Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Confidence of Peru's social movements is growing

Karl Cosser

Although the struggle for the Amazon has been very hard for the indigenous community it is a great example of what can be achieved with great effort and solidarity. The June 11 demonstration in solidarity with the Amazon prompted the mobilzation of many various unions, students and even a left wing Christian political organisation who believe that Jesus was the first revolutionary. There was also of course a significant contingent of people from Amazon regions. Contingents converged from different streets to form one big demonstration of approximately 15.000 people at the dos de mayo plaza where the May day rally was held a few weeks before.

There was a lot of energy and passion in the rally as we marched the streets of Lima with banners and chanting "la selva no se vende", (the jungle is not for sale). Banners and graffiti also stated "APRA asesino" and "Garcia genocida", rightly placing the responsibility for the Bagua massacre on the Garcia government. The demonstration reached a fever pitch as it approached the police blockade several blocks away from congress and the plaza de mayo where the presidential palace is, with an increased intensity of percussion from the Amazon indigenous contingent.

Aggressively the police repressed the right to protest against the government when they opened fire with rubber bullets, tear gas bombs, batons and shields. The police response was indiscriminate; protesters aged as old as 65-70 were affected by the tear gas and had great difficulty breathing. In defense some demonstrators responded with sticks and stones, which the police threw back at the protesters. One Molotov cocktail was thrown. Most people were forced to run away from the police possibly in fear of similar aggression to that in Bagua.

However, once the tear gas blew away many came back to the police barricades to continue the protest in solidarity with many other demonstrations and blockades occurring all over Peru against the decrees 1090 and 1064, "the laws of the jungle" allowing international corporations to exploit the Amazon for resources.

Two days after the national strike there was a "pro democracy rally" in support of the Garcia government, which was allowed to begin three blocks ahead of where the police attacked protesters on June 11. The pro-rightwing rally was escorted by police and passed congress with no repression at all. The hypocrisy of promoting democracy in support of a brutally repressive government is ridiculously obvious with those supporting Garcia given greater freedom to mobilise while those against the government are attacked.

The private media in Peru are supporting the government and police reports of nine civilians killed in Bagua and 11 police killed, however, it has also been independently reported that there are many people still missing and over 150 civilians injured, of which most were from bullet wounds. One survivor of the Bagua massacre was treated for eight bullet wounds as he and many others were shot at while running away from the police.

The current Peruvian government is not a great example of democracy when those responsible for the death and injuries of many civilians are writing the reports and the private media are swallowing it up as it represents their own economic interests.

However, in he face of a repressive neo-liberal government, through relentless strikes, protests and blockades the 1090 and 1064 decrees were repealed demonstrating to the rest of the world what can be achieved through people power, especially for indigenous struggles such as in Australia. Prime Minister Yehude Simon has stated that he will be resigning over the Amazon conflict The confidence of recent gains is becoming apparent as protests and blockades continue throughout the country and there is ongoing solidarity between unions, campesinos and students to get rid of the rest of the ministers.

Censure motion against Peruvian Cabinet Chief defeated due to suspension of Nationalist Party legislators.

Kiraz Janicke

The Peruvian congress today rejected a censure motion against the Cabinet Chief Yehude Simon and Interior Minister, Mercedes Cabanillas, in relation to their handling of indigenous protests which lead to the Bagua massacre on June 5. Although the measure had majority support it did not count with the required number of votes to make it binding.

The censure motion against Simon counted with 56 votes in favor, 32 against and 11 abstentions.Similarly the censure motion against the interior minister received 55 votes in favor, 35 against and nine abstentions. According to parliamentary regulations, the motions required a majority of more than half the number of full members of congress, which is 61 votes.

The majority of opposition parties from Lourdes Flores’s rightwing National Unity party, the supporters of former president Alberto Fujimori, the Parliamentary Allianceand the Popular Bloc to the left-wing Nationalist Party voted in favor of the censure motion, which placed political responsibility for the clashes at Bagua, which left scores dead and hundreds disappeared, on Simon and Cabanillas.

President Garcia’s APRA party voted against the censure motion and parliamentarians from the Union for Peru (UPP) abstained, with the exception of legislator Isaac Serna who voted in favor of the motion.

However, seven Nationalist Party members, who were suspended for protesting Garcia’s unconstitutional decrees, which would have opened up vast swathes of indigenous peoples land in the Amazon for exploitation, were not permitted to exercise their right to vote. With the votes of these legislators the censure motion would have been passed.

‘What kind of reconciliation are you taking about, Mr Garcia?’

Mario Huamán Rivera *

President Garcia mentioned in his most recent message, the need for reconciliation to overcome these difficult moments, a consequence of his unhappy decision to repress the Amazon peoples in Bagua, that caused the tragic deaths of indigenous peoples and police. This discourse is a new demonstration that a double discourse continues functioning in the APRA regime.

While Garcia speaks of reconciliation, Alberto Pizango remains in exile in Nicaragua and seven parliamentarians from the National Party remain suspended for demanding to the end that [decrees 1090 and 1064] be repealed. To this is added the campaign to deiscredit diverse organisations such as the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGPT), the closure of Radio La Voz de Bagua, the attempt to liquidate NGO’s and cut democratic liberties.

On the other side, Prime Minister Yehude Simon and Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas mock the victims of the tragedy and continue denying their responsibility.

Therefore we can’t speak of reconciliation, when actions like those described persist. Garcia, his ministers and the APRA parliamentary bench are only trying to “cool the atmosphere” to once again repress the social sectors and impose the neoliberal framework.

Nothing has changed for the government, which only seeks to gain time to continue deteriorating democracy in benefit of the rich as always. The supposed denunciations made about links between social sectors and unions with violent sectors corroborate and are a signal that a new repression against the opposition is being prepared, once the new ‘puppets’ installed by Simon entertain and silence the country.

However, bad luck for Garcia, because the country changed on June 5 [the day of the Bagua Massacre]. Dispersion is converting into articulation and unity in action of the various social movements, which despite cultural differences aim to construct a country with equality and development

For these reasons, on July 8 we will hold a national day of struggle to demand the repeal of the rest of the legislative decrees that damage the interests of the country, in solidarity with the Andean and Amazonian peoples, the union is conflict (such as Doe Run), for the solution of the regional problems and to reject the campaign to discredit the people and their organizations.

* Mario Huamán Rivera is the secretary general of the CGPT

Translated by Kiraz Janicke, originally published in La Primera 26 June 2009

Monday, 29 June 2009

Peru: Blood for rubber, blood for oil

David T. Rowlands

At the turn of the twentieth century, global demand for rubber from the upper reaches of the Amazon (encompassing Peruvian, Colombian and Brazilian territory) was at its height.

Capitalising on this profitable opportunity, the agents of an international consortium known as the Anglo-Peruvian Amazon Rubber Company enslaved virtually the entire local indigenous population to maximise output and reduce labour costs.

Over a decade, tens of thousands of indigenous men, women and children were worked to death. When eyewitness reports of the company’s brutal methods reached the outside world, public opinion eventually forced the British government in 1910 to convene a formal inquiry in the Peruvian rubber port of Iquitos.

