Saturday, 16 January 2010

Peru: A historical conflict that requires political solutions

By Miguel Palacín Quispe

The Alan García government has focused on the police in relation to the Bagua Massacre in order to evade political responsibility. It is necessary to form a truly independent Investigation Commission with international observers.

The conflict between indigenous peoples and the Peruvian state has deep historical roots. The Bagua Massacre on June 5 last year was the most visible point of an increasing process of indigenous political protagonism and the criminalization of rights by the state. The dominant neo-liberal capitalist civilisation is becoming more and more violent against the indigenous world view, against life, against equilibrium and harmony with Mother Earth.

A conflict of this nature is political, economic, social and cultural. And it requires those kinds of solutions and not, as the APRA government tries to promote, a simple focus on the police in the debate, especially after the presentation of the Bagua Commission Report and the dissemination of questioned images (photos and videos) of a disappeared policeman.

On 5th June 2009, at Devil's Curve, Bagua, Utcubamba and Station 6, 34 people died. Research to identify and punish the material perpetrators of these killings, all equally condemnable is the responsibility of public prosecutors and the judiciary. But that does not resolve the conflict and therefore will not avoid new conflicts: for this it is essential to identify the real problem, its causes and those politically responsible.

The most profound cause is the policy of cultural and physical extermination of indigenous peoples, begun more than five hundred years ago, that did not stop with the birth of the Republic and its uni-national and mono-cultural state. More recently, in Peru at the beginning of the last decade of the last century, the imposition of neoliberalism swept away our rights, especially our land rights (and it is in relation to our lands where our identity resides and from which emerges all of our rights), and made us move from resistance to alternative proposals, a process which strengthened and articulated our organizations. We moved from invisibility to political prominence.

The issuance of the legislative package to implement the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, whose repeal is the focus of the Amazon and Andean indigenous platform, is part of the neoliberal imposition, with its trade agreements and indiscriminate concessions without any controls on the extractive industries, with its attendant environmental, economic and cultural impacts.

But now they try to co-opt the social pressure to repeal the decrees - which since the Bagua massacre, has become a national demand with broad international backing - with discussions under the jurisdiction of law enforcement and the judiciary. It is not only to lay smokescreens to ultimately evade political responsibility. It is also another attack against indigenous peoples, against those which the Bagua Comission Report, using a racist Western vision, presented as violent, ignorant, and manipulated by NGOs, churches, the media and parliamentarians, incapable of governing ourselves, as we have been doing for thousands of years before the existence of the Peruvian State. We governed ourselves and lived in harmony with Mother Earth, without exploiting her, polluting her, pillaging her, guarding her to continue raising new generations.

Trying to create parallel organizations to the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP),[1] continuing judicial harassment of its leaders, seeking "to dissolve," it and speaking of "paramilitary groups" in the Bagua massacre, does nothing to resolve a historical dispute. On the contrary, it exacerbates it and is the practical application of the “Barnyard dog” doctrine of Alan García and his government. [2]

Politically responsibilities, which are not even mentioned in the Bagua Commission Report, begin with President Alan García and his then ministers, principally Mercedes Cabanillas Interior Minister and Mercedes Araoz Production Minister, now the Economy Minister, Yehude Simon, then president of the cabinet, and Javier Velásquez Quesquén, then President of Congress who provocatively again postponed a discussion of the repeal of legislative decrees of the FTA with the U.S. and now chairs the Council of Ministers.

The legislative decrees have not been repealed, the dialogue table with the government failed to resolve the platform of indigenous peoples. And the state continues to remain deaf to the observations and recommendations of United Nations agencies that have spoken on the subject. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), said officially:

"The Committee urges the State party to follow the recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Mr. James Anaya, following his visit to Peru and to proceed urgently to implement an Independent Commission with indigenous representation, for a thorough, objective and impartial investigation. It also recommends that the Commission's findings enrich the discussions that are occurring in Peru on the Law on Consultation and Participation of Indigenous Peoples in Environmental Matters and the regulations on the existent issue of mining and petroleum subsectors presented by the Ministry of Energy and Mines. The Committee waits to be informed of the negotiations, the constitution, the findings, conclusions and recommendations of said Commission (...) ".

