Fwd: Land Rights Peru Fwd: [reclaiming-spaces] Blood at the Blockade Peru's Indigenous Uprising

Mark Barrett marknbarrett at googlemail.com
Tue Jun 9 22:57:09 BST 2009

Pictures and report from Peru

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"This page contains all the pictures taken by our volunteers in Peru of the
conflict between the Peruvian government and the Amazon people. Some
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Blood at the Blockade Peru's Indigenous Uprising

Gerardo Rénique
  On June 5, near a stretch of highway known as the Devil's Curve in the
northern Peruvian Amazon, police began firing live rounds into a multitude
of indigenous protestors - many wearing feathered crowns and carrying
spears. In the nearby towns of Bagua Grande, Bagua Chica, and Utcubamba,
shots also came from police snipers on rooftops, and from a helicopter that
hovered above the mass of people. Both natives and mestizos took to the
streets protesting the bloody repression.

>From his office in Bagua, a representative of Save the Children, the child
anti-poverty organization, reported that children as young as four-years-old
were wounded by the indiscriminate police shooting. President Alan García
had hinted the government would respond forcefully to "restore order" in the
insurgent Amazonian provinces, where he had declared a state of siege on May
9 suspending most constitutional liberties. The repression was swift and

By the end of the day, a number of buildings belonging to the government and
to García's APRA party had been destroyed. Nine policemen and about 40
protestors were killed (estimates vary). Overwhelmed by the number of
wounded, small local hospitals were forced to shutter their doors. A Church
official denounced that many of the civilian wounded and killed at the
Devil's Curve were forcefully taken to the military barracks of El Milagro.
>From Bagua, a local journalist told a radio station that policemen had
dumped bagged bodies into the Utcubamba River.

Indigenous leaders have accused García of "genocide" and have called for an
international campaign of solidarity with their struggle. Indigenous unrest
in the Peruvian Amazon began late last year. After an ebb of a few months,
the uprising regained force again on April 9. Since then, Amazonian
indigenous groups have sustained intensifying protests for more than two
months, including shutdowns of oil and gas pumping stations as well as
blockades of road and river traffic.

The Devil's Curve massacre is not the only instance of repression. García
recently sent in the Navy to violently break through indigenous blockades on
the Napo River, also in northern Peru. But few expected such a violent
reaction from the government. García says the response was appropriate and
blamed the indigenous for thinking they could decide what happens in their
territories: "These people don't have crowns. They aren't first-class
citizens who can say... 'You [the government] don't have the right to be
here.' No way." The president called the protestors "pseudo-indigenous."

Indigenous representative Alberto Pizango called Devil's Curve the "worst
slaughter of our people in 20 years." And added, "Our protest has been
peaceful. We're 5,000 natives [in the blockade]that just want respect for
our territory and the environment."

Protestor's top demand is the repeal of a series of decrees, known
collectively as the "Law of the Jungle," signed by García last year. The
President decreed the legislative package using extraordinary powers granted
to him by Peru's Congress to enact legislation required by the 2006
U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement. Indigenous groups are also demanding the
creation of a permanent commission with indigenous representation to discuss
solutions to their territorial, developmental, health and educational

One of the most controversial aspects of the decrees is that they allow
private interests to buy up indigenous lands and resources. Following a
colonial logic of "progress," García's decrees foster the commodification of
indigenous territories, ecological reserves, communal and public lands,
water, and biogenetic resources to the benefit of powerful transnational
interests. What's more, the "Law of the Jungle" implicitly conceives of
indigenous Amazonia as an open, empty, bountiful, and underdeveloped
frontier and its inhabitants as obstacles to neoliberal modernization and
investment schemes.

*History of Plunder and Resistance*

Neoliberal elites are apparently oblivious to indigenous historical agency
and political activism in Peru, where there is a long-standing trajectory of
Amazonian insurgency. Since the eighteenth century, indigenous groups in the
rainforest have successfully rolled back the incursions of colonial
missionaries, rubber barons, gold miners, lumber contractors, Sendero
Luminoso guerrillas and others whose expansion represented a direct and
serious threat to their cultural autonomy and territorial integrity.

García and his predecessors have tried to give transnational companies -
logging, oil, mining, and pharmaceutical etc. - unfettered access to the
Amazon's riches. The potential plunder not only poses a threat to the very
existence of indigenous peoples, but also presents a serious danger to the
region's diverse and fragile ecosystems.

Protests have occurred in the past, but this time is different: The scope of
the ongoing mobilizations, which cover almost the totality of Peru's
Amazonian territories, is historically unprecedented, as is the government's
violent reaction. Coordinating the mobilization effort is the Inter-Ethnic
Development Association of the Peruvian Amazon (Aidesep), an umbrella group
of indigenous organizations. Established almost three decades ago through
the incorporation of more than 80 federations and regional organizations,
Aidesep's reach and strength rests on its 1,350 affiliated communities
representing 65 different Amazonian peoples.