The investigation found that the company “forced the Indians to work day and night at the extraction of rubber, without the slightest remuneration; that they give them nothing to eat; ... that they rob them their crops; their women, and their children to satisfy their voracity, lasciviousness and the avarice of themselves and their employees, for they live on the Indians food, keep harems and concubines, and sell these people at wholesale and retail in Iquitos; that they flog them inhumanly, until their bones are visible; that they give them no medical treatment, but let them die, eaten by maggots, or to serve as food for the chiefs’ dogs; that they castrate them, cut off their ears, fingers, arms and legs; that they torture them by means of fire, of water, and by tying them up, crucified, head down; that they burn and destroy their houses and crops; that they grasp children by the feet and dash their heads against walls and trees, until their brains fly out; that they have the old folks killed when they can work no longer; and finally, that to amuse themselves, to practice shooting…they discharge their weapons at men, women, and children, or in preference to this, they souse them with kerosene and set fire to them to enjoy their desperate agony.”

Entire tribes were exterminated. The horror remains a collective memory in the upper Amazon.

Atrocities such as the Amazonian genocide were a product of rapidly expanding capitalism. The voracious appetite of the European and North American industrial powers for the natural resources of the global South led to the systematic displacement and massacre of expendable “surplus” populations in Asia, Australasia, Oceania, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

The parallels between then and now are striking. In the present era, the forces of capitalist globalisation still hold the most vulnerable populations of the “developing” world in their exploitative grip.
This is nothing short of a global war of conquest, waged by capital against the dispossessed inhabitants of resource-rich regions in the global South.

The war has many fronts. One of them remains the upper Amazon, where the international hunger for hardwood timber and fossil fuel has led to another devastating boom.

Mindful of their history, the people of Utcubamba in northern Peru recently mounted a gallant stand against the international oil and gas companies who plan to desecrate their land and contaminate their rivers.

The government of President Alan Garcia passed a number of decrees opening up the Amazon to greater exploitation by oil and gas giants — sparking the uprising.

For millennia, the rainforest realm in Utcubamba has been safeguarded by the Aguaruna people and other tribal groups. The beauty of Utcubamba and the bond between the land and its people means nothing to the Garcia, elected in 2006 with the financial backing of the US.

Garcia returned the favour by enacting a US-Peru “free trade agreement” in 2007. The inhabitants of regions such as Utcubamba, long ear-marked for fossil fuel extraction, were denied a say in the “developmental” future of their lands.

As far as the government in Lima was concerned, the Amazon now belonged to the various international consortia to whom vast blocks of territory have been assigned. Unfortunately for these powerful interests, the indigenous people had other ideas.

The people of Utcubamba responded by blocking a section of highway near Bagua Grande (the capital of Utcumbamba) in an attempt to defend themselves and their land.

On June 5, the Peruvian police initiated a pitched battle in an attempt to end the blockade. At least 34 people were killed with many more disappeared. The total number of protesters killed remains unclear. Several police also died in the battle.

Using the June 5 clash as a pretext, the Garcia administration authorised a full-scale campaign of repression in Utcubamba to serve as a warning to other potential dissidents. Hundreds, at the least, are reported to have been summarily executed.

Despite the high toll, indigenous resistance achieved an important victory. A June 22 Counterpunch.org article by Laura Carlsen said: “Their movement to save the Amazon and their communities forced the Peruvian government to roll back implementing legislation for the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement that would have opened up the vast jungle to transnational oil and gas, mining and timber companies ...

“Peru’s Congress, deep in a political crisis of national and international legitimacy, voted 82 to 12 to repeal Legislative Decree 1090, the Forestry and Wildlife Law and 1064, the reform to permit changes in agrarian land use without full prior consent.”
In the upper Amazon, blood for rubber has given way to blood for oil. The region’s indigenous people have shown they will not accept it.

Republished from Green Left Weekly

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

US Drug War Money Funded Peru Indigenous Massacre

Kristin Bricker

US Government Trained the Police Department that Participated in the Operation and Invested "Heavily" in the Killer Helicopters

On June 5, the Peruvian National Police (PNP) massacred up to fifty unarmed Awajún and Wampi indigenous people in Bagua who had blockaded roads in protest of land reforms related to a recently implemented US-Peru free trade agreement. Witnesses report that the PNP shot live ammunition from the ground, rooftops, and police helicopters. Anywhere between 61-400 people are reported missing following the attack.

Narco News has discovered that US drug war money is all over the massacre. The US government has not only spent the past two decades funding the helicopters used in the massacre, it also trained the PNP in "riot control."

The Peruvian National Police

The Peruvian National Police is a militarized police force and Peru's only national police force, meaning that Peru lacks a civilian federal police force. For this reason, the militarized PNP carries out regular policing functions in Peru, such as maintaining the peace and providing public security. Furthermore, "Counternarcotics operations in Peru are implemented primarily through the Ministry of the Interior by the Peruvian National Police," according to the US Government Accounting Office (GAO, now known as the Government Accountability Office). For this reason, the PNP receives a significant chunk of US drug war aid to Peru.

Basic details of the Bagua massacre such as exactly which police departments participated and how many indigenous protesters died remain unavailable two weeks after the massacre. Peru's La Primera newspaper--the only news outlet to provide information on specific police departments that participated in the massacre--writes, "The police operation was carried out by about 600 armed police from the Dinoes [Special Operations Department] and from the Anti-Drugs Department (DINANDRO), who shot head-on at protesters' bodies." Dinoes and DINANDRO are two forces within the Peruvian National Police.

Of particular interest is the participation of the anti-drugs police force, known as DINANDRO in its Spanish abbreviation. Between 2002 and 2007, the United States spent over $79 million on the PNP. 2002-2004 funds were for "training and field exercises to enhance the capabilities of DIRANDRO to conduct basic road and riverine exercises, as well as to provide security for eradication teams in outlying areas. These enhanced law enforcement efforts will require additional vehicles, communications, field gear, emergency/safety reaction gear, and drug detector canines." In 2007, the US government's funding for the DIRANDRO was expanded to "enhance the capabilities of DIRANDRO to conduct advanced road interdiction, riot control, greater security for eradication teams, and interdiction in hard-core areas." [emphasis added]. In 2007 the US government also debuted the first of at least four "Pre-Police Schools" for students that have completed secondary school education (that is, these schools are an alternative to high school). The "Pre-Police Schools" are free and designed to recruit and train young people to be members of the PNP.


As Peru became further militarized under the pretense of the drug war, the US State Department justified its 2008 budget request for Peru by noting, "The major change in the FY 2008 police program will be the requirement to support a much-enlarged presence of the Peruvian National Police anti-drug police (DIRANDRO) in the coca growing valleys." While the region in which the massacre occurred is not by any means a major coca-growing region, it is certainly on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) map (PDF file--see page 192).

The US government has a propensity to fund "anti-narcotics" operations in rebellious territory, which is then used, either overtly (note the DIRANDRO's US-provided training in riot control) or covertly, to fund counterinsurgency operations. The mere mention of the region on the UNODC's coca cultivation map combined with the presence of indigenous resistance organizations practically assures a military-police build-up in the region. In fact, a 1991 GAO report stated, "The [Peruvian] executive branch policy is to use counternarcotics aid against drug traffickers and insurgent groups linked to the drug trade....we believe the policy is reasonable." The GAO report goes on to say:

"Of the 702 police trained for counternarcotics purposes since 1989, only about 56 per cent were from units having a counternarcotics mission. The remaining 44 per cent were from police units having a primary mission of counterinsurgency. These units include the Sinchis and the Departamento de Operaciones Especiales [Dinoes, who also participated in the massacre]....In December 1990, the State Department instructed the Embassy that it could not train certain types of units, including the Departamento de Operaciones Especiales, because they were not directly involved in counternarcotics missions. Despite this notification, the Narcotics Affairs Section provided training to 32 personnel who should not have been trained; these 32 made up almost 14 per cent of the total number of police trained after the instruction was issued. According to section officials, providing special operations forces with training would help US efforts to solicit their support for future operations.... Although police from the Sinchis and the Departamento de Operaciones Especiales may perform some counternarcotics operations, their primary mission is recognized to be counterinsurgency."

