Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Peru: Mass resistance forces government back down

Kiraz Janicke

Peru’s Prime Minister Yehude Simon, announced on Monday that he would ask Congress to revoke two legislative decrees that open up indigenous people’s land in the Amazon to oil, mining, timber and agribusiness companies.

The announcement came as indigenous communities threatened to “radicalize” their protests in the aftermath of a government crackdown on indigenous protestors on June 5, in which at least 63 people were killed including 23 police. The full death toll remains unknown however as eyewitnesses said the government covered up evidence of the massacre by throwing bodies in a nearby river and burning others in a nearby military barracks.

Miguel Palacin, the president of Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indigenas (CAOI) or the Andean Coordination of Indigenous Organizations, said more than 250 people are still missing, all of them indigenous leaders and are presumed dead.

Alberto Pizango, president of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP), which led the protests, was forced to seek political asylum in the Nicaraguan embassy.

The massacre sparked national protests and calls for President Alan Garcia and his entire cabinet to resign. International protests also occurred in more than 20 countries around the world including Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Canada, Australia, the US, New Zealand and Italy.

Simon signed a deal with indigenous leaders in the jungle city of San Ramon on Monday that included a promise to present a bill in Congress by Thursday that would annul legislative decrees 1090 and 1064.

Peruvian political analyst Raul Weiner said the government is “discredited to the most dramatic degree.”

“The ruling party of Congress [Garcia’s APRA party] resorted first to the prevention of a vote on the proposal to repeal [the decrees], then to a day of killing; and then to the construction of a triple alliance [of right-wing political parties] in a meeting in the house of Lourdes Flores [leader of the Popular Christian Party-PPC] to prompt the ‘suspension’,” of the decrees, he explained.

Now that Simon has called for the repeal of the two most controversial decrees APRA is in “perfect disarray”, he said.

The Fujimori group [supporters of former President Alberto Fujimori] in Congress has not confirmed whether it will support the annulment of the decrees.

Seven indigenous congress members, all from the leftist National Party also remain suspended without pay for 120 days for protesting against the decrees in parliament.

Garcia passed the unpopular decrees under special powers granted to him by congress to facilitate the implementation of the free trade agreement signed with the US in 2007.

“The APRA group and its two allies [the PPC and the Fujimori group] have come out tremendously burnt by their endeavour of keeping in step with Alan Garcia,” Weiner added.

Fredy Otárola spokesperson for the suspended congress members said “It would have been better if this call to revoke the decrees had been made before the deaths in Bagua.”

“Those who have their hands stained in blood have to resign, the Chief of Cabinet (Yehude Simon) and the minister (Mercedes) Cabanillas….here there is political responsibility and it has to be investigated up to the ultimate consequences because we’re dealing with human lives.”

Yaneth Cajahuanca, another suspended congress member, said the indigenous peoples had forced the government to retreat.

“I want to congratulate the Peruvian people… for saying to the government that the country won’t be sold out and that we know how to defend our rights,” she added.

Although strikes and blockades are still continuing protesters have agreed to open access from two hours to four hours per day to a major highway near Junin as a result of the talks.

Coordinator of the Regional Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the Central Jungla (ARPI)), Libia Rengifo, said that indigenous communities are disposed to dialogue.

The remaining packet of decrees which are rejected by indigenous communities will be discussed in the National Coordination Group for the Development of the Amazon Peoples, a government initiated dialogue group.

Initially AIDESEP, the most representative indigenous organisation in Peru, was excluded from the talks, but has now been included.

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