Under mounting pressure from the protests, the government finally agreed to
a closed-door meeting held the morning of May 27 in Lima with indigenous
representatives. (Aidesep had demanded such a meeting for years.) Prime
Minister Yehude Simon - himself a former leftist and political prisoner -
and Aidesep representative Alberto Pizango held a brief press conference
after the sitdown announcing the start of formal negotiations.

Following weeks of a racist and dirty government campaign against indigenous
leaders, a subdued Simon acknowledged both the García administration's "bad
communications" and - more importantly - "the lack of a state policy towards
Amazon communities for over a century." He also emphasized government
willingness to revise and modify the Garcia's decrees.

Meanwhile, a defiant Pizango maintained that Aidesep's campaign of civil
disobedience would only be lifted with the total repeal of García's "Law of
the Jungle." Pizango also announced a platform of issues that indigenous
representatives planned to bring to the table, including points on
indigenous territorial rights, self-determination, health and education,
development, and cultural integrity.

*Failed Talks, Failed Government*

The last time the government agreed to negotiations in August 2008 - again,
under pressure from an indigenous uprising - the talks collapsed due to
government unwillingness to engage indigenous representatives in a
respectful and honest manner. Aidesep withdrew from the talks when the
government tried to undermine the group's position by inviting (unannounced)
groups of indigenous leaders and academics aligned both with the
government's discredited Development Institute for Andean, Indigenous,
Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples (INDEPA) and the Confederation of
Amazonian Nationalities (CONAPA) made by a small number of opportunistic
Indigenous leaders.

Using INDEPA and CONAPA, the government has initiated "cooperation
agreements" between friendly indigenous communities and foreign oil and gas
companies. Outraged by their presence at the negotiating table Aidesep
denounced the move as a "smoke screen" covering up the government's spurious
collusion with the gas and oil industries.

Meanwhile, Aidesep kept open negotiations with members of Congress, where
its demands received support from the left-of-center opposition and even
some members of García's ruling party. When the parties established formal
negotiations (Mesa de Diálogo), both vowing to take steps toward finding a
solution to indigenous demands, Aidesep honored the compromise and halted
protests on August 20, ending the 11-day uprising. With growing popular
sympathy with indigenous demands and support from the political opposition
in late September, congress passed a law that canceled two of the most
odious presidential decrees that sought to diminish indigenous territorial
rights and political autonomy.

Aidesep's direct action campaign marked the emergence of Amazonian
indigenous peoples as an influential and autonomous force in Peru's current
political landscape. The mobilization also sparked a public realization that
the defense of Amazonian resources is an issue of national importance and
not only a regional or indigenous problem. The indigenous uprising has also
increased public awareness of the predatory nature of free trade, the
prevalence of public good over private interests, and the meaning and
importance of citizen participation in the formulation of a sustainable and
democratic future. All of this constitutes a healthy questioning of the
toxic neoliberal paradigm based on the commodification of life and resources
as the only possible alternative to "progress" and "modernization."

In October 2008, video recordings surfaced of conversations between
high-ranking officials from the García administration and a lobbyist for
transnational gas and oil companies. The recordings show the men negotiating
the fraudulent concession of oil rights in natural reserves and indigenous
territories. The video not only starkly revealed the real intentions behind
the "Law of the Jungle" and Peru's handful of recently negotiated free trade
agreements, but also further boosted Aidesep's legitimacy and the moral
authority of its struggle. The scandal also helped catalyze the current
Amazonian insurgency, coalescing an emerging popular and autonomous
anti-systemic bloc and further diminished García's popularity, which has
been abysmally low. (Thirty percent in the city of Lima and even lower in
rural areas, especially the Amazon.)

*Amazon 'Insurgency' Declared*

By late March, triggered by renewed incursions into their territories,
abusive labor conditions in the gas and oil industry, the high levels of
contamination and government reluctance to address their demands, indigenous
peoples in various Amazonian localities staged a number of marches,
demonstrations, blockades, and hunger strikes. Incensed by the government's
repressive response to their demands and its threat to declare a state of
emergency in the most combative Amazonian provinces, Aidesep renewed
mobilizations, blocking ground and river traffic, and occupying hydrocarbon

In an April 9 declaration, Aidesep demanded that Congress rescind the "Law
of the Jungle," establish a Mesa de Dialogo, and the creation of new
branches of government charged with implementing "intercultural" solutions
to indigenous health and education problems. The document also calls for the
recognition of indigenous collective property rights, guarantees for special
territorial reserves of communities in voluntary isolation, and the
suspension of land concessions to oil, gas, mining, lumber, and tourism
industries. Indigenous organizations are also demanding a new constitution
that incorporates the United Nation's Declaration on the rights of
Indigenous Peoples and the International Labor Organization's Convention
169, both of which grant indigenous rights to territorial and cultural
autonomy. Finally, the April declaration also calls for the suspension of
the government's free trade agreements with the United States, the European
Union, Chile, and China, which violate indigenous territorial rights and
Amazonian biodiversity.

As indigenous groups escalated their direct action campaign, the government
declared a state of siege on May 9 in four of the most militant provinces of
Amazonia. Despite the crackdown, Aidesep has gained sympathy and solidarity
from broad sectors of Peruvian society. Unions, popular organizations, and
highland peasant and indigenous groups have staged "Civic Strikes" and other
protest actions. Elected municipal and regional authorities across the
country have also expressed their support. While Catholic bishops across the
Amazon region have called on the faithful to support indigenous demands,
stating the "rich cultural and biological diversity" of the region
represents a "source of life and hope for humanity."