While the GAO report is from the Fujimori era, the right wing presidents that followed him have done little to rectify past wrongs. One of the more blatant examples of this fact is Peru's amnesty law that protects dirty war criminals. Furthermore, current Peruvian President Alan Garcia is currently serving his second non-consecutive term; he served his first term in 1985-1990, when Peru's dirty war was in full swing. The Garcia administration has always been characterized by massacres in the face of social unrest: the current president presided over the Accomarca massacre in August 1985 (47-74 dead peasants), the Cayara massacre in May 1988 (about thirty dead and more disappeared), and various prison riots in which over 200 inmates were executed.

Unfortunately, Garcia's massacre of the Awajún and Wampi indigenous peoples at the Bagua blockade is only the latest in a series. Garcia himself seems entirely unrepentant regarding the latest massacre, reportedly calling the indigenous organizations that participated in the Bagua blockade "ignorant" and relying on typical racist arguments to downplay the indigenous movement. Implying that indigenous people are incapable of thinking for themselves and making their own decisions regarding their well-being, he told press that the indigenous organizations were being manipulated by foreign leftist forces.


Witnesses to the Bagua massacre claim that police fired tear gas and live ammunition from police helicopters. The helicopters, Russian-made Mi-17s, were not purchased with US dollars, but US drug war money has maintained them for years.

As part of the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, a George H.W. Bush program that spawned the infamous Plan Colombia, the US government undertook the task of upgrading Peru's fleet of police aircraft. Peru's La Republica reported that the US government aimed to upgrade the PNP's entire fleet. The US began providing funds for Peru's aircraft under the auspices of counternarcotics efforts in 1988. In 2004, the US government provided "funding for pilots, aircrews, and support personnel for 15 USG-owned UH-1H helicopters and 14 Peruvian Mi-17 helicopters," the latter being the same type of helicopter used in the Bagua massacre. Given that US foreign aid can be delayed for several years before it arrives in the recipient country, it is within the realm of possibility that the US government funded the pilots and crew that were in the Mi-17s that were allegedly used to murder indigenous Peruvians in Bagua.

In 2007, the State Department mentioned the Mi-17s amongst other PNP aircraft in its budget justification, writing that "FY 2007 funds will also cover fuel, maintenance, hangars and warehousing, aircraft rental when needed, and operational support for PNP Aviation (DIRAVPOL) personnel." A year later, the State Department wrote, "FY 2008 will continue heavy investment of funds in training and career development of PNP aviation personnel in addition to budgeting for increased flight hours."

In addition to funding Peru's existing Mi-17 helicopters, the United States has donated about 24 armed Huey II (UH-II) helicopters to the PNP. Hueys were not used in the Bagua massacre, but the massacre should make the US government think twice about donating combat helicopters with multiple guns and rocket launchers mounted all over the aircraft. The donated Huey II's came with the M16 armament system, which includes a combination of M6 flexible quad M60C 7.62mm machine guns and two seven-tube 2.75 inch MK-40 rocket launchers.

Republished from Narco News

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Peru: discontent rages on

Kiraz Janicke

Social unrest intensified this week in Peru, with the blockade of an important highway by mine workers, as well as strikes and demonstrations in the southern regions of Cusco and Andahuaylas. The demands of the protestors ranged from wage rises for school teachers, repealing the Water Resources Law and revoking mining concessions to fixing roads and blocking the construction of the Salca-Pucará hydroelectric plant.

The protests occurred in the wake of massive mobilizations by indigenous communities in the Amazon that forced the Peruvian government to back-down and revoke legislation linked to the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement, that would have opened up vast swathes of indigenous lands to transnational oil and gas, mining and logging companies.

However, the indigenous victory did not come without bloodshed as President Alan Garcia’s administration sent police and troops on June 5 against demonstrators to break up road blockades near Bagua in the Amazon, leaving at least 34 dead and scores disappeared.

Garcia’s brutal response to the protests sparked national outrage and the latest Ipsos Apoyo poll shows his approval rating has dropped 9 percentage points to 21 percent since the Bagua massacre.

Garcia's Cabinet chief Yehude Simon offered to resign over the incident however, Garcia has refused to accept his resignation although discontent with the government continues to rage on around the country.

The financial collapse of the U.S.-owned Doe Run Peru mining company prompted more than 3000 workers to blockade the main highway linking Lima with the country’s interior on June 22 demanding that ongoing labor issues be resolved.

Union leaders representing workers at Doe Run’s smelter in La Oroya, located 185 kilometers east of Lima, agreed at a meeting on June 20 to declare an indefinite strike and block roads.

The secretary-general of the metalworkers union representing La Oroya workers, Roberto Guzman, has called for government intervention to reactivate the plant and save jobs.

Meanwhile thousands of campesinos from Canchis and other provinces converged in Cusco on June 22 threatening to take over the local airport and demanding the repeal of the Water Resources Law, which would facilitate privitisation of water, as well as the cancellation of mining concessions and the construction of the Salca-Pucará hydroelectric plant.

In Andahuaylas thousands of campesinos that have been on indefinite strike since June 11 have blockaded roads demanding that the Ayacucho-Andahuaylas-Abancay highway is fixed and are also calling for the repeal of the Water Resources Law.

More than 5000 coca-growers have also threatened to blockade highways in Tingo María, Aucayacu, Tocache, Progreso and Tarapoto from June 29.

The announcement was made by coca-grower leaders in Alto Huallaga, Rosa Obregón and Miguel Martínez, after the government re-initiated eradication of coca crops, which indigenous communities use as part of there tradional way of life.

Obregón said that the government had signed accords with the coca-growers to suspend eradication programs while integral development plans for the Huallaga were being discussed, but has violated the accords.

If the government doesn’t listen to their demands highways in Pucallpa, Puerto Inca, and Huánuco would also be blockaded he said.

The General Confederation of Peruvian Workers has also called a national day of protest involving regional strikes and street mobilizations for July 8 in solidarity with the protests in the south of the country and an end to persecution of social movement leaders in particular those from indigenous communities.

Although the government has agreed to dialogue with the protesters, it has also authorized the mobilization of the Armed Forces in the Apurímac, Cusco and Junín regions – zones with strong social conflict - for ten days.

While it lifted the state of emergency in Bagua (decreed on May 9), it remains in place in the cities of Quimbiri and La Convención, in Cusco.

“Don't threaten too much. Don't think that the state or the government is weak,” Simon told protesters before agreeing to hold talks with them on Tuesday.

However, Simon who has been described as a “political cadaver” faces questioning in congress over the Bagua massacre, with both the left Nationalist Party and rightwing supporters of former president Alberto Fujimori calling for a censure motion and his resignation.

Garcia’s hold on congress is also tenuous, as his party, APRA, lacks a majority, and up to now he has relied on support from other right-wing parties such as Lourdes Flores’ National Unity, and Fujimori supporters to push through his neoliberal free-trade agenda.

Garcia cannot run for re-election in 2011 and in the context of economic contraction and rising social discontent he will find it increasingly difficult to implement his neoliberal agenda as indigenous communities, workers, campesinos and the poor organize to defend their interests against those of rapacious transnational capital.