We must remember that James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur recommended that this Independent Commission counts with [the participation of] international observers. And the [Bagua] Commission that late last year issued its questioned report was not independent because most of its members were former ministers of APRA or are linked to the government and it did not count with [the participation of] international observers.

The CERD has also recommended:

"To continue pushing urgently for the adoption of a framework law on indigenous peoples of Peru, encompassing all communities, trying to align and harmonize the terms to ensure adequate protection and promotion of the rights of all indigenous peoples.”

"That the State party implements a participatory and inclusive process in order to determine what is the vision of the nation that best represents the ethnic and cultural diversity of a country as rich as Peru, as a shared and inclusive vision can guide the course of the State party in its public policies and development projects.”

Other recommendations of the CERD that continue being ignored by the Alan García government are the enactment of a Law of Consultation and a Law of Preservation of Indigenous Languages.

In short, the conflict continues to fester because the historical causes remain, the demands of the Amazon mobilizations have not been met, the criminalization and stigmatization of indigenous peoples continues, the debate is focused on the police to avoid political responsibility and the Alan García government has not the slightest intention to undertake policy measures as recommended by CERD to solve it.

These are the pending tasks and indigenous organizations, all social movements and human rights organizations must continue to press for them to be carried out, without falling for distractive and cover-up manoeuvres [by the government].

Once again the Andean Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations, CAOI, stresses that political conflicts require political solutions. If the CERD has recommended a framework law of Indigenous Peoples, we note that the solution is to give character to the Organic Law on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the UN. If it has recommended to "determine what is the vision of the nation that best represents the ethnic and cultural diversity" of Peru, we reiterate our call to build a pluri-national State. And we insist on the creation of an Investigation Commission that is truly independent and with international observers.

The projects of the Law of Consultation and of Free and Informed Prior Consent and of the preservation of indigenous languages, still awaiting debate in Congress must happen now. All this [must be done], without forgetting the immediate repeal of the still current legislative decrees of the FTA and an end to the criminalization of indigenous peoples and the social movements.

Due to the considerations raised and due to the lack of independence of the report issued, [the issue] should go to the UN, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other agencies to enforce the recommendations of the CERD and establish an International Commission to clarify the facts and demand the punishment of those responsible.

Lima, January 12 2010.

Miguel Palacín Quispe is the General Coordinator of CAOI

Translated by Kiraz Janicke for Peru en Movimiento

Translators Notes:

[1] According to official government reports 34 people died in clashes between indigenous protesters and the police, including 23 police officers, on June 5, 2009, in what has become known as the Bagua Massacre. However, witness testimonies and human rights organisations say the real number is much higher and that hundreds of indigenous people have been disappeared. Witnesses report bodies of indigenous people being dumped from helicopters and incinerated at a nearby army barracks.

[2] AIDESEP is the largest organisation of Peruvian indigenous peoples, representing over 3000 indigenous communities. It has lead the resistance to the legislative decrees implemented by the García government to bring Peruvian law into line with the FTA signed with the U.S., and which open up vast swathes of indigenous peoples lands to exploitation by trans-national companies. In October 2009, Peru’s Public Prosecutor of the Ministry of Justice solicited the dissolution of AIDESEP, but withdrew the request after a nationwide outcry.

[3] In October 2007, García “penned an opinion piece titled "El syndrome del perro del hortelano," or the syndrome of the barnyard dog, for the Lima-based daily El Comercio. The title compares those advocating the protection of the Amazon's resources to a barnyard dog growling over food that it does not eat but will not let others have. Besides insinuating a racist comparison between indigenous peoples and dogs, García blamed his opponents—singling out indigenous—for standing in the way of Peru's development via foreign capital.” - Peru's Cold War against Indigenous People, Kristina Aiello July 19, 2009 (

Republished from Agencia Latinoamericana de Información

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