On May 27, Peru was rocked by a national day of protest called by the
country's largest trade union federation and other social movement umbrella
groups. Thousands took to the street protesting García's neoliberal policies
and to express their solidarity with Aidesep struggle.  In Lima a massive
march arrived to the steps of Congress, demanding that the Law of the Jungle
be declared unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the just-concluded Fourth
Continental Indigenous People's Summit of Abya-Yala, which was held in
southern Peru, called for an international day of action in solidarity with
the Amazonian uprising.  The Communitarian Front in Defense of Life and
Sovereignty established by AIDESEP together with labor, Andean indigenous,
campesino and popular organizations have called for a day of protest and
mobilization on June 11.

*The Law of the Jungle*

A report from the government's Ombudsman Office not only declared the
unconstitutionality of García's decrees, but also noted the legitimacy of
indigenous people's campaign of civil disobedience. In Congress, the
Constitutional Committee declared two of the presidential decrees
unconstitutional. But under pressure from the executive, García's APRA
party, with support from followers of jailed former President Fujimori and
other rightwing political parties, has blocked discussion of the
Constitutional Committee's resolution. Some congressional deputies simply
vow to abstain from voting, while others have been forced by their
constituents to side with the opposition in declaring the Law of the Jungle

By the time June came around, the situation deteriorated. Aidesep walked
away from the incipient talks with the government, citing the executive's
refusal to acknowledge broadening public rejection of the decrees. The
government responded with increased repression that culminated - so far -
with the Devil's Curve massacre. García also lashed out against Radio de la
Selva, an Amazonian radio station that has been critical of the government.
The attorney general is considering charging the station with inciting
public unrest. When the military violently broke up the river blockade on
the Napo, spontaneous protests erupted against the Navy.

The declaration of martial law in the provinces of Bagua and Utcubamba,
where the bloodiest repression took place, and the trumped-up charges of
rioting have forced many of Aidesep leaders underground. But the repression
led many sectors into the fold of the indigenous-led resistance. A newspaper
report interviewed a teacher who described how many non-indigenous persons
joined the protests on June 5 after the Army blocked villagers from
attending to the wounded and bringing water to the natives at Devil's Curve.
The indiscriminate shootings only fueled further hostility toward the
government. The growing unrest among a broad range of popular forces has
coalesced into the Communitarian Front in Defense of Life and Sovereignty,
formed on June 4. The group has called for a national general strike if the
Law of the Jungle is not repealed by June 11.

Catholic clergy have rejected the repression and reiterated their support
for indigenous demands. In a joint letter the Ombudsman's Office and
high-ranking clergy call the government to privilege peace and negotiation
over repression and violence in the resolution of Amazonian demands. In a
previous statement the priests expressed their discontent with the "attitude
taken by the government, foreign and national businessmen and a large sector
of the media" against "the just demands of Amazonian indigenous peoples."
(These conservative sectors have ridiculously dismissed the protests as the
work of presidents Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales.)

*La Lucha Sigue
The outcome of this current crisis is highly uncertain. Indigenous are
calling for García to resign, while a chorus of groups (newspapers, unions,
opposition figures) are at least demanding that García sack cabinet members,
particularly Prime Minister Simon and the Minister of the Interior. The
police union issued a statement lamenting the death of both the officers and
their "Indian brothers," while placing the blame for these deaths squarely
on García.

One thing, however, is certain: The recent repression laid bare García's
naked slavishness to foreign capital investment and his double-talk of
feigning negotiation and dialogue, while implementing an evidently
well-planned counter-insurgency operation. Much of the media has obediently
obliged with a fear-mongering campaign, assisting the government's campaign
to open up the Peruvian Amazon. Under the government's plan, oil and gas
contract blocs alone would cover 72 percent of Peru's Amazon, according to a
recent study by Duke University.

Will energy, agribusiness, lumber, and mining corporations gain exclusive
benefit to one of the largest repositories of fresh water, biodiversity, and
other resources?  Will the indigenous succeed in protecting their lands - a
final frontier - from the rule of global capital? The answers to these
questions will depend on many things, including indigenous people's (and
their allies') ability to sustain protests as well as the government's
willingness to use force against these groups.

Indigenous peoples in Peru have reconfigured - perhaps irreversibly -
popular anti-systemic forces in the country from their recent weakness and
dispersion. In the immediate future, however, the next weeks will be crucial
for determining the outcome of the crisis opened with the June 5 repression.
International solidarity with the Aidesep struggle will be central in
deterring the predatory advance of the government and capital. The defense
of Amazonia, as Peruvian clergy pointed out, "is not of the exclusive
concern of Peruvian citizens but of all humanity."

*- Gerardo Rénique teaches history at City College, New York. He edited "The
Uprising in Oaxaca," a special section in Socialism and Democracy 44, July
2007 (vol. 22, no. 2).

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