Peru: Blood Flows In The Amazon

James Petras

In early June, Peruvian President Alan García, an ally of US President Barack Obama, ordered armored personnel carriers, helicopter gun-ships and hundreds of heavily armed troops to assault and disperse a peaceful, legal protest organized by members of Peru’s Amazonian indigenous communities protesting the entry of foreign multinational mining companies on their traditional homelands.

Dozens of Indians were killed or are missing, scores have been injured and arrested and a number of Peruvian police, held hostage by the indigenous protestors were killed in the assault. President García declared martial law in the region in order to enforce his unilateral and unconstitutional fiat granting of mining exploitation rights to foreign companies, which infringed on the integrity of traditional Amazonian indigenous communal lands.

Alan García is no stranger to government-sponsored massacres. In June 1986, he ordered the military to bomb and shell prisons in the capital holding many hundreds of political prisoners protesting prison conditions – resulting in over 400 known victims. Later obscure mass graves revealed dozens more. This notorious massacre took place while García was hosting a gathering of the so-called ‘Socialist’ International in Lima. His political party, APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance) a member of the ‘International’, was embarrassed by the public display of its ‘national-socialist’ proclivities, before hundreds of European Social Democrat functionaries. Charged with misappropriation of government funds and leaving office with an inflation rate of almost 8,000% in 1990, he agreed to support Presidential candidate Alberto Fujimori in exchange for amnesty. When Fujimori imposed a dictatorship in 1992, García went into self-imposed exile in Colombia and later, France. He returned in 2001 when the statute of limitations on his corruption charges had expired and Fujimori was forced to resign amidst charges of running death squads and spying on his critics. García won the 2006 Presidential elections in a run-off against the pro-Indian nationalist candidate and former Army officer, Ollanta Humala, thanks to financial and media backing by Lima’s rightwing, ethnic European oligarchs and US overseas ‘AID’ agencies.

Back in power, García left no doubt about his political and economic agenda. In October 2007 he announced his strategy of placing foreign multi-national mining companies at the center of his economic ‘development’ program, while justifying the brutal displacement of small producers from communal lands and indigenous villages in the name of ‘modernization’.

García pushed through congressional legislation in line with the US-promoted ‘Free Trade Agreement of the Americas’ or ALCA. Peru was one of only three Latin American nations to support the US proposal. He opened Peru to the unprecedented plunder of its resources, labor, land and markets by the multinationals. In late 2007, García began to award huge tracts of traditional indigenous lands in the Amazon region for exploitation by foreign mining and energy multinationals. This was in violation of a 1969 International Labor Organization-brokered agreement obligating the Peruvian government to consult and negotiate with the indigenous inhabitants over exploitation of their lands and rivers. Under his ‘open door’ policy, the mining sector of the economy expanded rapidly and made huge profits from the record-high world commodity prices and the growing Asian (Chinese) demand for raw materials. The multinational corporations were attracted by Peru’s low corporate taxes and royalty payments and virtually free access to water and cheap government-subsidized electricity rates. The enforcement of environmental regulations was suspended in these ecologically fragile regions, leading to wide-spread contamination of the rivers, ground water, air and soil in the surrounding indigenous communities. Poisons from mining operations led to massive fish kills and rendered the water unfit for drinking. The operations decimated the tropical forests, undermining the livelihood of tens of thousands of villagers engaged in traditional artisan work and subsistence forest gathering and agricultural activities.

The profits of the mining bonanza go primarily to the overseas companies. The García regime distributes state revenues to his supporters among the financial and real estate speculators, luxury goods importers and political cronies in Lima’s enclosed upscale, heavily guarded neighborhoods and exclusive country-clubs. As the profit margins of the multinationals reached an incredible 50% and government revenues exceeded $1 billion US dollars, the indigenous communities lacked paved roads, safe water, basic health services and schools. Worse still, they experienced a rapid deterioration of their everyday lives as the influx of mining capital led to increased prices for basic food and medicine. Even the World Bank in its Annual Report for 2008 and the editors of the Financial Times of London urged the García regime to address the growing discontent and crisis among the indigenous communities. Delegations from the indigenous communities had traveled to Lima to try to establish a dialogue with the President in order to address the degradation of their lands and communities. The delegates were met with closed doors. García maintained that ‘progress and modernity come from the big investments by the multinationals…,(rather than) the poor peasants who haven’t a centavo to invest.’ He interpreted the appeals for peaceful dialogue as a sign of weakness among the indigenous inhabitants of the Amazon and increased his grants of exploitation concessions to foreign MNCs even deeper into the Amazon. He cut off virtually all possibility for dialogue and compromise with the Indian communities.

The Amazonian Indian communities responded by forming the Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP). They held public protests for over 7 weeks culminating in the blocking of two transnational highways. This enraged García, who referred to the protestors as ‘savages and barbarians’ and sent police and military units to suppress the mass action. What García failed to consider was the fact that a significant proportion of indigenous men in these villages had served as rmy conscripts, who fought in the 1995 war against Ecuador while others had been trained in local self-defense community organizations. These combat veterans were not intimidated by state terror and their resistance to the initial police attacks resulted in both police and Indian casualties. García then declared ‘war on the savages’ sending a heavy military force with helicopters and armored troops with orders to ‘shoot to kill’. AIDESEP activists report over one hundred deaths among the indigenous protestors and their families: Indians were murdered in the streets, in their homes and workplaces. The remains of many victims are believed to have been dumped in the ravines and rivers.


The Obama regime has predictably not issued a single word of concern or protest in the face of one of the worst massacres of Peruvian civilians in this decade – perpetrated by one of America’s closest remaining allies in Latin America. García, taking his talking points from the US Ambassador, accused Venezuela and Bolivia of having instigated the Indian ‘uprising’, quoting a letter of support from Bolivia’s President Evo Morales sent to an intercontinental conference of Indian communities held in Lima in May as ‘proof’. Martial law was declared and the entire Amazon region of Peru is being militarized. Meetings are banned and family members are forbidden from searching for their missing relatives.

Throughout Latin America, all the major Indian organizations have expressed their solidarity with the Peruvian indigenous movements. Within Peru, mass social movements, trade unions and human rights groups have organized a general strike on June 11. Fearing the spread of mass protests, El Commercio, the conservative Lima daily, cautioned García to adopt some conciliatory measures to avoid a generalized urban uprising. A one-day truce was declared on June 10, but the Indian organizations refused to end their blockade of the highways unless the García Government rescinds its illegal land grant decrees.

In the meantime, a strange silence hangs over the White House. Our usually garrulous President Obama, so adept at reciting platitudes about diversity and tolerance and praising peace and justice, cannot find a single phrase in his prepared script condemning the massacre of scores of indigenous inhabitants of the Peruvian Amazon. When egregious violations of human rights are committed in Latin America by a US backed client-President following Washington’s formula of ‘free trade’, deregulation of environmental protections and hostility toward anti-imperialist countries (Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador), Obama favors complicity over condemnation.

Republished from Countercurrents.org

Crisis in Cusco, Andahuaylas and La Oroya: Simon confronts social convulsion

Angie Lineth Villarroel & Víctor Cachay

The worn out traveling fire-fighter, prime minister Yehude Simon, will travel today to Andahuaylas and later to Sicuani, to try and put out the fires of discontent that are spreading to become a social convulsion – which he insists on attributing to a supposed extremist conspiracy. Although he has moved forward his trip, once again he will arrive late, as the protests in the South have reached the point of overflowing. Andahuaylas remains paralyzed and Cusco, where campesinos from Canchis were on the verge of taking over the airport guarded by Army troops, is virtually encircled

And its not only in the South, as the central highway is blocked by miners from Doe Run in La Oroya, protesting because the company has not complied with its promises and the State has done nothing to put it in its place and protect the interests of the country and the workers.

