Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Peru: The strugle for the Amazon

By Karl Cosser, Bagua

An indigenous uprising in the Peruvian Amazon has forced the US-backed government of President Alan Garcia to repeal key decrees that aimed to open the region to greater exploitation by oil and gas corporations. However, indigenous people faced violent repression from security forces as they tried to defend their land and the environment. On June 5, a brutal massacre occurred in Bagua, with dozens of indigenous people murdered by police.

Karl Cosser, a member of the Socialist Alliance from Australia currently in Peru, recently visited Bagua. He was part of a small group led by Hugo Blanco, a veteran revolutionary and fighter for indigenous and peasant rights. Blanco is the director of the Lucha Indigena newspaper. Blanco is keen to establish links between the struggles of Peruvian indigenous peoples and Indigenous people in Australia. He is asking Indigenous rights activists and Aboriginal leaders to email him at hugucha@yahoo.com.

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After an overnight bus ride thorough the Andes mountain range, we arrived at the town of Bagua just before the sun came up. Standing in the main plaza looking out into the park, it seemed surreal at how peaceful it was this time of morning, considering the brutal slaughter of local indigenous people that happened there only a few weeks before.

Overlooking the park was a two-storey high police station from which shots were fired killing and injuring dozens of civilians. Many locals had gathered around the police station after they heard that protesters had been killed by police at Curva del Diablo, just out of town. The protesters had been blocking the road.

From observations and statements by local people, it was clear the police at the station were not acting in self-defence when they fired on the crowd. The walls of the station were solid brick and concrete. There was no evidence of bullet marks on the walls.

Later in the day we travelled further into the Amazon jungle. We visited the village of Chiriaco, from where many people were reported killed, missing and injured.

Several community members displayed injuries as evidence of police repression, including wounds from beatings and bullet marks on their bodies. Local community members said they had no firearms, but carried their traditional carved hardwood timber spears. A community member said the spear was ornamental artwork as a cultural expression, not a practical weapon.

Although the people protesting had ornamental spears as an expression of indigenous pride and identity, they did not represent a genuine threat to the police that would justify an armed attack.

Holding on to his spear in a bamboo hut, a Chiriaco community member told us of further atrocities committed by the state that day. Police rounded up people who were taken away and are still missing. Up to 200 indigenous people could be dead.

Reports made state that police chased after people as they were trying to escape into the jungle, all within full view of children and other family members. It is highly likely that the children forced to witness such brutality will be traumatised by experiencing such events.

At this stage, it is difficult to get an accurate number of those who have disappeared or died. This was an act of terrorism carried out by the Peruvian people’s own government in the name of neoliberalism.

Chiriaco, among many other indigenous communities in Peru, has been the victim of neoliberal policies imposed upon it without consideration or respect for its rich culture and history.

One resident of Chiriaco told us they have their own concept of socialism and collectivism. They don’t support a system that does not include them in economic decision making for the benefit of the community.

Hugo Blanco, the director of the Lucha Indigena newspaper, said that when a multinational corporation sought to use the land of the Amazon indigenous people, they had no respect for the long term sustainability of the land and have the freedom to move on to somewhere else in the world once all resources had been consumed.

The laws of use of chemicals for agriculture in Peru are relaxed, which corporations exploit. The Amazon indigenous people, who have lived in harmony with their environment for many years, are being forced off their land. This is the reason for the urgency in the struggle for defence of the Amazon — the lungs of the earth.

The Peruvian government shows more respect for those with money to buy the Amazon than for the rights of indigenous people. Therefore, the indigenous struggle and the defence of the environment is a class struggle.

Neoliberalism, among other things, is part of a global project seeking to exploit the resources of indigenous land all over the world — including the land of Aboriginal people in Australia.

Most recently, in the form the “Northern Territory intervention”, there is an attempt to drive Indigenous communities off their land. Australian scientist Helen Caldicott said the land grab was for the purpose of uranium mining and using the Northern Territory to dump nuclear waste.

Blanco, who is from the Quechua indigenous people, is encouraging Australian Indigenous activists to contact him to extend solidarity between the indigenous peoples of Peru and Australia.

Republished from Green Left Weekly

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