystem none of us can live without. They had nothing but wooden spears and moral force to defeat the oil companies — and, for today, they have won.
Here’s the story of how it happened — and how we all need to pick up this fight.
Earlier this year, Peru’s President, Alan Garcia, sold the rights to explore, log and drill 70 percent of his country’s swathe of the Amazon to a slew of international oil companies. Garcia seems to see rainforest as a waste of good resources, saying of the Amazon’s trees: “There are millions of hectares of timber there lying idle.”
There was only one pesky flaw in Garcia’s plan: the indigenous people who live in the Amazon. They are the first people of the Americas, subject to wave after wave of genocide since the arrival of the Conquistadors. They are weak. They have no guns. They barely have electricity. The government didn’t bother to consult them: what are a bunch of Indians going to do anyway?
But the indigenous people have seen what has happened elsewhere in the Amazon when the oil companies arrive. Occidental Petroleum are currently facing charges in US courts of dumping an estimated nine billion barrels of toxic waste in the regions of the Amazon where they operated from 1972 to 2000. Andres Sandi Mucushua, the spiritual leader of the area known to the oil companies as Block 1AB, said in 2007: “My people are sick and dying because of Oxy. The water in our streams is not fit to drink and we can no longer eat the fish in our rivers or the animals in our forests.” The company denies liability, saying they are “aware of no credible data of negative community health impacts”.
In the Ecuadorian Amazon, according to an independent report, toxic waste allegedly dumped after Chevron-Texaco’s drilling has been blamed by an independent scientific investigation for 1,401 deaths, mostly of children from cancer. When the BBC investigator Greg Palast put these charges to Chevron’s lawyer, he replied: “And it’s the only case of cancer in the world? How many cases of children with cancer do you have in the States?… They have to prove it’s our crude, [which] is absolutely impossible.”
The people of the Amazon do not want to see their forests felled and their lands poisoned. And here, the need of the indigenous peoples to preserve their habitat has collided with your need to preserve your habitat. The rainforests inhale massive amounts of warming gases and keep them stored away from the atmosphere. Already, we are chopping them down so fast that it is causing 25 percent of man-made carbon emissions every year — more than planes, trains and automobiles combined. But it is doubly destructive to cut them down to get to fossil fuels, which then cook the planet yet more. Garcia’s plan was to turn the Amazon from the planet’s air con into its fireplace.
Why is he doing this? He was responding to intense pressure from the US, whose new Free Trade Pact requires this “opening up”, and from the International Monetary Fund, paid for by our taxes. In Peru, it has also been alleged that the ruling party, APRA, is motivated by oil-bribes. Some of Garcia’s associates have been caught on tape talking about how to sell off the Amazon to their cronies. The head of the parliamentary committee investigating the affair, Rep. Daniel Abugattas, says: “The government has been giving away our natural resources to the lowest bidders. This has not benefited Peru, but the administration’s friends.”
So the indigenous peoples acted in their own self-defense, and ours. Using their own bodies and weapons made from wood, they blockaded the rivers and roads to stop the oil companies getting anything in or out. They captured two valves of Peru’s sole pipeline between the country’s gas field and the coast, which could have led to fuel rationing. Their leaders issued a statement explaining: “We will fight together with our parents and children to take care of the forest, to save the life of the equator and the entire world.”
Garcia responded by sending in the military. He declared a “state of emergency” in the Amazon, suspending almost all constitutional rights. Army helicopters opened fire on the protesters with live ammunition and stun-grenades. Over a dozen protesters were killed. But the indigenous peoples did not run away. Even though they were risking their lives, they stood their ground. One of their leaders, Davi Yanomami, said simply: “The earth has no price. It cannot be bought, or sold or exchanged. It is very important that white people, black people and indigenous peoples fight together to save the life of the forest and the earth. If we don’t fight together what will our future be?”
And then something extraordinary happened. The indigenous peoples won. The Peruvian Congress repealed the laws that allowed oil company drilling, by a margin of 82 votes to 12. Garcia was forced to apologize for his “serious errors and exaggerations”. The protesters have celebrated and returned to their homes deep in the Amazon.
Of course, the oil companies will regroup and return — but this is an inspirational victory for the forces of sanity that will be hard to reverse.
Human beings need to make far more decisions like this: to leave fossil fuels in the ground, and to leave rainforests standing. In microcosm, this rumble in the jungle is the fight we all face now. Will we allow a small number of rich people to make a short-term profit from seizing and burning resources, at the expense of our collective ability to survive?
If this sounds like hyperbole, listen to Professor Jim Hansen, the world’s leading climatologist, whose predictions have consistently turned out to be correct. He says: “Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. We would set the planet on a course to the ice-free state, with a sea level 75 meters higher. Coastal disasters would occur continually. The only uncertainty is the time it would take for complete ice sheet disintegration.”
Of course, fossil fools will argue that the only alternative to burning up our remaining oil and gas supplies is for us all to live like the indigenous peoples in the Amazon. But next door to Peru, you can see a very different, environmentally sane model to lift up the poor emerging — if only we will grasp it.
Ecuador is a poor country with large oil resources underneath its rainforests — but its president, Rafael Correa, is offering us the opposite of Garcia’s plan. He has announced he is willing to leave his country’s largest oil reserve, the Ishpingo Tmabococha Tiputini field, under the soil, if the rest of the world will match the $9.2bn in revenues it would provide.
If we don’t start reaching for these alternatives, we will render this month’s victory in the Amazon meaningless. The Hadley Center in Britain, one of the most sophisticated scientific centers for studying the impacts of global warming, has warned that if we carry on belching out greenhouse gases at the current rate, the humid Amazon will dry up and burn down — and soon.
The Amazonian rainforest is likely to suffer catastrophic damage even with the lowest temperature rises forecast under climate change. Up to 40 percent of the rainforest will be lost if temperature rises are restricted to 2C, which most climatologists regard as the least that can be expected by 2050. A 3C rise is likely to result in 75 percent of the forest disappearing while a 4C rise, regarded as the most likely increase this century unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed, will kill off 85 perfect of the forest.
That would send gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere — making the world even more inhabitable.
There is something thrilling about the fight in the Amazon, yet also something shaming. These people had nothing, but they stood up to the oil companies. We have everything, yet too many of us sit limp and passive, filling up our tanks with stolen oil without a thought for tomorrow. The people of the Amazon have shown they are up for the fight to save our ecosystem. Are we?
You can email him at johann -at- johannhari.com
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