In the face of the social protests experienced in Andahuaylas and Cusco, Simon will travel to the city of Andahuaylas, in Apurímac province and tomorrow he will continue on to the Sicuani locality near Cusco, to dialogue with the residents and avoid giving rise to another tragedy like of Bagua, [1] which campesino leaders have warned could happen again if official inattention persists

Thousands of residents from Canchis and other provinces arrived yesterday in Cusco chanting phrases such as “if there is no solution, there is no Inti Raymi,” [2], with the aim of making the government attend to their demands. As a result, the Presidency of the Cabinet (PCM) announced that at 7:30am on Wednesday, the cabinet chief would leave from the Cusco to the city of Sicuani, where he will also hold talks with the campesinos about their opposition to the Law of Water Resources, to mining concessions and the construction of the Salca-Pucará hydroelectric plant.

In relation to this, the president of the Regional Assembly of Cusco, Efraín Yépez, speaking to La Primera, said the decision of the prime minister was opportune and important because the Inti Raymi festival attracts thousands of tourists every year on June 24 and influences the economy of the country and of Cusco. He said that the campesinos had to appeal to pressure in order to be heard.

The president of the regional government of Cusco, Hugo Gonzales, in the absence of the executive, when the campesinos from Canchis had entered Cusco and threatened to take over the airport – where a bloody confrontation could have occurred – held a dialogue with them and promised the support of his administration for their demands and later assured that the Inti Raymi festival and activities connected with it would unfold as normal. He said that he met with Alejo Valdez, president of the Canchis Struggle Committee after the demonstrators arrived at Cusco around noon and then remained at Pachacútec Oval, and though they tried to enter to the airport, they were dissuaded through dialogue.

He added that if the people of Canchis do not want the construction of the Salca-Pucará hydroelectric plant, then the project would not be carried out, despite the loss of a $350 million investment. Canchis peasant leader Valeriano Ccama, confirmed the dialogue and demanded the liberty of some demonstrators in order to begin a truce and to wait for the premier, but warned, "the Inti Raymi is still at risk".

Andahuaylas waits

Meanwhile, in Andahuaylas, Eugenio Allcca Díaz representative of the Campesino Community Front, rejected comments by the government and the official press that aimed to link the protest with violent groups and denied the intervention of political parties in financing the mobilizations. “Some of the media wants to discredit our peaceful demonstration, all of us traveled here by our own means,” he said, mentioning that they will not accept the intervention of anyone who is not the Cabinet Chief, who they will make respect their platform of struggle to the end.

Simon will leave today at 8.30am from Lima to the city in the Apurímac region and hold a dialogue over fixing the Ayacucho-Andahuaylas-Abancay highway, one of the central demands of the strike, as well as the Law of Water Resources, which is also rejected by the people of Andahuaylas. Meanwhile thousands of residents await the arrival of the prime minister, gathered in the Feria Dominical on the banks of the River Chumbao.

Miners close entrance road to Lima

More than three thousand mine workers for the Doe Run Company began an indefinite strike in the early hours of yesterday in La Oroya with the total blockade of a highway, due to the disinterest of the company in resolving their union demands. The protest was agreed to after an assembly of delegates and counts on support from the local population.

The blockade of the road stretches 8 kms before and after the entrance to La Oroya, due to the hundreds of vehicles stranded there, while shops as well as private and public companies were closed in endorsement of the mobilization. The show of force is in response to the announcement of the closing of the installations of the foundry and metal refinery. The Doe Run workers union and the residents of La Oroya also reject the proposal of the company to pay only 50% of the remunerations owed to the workers, the union demands that 80% be paid within 90 days.

The company stopped all production at the beginning of the month, four months after the banks cut credit for its operations as a result of the global [economic] crisis. Then it announced it was going to suspend its employees for 90 days, a decision that brought about the strike. The secretary general of the metalworkers of Doe Run, Roberto Guzmán, called for the intervention of the state for the immediate reactivation of the company.

“All the entrances are blocked. We hold the mining company responsible for the consequences of the protests,” the mayor of Yauli- La Oroya province César Gutiérrez, said.


The demonstrators are located 48 km from Corcona. There are three points of the road that are blocked, the exits of Lima, Huancayo and Chanchamayo, miners are waiting for their demands to be resolved while the highway police have tried to persuade them to clear the road. “We call on the government and the authorities of the mining company to avoid repression. We demand compliance with the [collective] contract,” said Washington García, secretary general of the Doe Run union.

Carlos Herrera, dean of the Engineers College of Peru, said that measures related to Doe Run should have been taken a long time ago and stressed that, “the law must be applied, the state cannot continue letting the company do what it likes.”

In the face of this situation, the government has said that it does not have plans to intervene in the Doe Run mining company as a solution to save it from financial collapse, as the workers have been demanding. “An intervention of the government would be very complicated in terms of responsibilities and financial consequences, because is very probable that, in a situation like this, what we would face are international claims”, indicated the minister of Energy and Mines, Pedro Sánchez, in a statement that could further destabilize the situation.

National Day of Struggle confirmed

The General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) has called a national day of struggle for July 8, calling for an end to the persecution launched by the government against social and political leaders, above all indigenous leaders, as well as a solution to the labour and social demands of different sectors at a national level, Moisés Vega, organisation secretary of the union federation, said yesterday.

A general assembly of delegates agreed to the new protest measure, in place of a national strike that had previously been agreed to in solidarity with the struggles of the indigenous people of the Amazon.

Vega told La Primera, that another point of agreement is the demand for the resignation of the entire cabinet presided over by Yehude Simon, who the social organizations consider responsible for the crisis experienced through out the country in recent weeks, and for the massacre in Bagua in which at least 34 people died.

In relation to the protests in the South-Andean region, Vega indicated that the CGPT also was responding to the demands of the campesino unions, which still have not been resolved by the government, which is why the campesino unions are persisting in their decision to hold a strike from July 7-9.


Luis Castillo, secretary general of the Miners Federation, told La Primera, that his union would be present in the national day of struggle called by the CGPT and announced it would hold an emergency assembly in La Oroya by the end of the month.

He added that in the meeting the miners would debate new protest measures against the delay by Congress in approving the Law of Mining Pensions, that has already obtained preliminary approval, but is on hold due a call for reconsideration by congressperson Rafael Yamashiro (UN)


[1] The massacre of indigenous protesters by Special Forces troops near the town of Bagua over June 5-6
[2] The annual Inti Raymi festival

Translated by Kiraz Janicke, original in Spanish published at La Primera

Monday, 22 June 2009

Defeating the US-Peru Free Trade Pact: Victory in the Amazon

Laura Carlsen

Thousands of indigenous people from the Amazon jungle of Peru accomplished the unthinkable last week. Their movement to save the Amazon and their communities forced the Peruvian government to roll back implementing legislation for the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement that would have opened up the vast jungle to transnational oil and gas, mining and timber companies.

The decision did not come without blood. Police attacked indigenous roadblocks and sit-ins in Bagua in northern Peru, killing some sixty indigenous protestors members of a 300,000 strong interethnic association of Amazon groups , according to estimates by human rights groups. The Peruvian government claims that 24 police officers and nine civilians died in the violence. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur and other human rights and environmental organizations throughout the world have initiated investigations into the massacre.

Peru’s Congress, deep in a political crisis of national and international legitimacy, voted 82 to 12 to repeal Legislative Decree 1090, the Forestry and Wildlife Law and 1064, the reform to permit changes in agrarian land use without full prior consent.

As president Alan Garcia went on national television to admit errors in not consulting with the indigenous groups of the Amazon, Daysi Zapata, representative of the association celebrated the triumph:

“Today is an historic day, we are thankful because the will of the indigenous peoples has been taken into account and we just hope that in the future, the governments attend and listen to the people, that they don’t legislate behind our backs.”

Zapata called to lift roadblocks and other actions throughout the country, while anticipating more battles to come over the repeal of seven related decrees, reinstatement of legislators suspended for protesting government actions against the Amazon people and the safe return of the president of the association, Alberto Pizango, forced to seek asylum in Nicaragua.

Indigenous women fought at the forefront of protests against the displacement of indigenous communities in the Amazon in the interests of foreign-led development plans. A Spanish sub-titled video of an Aguaruna mother provides a rare glimpse of how the Amazon communities view these plans--even if you don’t understand her language, her anguish and anger cut straight to the heart. Other videos taken by journalists who risked their lives as police fired on demonstrators, quickly circulated in the cyber world, raising global indignation.

Washington’s “New” Trade Policy Leads to Amazon Massacre

The recent clash between indigenous peoples and the Peruvian national police sends a powerful message from the Amazon jungle straight to Washington. The enormous social, political, and environmental costs of the free trade model are no longer acceptable.

In addition to the dead, hundreds remain missing and reports that the police threw the bodies of the protestors in the river to hide the real death toll have begun to circulate. Survival International and Amazon Watch have deplored the violence, the subsequent crackdown on NGOs in Peru, and the role that the free-trade agreement played in the crisis.

In May 2004 the U.S. and Peruvian governments began negotiations for a free trade agreement and signed the bilateral agreement onDecember 8, 2005. The signing provoked the first round of widespread protests, led by small farmers. Demonstrations against the agreement continued up through the signing of the ratified version by former president Bush and President Garcia in January of this year; four protestors were killed in 2008.

No doubt exists about the connection between the protests, the executive decrees, and the U.S. free trade agreement. In his televised mea culpa, Garcia began by stating that the repudiated measures were designed to eliminate illegal logging and informal mining (by legalizing it in the hands of transnationals, according to critics) and was “a demand of ecologist and progressive sectors in the North American Congress in negociations to pass the Free Trade Agreement”.

The U.S.-Peru trade agreement is held up as a model of the new trade agreement developed through a compromise between free-trade Republicans and Democrats with growing anti-free trade constituencies. To avoid the negative connotations of free trade agreements it was redubbed a “Trade Promotion Agreement” and incorporates environmental and labor standards into the text. These are the standards Garcia says he was complying with when he passed the decrees to open up 45 million hectares of Peruvian jungle to developers.

The Democratic leadership in Congress pushed the new model that looks remarkable=y like the old model, although the majority of Democrats voted against it. At the Pathways to Prosperity meeting, Sec. of State Hillary Clinton hailed the agreement as “good environmental stewardship”-- just four days before Peruvian police shot indigenous activists protesting invasion of the Amazon jungle.

The Obama administration has so far avoided comments on the conflict. But neither the battle for the Amazon or the debate over free trade’s role in indigenous displacement and environmental destruction are likely to go away any time soon, despite repeal of the decrees.

A planetary lung and a legendary reserve of culture and biodiversity, the Amazon region embodies conflicting values and views of human progress.

For Peruvian President Alan Garcia, in an editorial in El Comercio, the jungle is currently just a big waste: “There are millions of hectares of timber lying idle, another millions of hectares that communities and associations have not and will not cultivate, hundreds of mineral deposits that are not dug up and millions of hectares of ocean not used for aquaculture. The rivers that run down both sides of the mountains represent a fortune that reaches the sea without producing electricity.”

Garcia argues that indigenous peoples, just because they were lucky enough to be born in the Amazon, do not have special land-use rights on the land. Instead, the Amazon should be carved up into very large plots and sold to people with the capital to make use of it. The Peruvian government coveted the free trade agreement with the United States because, along with the required changes in national legislation, it opens up the Amazon to foreign investment.

In contrast, the indigenous communities and their supporters seek to conserve the Amazon jungles, and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures, all of which would be threatened by exploitation, bioprospecting and patent law changes under the FTA.

This contest between oil wells and jungles, foreign engineers and Amazon inhabitants has spread to the rest of Peru and the world. On June 11, tens of thousands of people marched in support of the indigenous protests in cities and towns across the country, chanting, “In defense of the jungle--the jungle is not for sale.” Simultaneously, demonstrators hit the streets to show support for the indigenous communities in cities throughout the world.

And it follows similar battles in other countries. In Mexico, hundreds of thousands of farmers marched to protest NAFTA’s agricultural chapter; in Colombia, indigenous and farm organizations marched to oppose a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement; in Costa Rica, nearly half the population voted against CAFTA; and Guatemala, CAFTA protesters were killed in the streets.

Yet somehow these voices never make it into the U.S. trade debate. The assumption that a free trade agreement is a gift to a developing country continues to be enforced by a U.S. government refusal to listen to voices other than national economic elites. Meanwhile, the New York Times echoes accusations that foreign countries or terrorist organizations have duped these thousands of women, farmers, indigenous groups, and workers into opposing progress.

As long as providing clear access and mobility for transnational companies and financial capital is accepted as the sole measure of progress, concerns for the earth and human beings with little economic power and a different view of development won’t be part of the discussion.

We have to rethink the free-trade model and listen to the men, women and children on the bottom of the economic ladder who sacrifice their lives to help save the Amazon jungles they call home. We owe them an enormous debt. The global crisis compels a new vision of sustainable growth and social equity. The Obama administration has noted the need for changes--reviewing trade policy should be at the top of the agenda.

Laura Carlsen is director of the Americas Policy Program in Mexico City. She can be reached at: (lcarlsen(a)ciponline.org).

Republished from CounterPunch

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Manifesto: First Continental Summit of Indigenous Women

We, indigenous women gathered in the sacred lands of Lake Titicaca, after two days of discussions and deliberation raise our voices in these times when Abya Yala’s[1] womb is once more with childbirth pains, to give birth to the new Pachakutik [2] for a better life on our planet. We, indigenous women, have had a direct input into the historical process of transformation of our peoples through our proposals and actions in the various struggles taking place and engendered from the indigenous movements.

We are the carriers, conduits of our cultural and genetic make-up; we gestate and brood life; together with men, we are the axis of the family unit and society. We join our wombs to our mother earth’s womb to give birth to new times in this Latin American continent where in many countries millions of people, impoverished by the neo-liberal system, raise their voices to say ENOUGH to oppression, exploitation and the looting of our wealth. We therefore join in the liberation struggles taking place throughout our continent.

We gather here at this summit, with our hearts, minds, hands and wombs, for the purpose of seeking alternatives to eliminate injustice, discrimination, machismo and violence against women, and to return to our ways of mutual respect and a life of harmony with the planet. Whereas women are part of nature and the macrocosm, we are called to defend and take care of our mother earth, because from her comes our ancient history and culture, that make us what we are: indigenous peoples under the protection and spiritual guidance of our parents and grandparents who gave life to all the human beings that now inhabit this wonderful planet, even though a few oligarchs and imperialists seek to plague it with death in their quest for their god called greed. Therefore, before the memory of our martyrs, heroes, leaders, we present to our extended families (Ayllus), communities, peoples and nations of the world the conclusions of our rebellious hearts.

Resolutions and Agreements:

· Build a continental agenda that reflects the defense of collective rights and the human rights of indigenous women and which follows up the mandates of the First Continental Summit of Indigenous Women.

· Form the Continental Coordinator of Abya Yala Indigenous Women to defend our mother earth; strengthen our organisations; promote policy and training proposals; and create spaces for sharing experiences in various fields: economic, political, social, and cultural amongst others. Furthermore, this will be the representative and referential body for Abya Yala women before national and international entities.

· We urge on international entities the reform of international instruments, related to indigenous peoples, so as to incorporate the rights of women and submit alternative reports on progress and compliance.

· We are in solidarity with and support the struggles of peoples of Amazonian Peru and demand the government of Peru immediately repeal all laws and decrees which violate the territorial rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon. At the same time, we demand the government of Peru repeal the state of emergency in the departments where it has been decreed.

· We express full solidarity and support for the Government of President Evo Morales.

· We support the Minga [4] Resistance undertaken by the indigenous peoples of Colombia and condemn acts of genocide and extermination against the indigenous movement in Colombia and other countries.

· We strongly reject the persecution of social protest and government repression of demonstrations and actions in defense of land rights and the life of indigenous peoples.

· We demand from national governments a real and wholistic agrarian reform that safeguards land to preserve food sovereignty.

· We demand that governments create institutions and policies for the care and protection of migrants, taking into account their cultural diversity.

· We demand that the state declares our lands and territories inviolable, inalienable and unable to be expropriated, requiring respective titles.

· We support the founding of the Climate Justice Court so as to demand developed countries and trans-nationals repair and not damage the biodiversity of the Pachamama [5].

· We reject bio-fuels because they impoverish the land and place at risk food sovereignty and the life of natural ecosystems.

· We demand decriminalisation of the cultivation of the sacred coca leaf.

· We demand an end to genocide and ethnocide, which especially affects our indigenous peoples, carried out by the army, paramilitaries and others, which injure, intimidate and violate the rights of people in every country. We, the women of the First Continental Summit of Indigenous Women, do not want to see more widows, more orphans. We struggle for peace, for life and for world dignity.

· We struggle to end violence committed by: the army, multinationals, trans-nationals and some NGOs; that engender division in our communities, particularly among women. This brings about all kinds of violence: physical, psychological, sexual, political, financial, institutional, and symbolic among others.

· We struggle for the freedom of men and women who are imprisoned in army and public jails for their fight in defense of Mother Earth and territories, and in defense of the collective rights of indigenous peoples – as it is the case of Leonard Peltier who has been condemned to life in prison in the US.

· We demand the immediate withdrawal of the foreign multinational companies in our territories which are exploiting our mother earth and damaging the environment.

· We, the women of Abya Yala, demand that the Government of Alan Garcia stops granting political asylum to individuals who have violated human rights, as in the case of the ex-ministers of Bolivia’s Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada.

· The First Continental Summit of Indigenous Women has decided that the Second Continental Summit will take place in Bolivia together with the Fifth Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nations.

· To follow up the implementation of the UN declaration of the rights of the indigenous peoples, in various countries, in particular on themes related to indigenous women.

· To promote a continental mobilisation in defense of Mother Earth, to be held on October 12.

I have walked everywhere, but never negotiated with the blood of my people”. Transito Amaguana

First Continental Summit of Indigenous Women - Host Team

Puno, Peru, 27-28 May, 2009.


1. "Abya Yala" means "Continent of Life" in the language of the Kuna peoples of Panama and Colombia. http://abyayala.nativeweb.org

2. Pachakutik is a Quechua word which signifies change, rebirth, transformation, and the coming of a new era.

3. Ayllu is a word in both the Quechua and Aymara languages referring to a network of families in a given area.

4. "La Minga" means a gathering of all the peoples, and indigenous leadership only call for it when something very important needs to be addressed. (http://dallaspeacecenter.org/node/3881).

5. Pachamama means Mother Earth, a goddess revered by indigenous peoples of the Andes.

Published in Llapa Runaq Hatariynin, 34-Inti Raymi 2009

Translation by Marlene Obeid and Tim Anderson, Sydney, 15 June 2009

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Peru's premier quits after protests end in bloodshed

Guy Adams

The Prime Minister of Peru has announced he will resign, following weeks of turmoil in which scores of police and protesters have been killed in clashes over threats to the land rights of Amazon Indians.

Yehude Simon promised to leave office as soon as he can persuade the country's parliament to repeal two controversial new laws that would open vast swaths of the homeland of indigenous tribes to exploitation by foreign-owned mining and energy companies.

In a surprise announcement, made during an interview with Lima's RPP radio, Mr Simon said he will formally resign from President Alan Garcia's government "in the coming weeks, as soon as all is calm".

It came as opposition parties criticised his failure to avert bloodshed, despite spending months in negotiations with indigenous groups worried by the proposed laws, which would dramatically increase oil and logging concessions in 67 million hectares of rainforest.

Earlier this month, 2,000 Aguaruna and Wampi Indians, many carrying spears and machetes, clashed with heavily-armed police who tried to clear them from a blockaded road near the rural town of Bagua Grande, 870 miles north of the capital. Although the official death toll is just 34, hundreds of protesters are still missing. It has been described as "the Amazon's Tiananmen" and appears to have been sparked when police fired tear gas and automatic weapons into a crowd of aggressive protesters.

Following nationwide outrage, and a one-day general strike, a curfew around the surrounding area was lifted on Monday. As a result, international agencies are now starting to arrive on the scene to investigate reports that bodies may have been burned and buried in mass graves.

Mr Simon, a former left-wing activist who was made Prime Minister in October, becomes the second cabinet member, after the populist minister Carmen Vildoso, to resign over the incident. "This is a significant step. Yehude Simon is often seen as a potential presidential candidate" said Jonathan Mazower, an expert on Peruvian affairs for the London-based pressure group Survival International. "It's doubtful, though, that in itself it will be enough to mollify the indigenous movement, which is extremely angry at what has happened, and absolutely determined not to let the protesters' deaths be in vain."

Meanwhile Alberto Pizango, the leader of the country's Amazon Indians remains at the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima, where he fled after being charged with "sedition, conspiracy and rebellion". Though recently granted political asylum in the country, he has yet to be granted safe passage out of Peru.

Mr Simon had earlier announced, during a visit to Amazon tribal chiefs, that a bill was to be submitted to parliament lifting the temporary suspension of laws barring the logging of trees in the rainforest. He said that other unpopular decrees could also be repealed.

Republished from The Independent

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.

Monday, 15 June 2009

'We are fighting for our lives and our dignity'

John Vidal

Across the globe, as mining and oil firms race for dwindling resources, indigenous peoples are battling to defend their lands – often paying the ultimate price

It has been called the world's second "oil war", but the only similarity between Iraq and events in the jungles of northern Peru over the last few weeks has been the mismatch of force. On one side have been the police armed with automatic weapons, teargas, helicopter gunships and armoured cars. On the other are several thousand Awajun and Wambis Indians, many of them in war paint and armed with bows and arrows and spears.

In some of the worst violence seen in Peru in 20 years, the Indians this week warned Latin America what could happen if companies are given free access to the Amazonian forests to exploit an estimated 6bn barrels of oil and take as much timber they like. After months of peaceful protests, the police were ordered to use force to remove a road bock near Bagua Grande.

In the fights that followed, at least 50 Indians and nine police officers were killed, with hundreds more wounded or arrested. The indigenous rights group Survival International described it as "Peru's Tiananmen Square".

"For thousands of years, we've run the Amazon forests," said Servando Puerta, one of the protest leaders. "This is genocide. They're killing us for defending our lives, our sovereignty, human dignity."

Yesterday, as riot police broke up more demonstrations in Lima and a curfew was imposed on many Peruvian Amazonian towns, President Garcia backed down in the face of condemnation of the massacre. He suspended – but only for three months – the laws that would allow the forest to be exploited. No one doubts the clashes will continue.

Peru is just one of many countries now in open conflict with its indigenous people over natural resources. Barely reported in the international press, there have been major protests around mines, oil, logging and mineral exploitation in Africa, Latin America, Asia and North America. Hydro electric dams, biofuel plantations as well as coal, copper, gold and bauxite mines are all at the centre of major land rights disputes.

A massive military force continued this week to raid communities opposed to oil companies' presence on the Niger delta. The delta, which provides 90% of Nigeria's foreign earnings, has always been volatile, but guns have flooded in and security has deteriorated. In the last month a military taskforce has been sent in and helicopter gunships have shelled villages suspected of harbouring militia. Thousands of people have fled. Activists from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta have responded by killing 12 soldiers and this week set fire to a Chevron oil facility. Yesterday seven more civilians were shot by the military.

The escalation of violence came in the week that Shell agreed to pay £9.7m to ethnic Ogoni families – whose homeland is in the delta – who had led a peaceful uprising against it and other oil companies in the 1990s, and who had taken the company to court in New York accusing it of complicity in writer Ken Saro-Wiwa's execution in 1995.

Meanwhile in West Papua, Indonesian forces protecting some of the world's largest mines have been accused of human rights violations. Hundreds of tribesmen have been killed in the last few years in clashes between the army and people with bows and arrows.

"An aggressive drive is taking place to extract the last remaining resources from indigenous territories," says Victoria Tauli-Corpus, an indigenous Filipino and chair of the UN permanent forum on indigenous issues. "There is a crisis of human rights. There are more and more arrests, killings and abuses.

"This is happening in Russia, Canada, the Philippines, Cambodia, Mongolia, Nigeria, the Amazon, all over Latin America, Papua New Guinea and Africa. It is global. We are seeing a human rights emergency. A battle is taking place for natural resources everywhere. Much of the world's natural capital – oil, gas, timber, minerals – lies on or beneath lands occupied by indigenous people," says Tauli-Corpus.

What until quite recently were isolated incidents of indigenous peoples in conflict with states and corporations are now becoming common as government-backed companies move deeper on to lands long ignored as unproductive or wild. As countries and the World Bank increase spending on major infrastructural projects to counter the economic crisis, the conflicts are expected to grow.

Indigenous groups say that large-scale mining is the most damaging. When new laws opened the Philippines up to international mining 10 years ago, companies flooded in and wreaked havoc in indigenous communities, says MP Clare Short, former UK international development secretary and now chair of the UK-based Working Group on Mining in the Philippines.

Short visited people affected by mining there in 2007: "I have never seen anything so systematically destructive. The environmental effects are catastrophic as are the effects on people's livelihoods. They take the tops off mountains, which are holy, they destroy the water sources and make it impossible to farm," she said.

In a report published earlier this year, the group said: "Mining generates or exacerbates corruption, fuels armed conflicts, increases militarisation and human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings."

The arrival of dams, mining or oil spells cultural death for communities. The Dongria Kondh in Orissa, eastern India, are certain that their way of life will be destroyed when British FTSE 100 company Vedanta shortly starts to legally exploit their sacred Nyamgiri mountain for bauxite, the raw material for aluminium. The huge open cast mine will destroy a vast swath of untouched forest, and will reduce the mountain to an industrial wasteland. More than 60 villages will be affected.

"If Vedanta mines our mountain, the water will dry up. In the forest there are tigers, bears, monkeys. Where will they go? We have been living here for generations. Why should we leave?" asks Kumbradi, a tribesman. "We live here for Nyamgiri, for its trees and leaves and all that is here."

Davi Yanomami, a shaman of the Yanomami, one of the largest but most isolated Brazilian indigenous groups, came to London this week to warn MPs that the Amazonian forests were being destroyed, and to appeal for help to prevent his tribe being wiped out.

"History is repeating itself", he told the MPs. "Twenty years ago many thousand gold miners flooded into Yanomami land and one in five of us died from the diseases and violence they brought. We were in danger of being exterminated then, but people in Europe persuaded the Brazilian government to act and they were removed.

"But now 3,000 more miners and ranchers have come back. More are coming. They are bringing in guns, rafts, machines, and destroying and polluting rivers. People are being killed. They are opening up and expanding old airstrips. They are flooding into Yanomami land. We need your help.

"Governments must treat us with respect. This creates great suffering. We kill nothing, we live on the land, we never rob nature. Yet governments always want more. We are warning the world that our people will die."

According to Victor Menotti, director of the California-based International Forum on Globalisation, "This is a paradigm war taking place from the arctic to tropical forests. Wherever you find indigenous peoples you will find resource conflicts. It is a battle between the industrial and indigenous world views."

There is some hope, says Tauli-Corpus. "Indigenous peoples are now much more aware of their rights. They are challenging the companies and governments at every point."

In Ecuador, Chevron may be fined billions of dollars in the next few months if an epic court case goes against them. The company is accused of dumping, in the 1970s and 1980s, more than 19bn gallons of toxic waste and millions of gallons of crude oil into waste pits in the forests, leading to more than 1,400 cancer deaths and devastation of indigenous communities. The pits are said to be still there, mixing chemicals with groundwater and killing fish and wildlife.

The Ecuadorian courts have set damages at $27bn (£16.5bn). Chevron, which inherited the case when it bought Texaco, does not deny the original spills, but says the damage was cleaned up.

Back in the Niger delta, Shell was ordered to pay $1.5bn to the Ijaw people in 2006 – though the company has so far escaped paying the fines. After settling with Ogoni families in New York this week, it now faces a second class action suit in New York over alleged human rights abuses, and a further case in Holland brought by Niger Delta villagers working with Dutch groups.

Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil is being sued by Indonesian indigenous villagers who claim their guards committed human rights violations, and there are dozens of outstanding cases against other companies operating in the Niger Delta.

"Indigenous groups are using the courts more but there is still collusion at the highest levels in court systems to ignore land rights when they conflict with economic opportunities," says Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington. "Everything is for sale, including the Indians' rights. Governments often do not recognise land titles of Indians and the big landowners just take the land."

Indigenous leaders want an immediate cessation to mining on their lands. Last month, a conference on mining and indigenous peoples in Manila called on governments to appoint an ombudsman or an international court system to handle indigenous peoples' complaints.

"Most indigenous peoples barely have resources to ensure their basic survival, much less to bring their cases to court. Members of the judiciary in many countries are bribed by corporations and are threatened or killed if they rule in favour of indigenous peoples.

"States have an obligation to provide them with better access to justice and maintain an independent judiciary," said the declaration.

But as the complaints grow, so does the chance that peaceful protests will grow into intractable conflicts as they have in Nigeria, West Papua and now Peru. "There is a massive resistance movement growing," says Clare Short. "But the danger is that as it grows, so does the violence."

Republished from The Guardian