Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Peru: Amazon indigenous create new political party

Saturday, August 28, 2010
By Kiraz Janicke

Peru’s Amazonian indigenous people have announced the creation of their own political party and will contest the presidential elections in April 2011.

The indigenous people clashed with Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s government in 2009 to defend their ancestral lands in the largest indigenous uprising in recent history.

The Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP), Peru’s largest and most representative indigenous organisation, announced the formation of the Alliance for an Alternative for Humanity party (Alianza para la Alternativa de la Humanidad — APHU).

The announcement came shortly after the one-year anniversary of Garcia’s violent crackdown on thousands of indigenous protesters near the town of Bagua Grande on June 5, 2009.

Indigenous communities were protesting against a series of government decrees in line with the US-Peru Free Trade-Agreement that opened up their ancestral lands to exploitation by oil, mining, timber and agribusiness companies and undermined constitutionally recognised consultation processes.

The Bagua massacre — as the crackdown became known — left at least 34 dead, including police and protesters, and unknown numbers of indigenous people disappeared. Bagua sparked national and international condemnation.

AIDESEP president Alberto Pizango — despite not being present at the Bagua protests — was charged with “conspiracy, sedition and rebellion” and was forced to flee the country and seek asylum in Nicaragua.

The crisis caused the entire ministerial cabinet to resign and forced the government to repeal some of its most controversial decrees.

But indigenous activists say the government is still illegally auctioning exploration licenses in the Amazon, without consultation or agreement from indigenous communities.

Political persecution of indigenous leaders continues. In November 2009, the Ministry of Justice issued a request to dissolve AIDESEP, but promptly backed away when the move sparked a public backlash.

The government has also tried to create alternatives to AIDESEP that agree with its neoliberal agenda, and to promote fake “consultation” processes with indigenous communities to ensure outcomes that favour transnational companies.

Pizango, who returned to Peru on May 26 to fight the government’s trumped up charges and spoke at the August 11 press conference, condemned the government’s attempt to divide the indigenous movement.

The new party was created by indigenous people but it will “attempt to embrace all the citizens of Peru who defend the forests, nature and life on Earth”, he said.

The party’s platform is based on three main points: peace, sovereignty and land rights; education and health for all Peruvians; and the indigenous concept of vivir bien (living well), which Pizango described as harmony between people and nature.

Pizango said the APHU “will be a political tool for defending the Amazon and its resources which belong to all Peruvians, who must be consulted about its fate”.

Pizango said he was willing to stand as APHU’s presidential candidate but said the traditional Apus, or indigenous leaders of the Amazon, would decide.

The party is in the process of collecting the required 160,000 signatures for official registration. So far it has 100,000 registered members.

Some have described Pizango as “Peru’s Evo Morales”. Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous president who came to prominence by leading social struggles in the defence of natural resources and the rights of indigenous peoples.

Pizango said his project, like that of the Bolivian indigenous leader, is based on the “aspirations of peoples”.

“People are coming together today to defend planet Earth, to defend their right to a life of dignity whereby they can recover knowledge that allows them to live in harmony with nature and thereby ensure the survival of future generations.”

Peru has the second-largest indigenous population in South America after Bolivia. About 53% being of Peruvians are indigenous.

The new party is based primarily in rural areas and is made up of the poorest of the poor — Peru’s tribal indigenous communities — and for these reasons faces many challenges in terms of resources.

It is unlikely Pizango will be elected in 2011, but analyst Roger Rumrrill told AFP on August 11 that the creation of APHU is a good strategy “as an exercise in building power for the long term”.

Another candidate on the left is Marco Arana, priest and leader of the Peru Land and Freedom Movement. It describes itself as a “political movement that believes in social transformation via social movements”, and calls for the democratisation of power “in all spaces and at all levels”.

But the most visible face of the opposition in Peru is Ollanta Humala, leftist leader of the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP), who narrowly lost to Garcia in 2006.

All three candidates are fierce critics of neoliberal policies, but face an array of conservative or centrist politicians backed by the US and Peru’s traditional capitalist elites.

Republished from Green Left Weekly

Thursday, 19 August 2010

US Activist Lori Berenson and Baby Son Returned to Peruvian Prison Just 3 Months After Release on Parole

US activist Lori Berenson has been sent back to a Peruvian prison just three months after she was freed on parole. Berenson had served nearly fifteen years following her 1996 conviction for collaborating with the rebel group the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA. Democracy Now interviews Lori Berenson’s mother, Rhoda Berenson in Lima, Peru. [transcript below]

JUAN GONZALEZ: We begin today’s show in Peru, where a three-judge panel has ordered the American activist Lori Berenson back to prison to serve the remaining five years of her twenty-year sentence. Berenson and her fifteen-month-old son Salvador had been free since May, when she was released on parole.

Berenson is the American activist who was arrested in 1995 in Lima, accused of collaborating with the rebel group Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA. She was initially sentenced to life in prison for treason, but four-and-a-half years later, due to international pressure, her sentence was vacated. She was retried by a civilian court, which reduced her sentence to twenty years.

On Monday, Berenson appeared in a Peruvian courtroom and pleaded for the judges to allow her and her son to leave for the United States in order to seek medical treatment. She apologized to the people of Peru.

LORI BERENSON: [translated] If my participation contributed to societal violence, I am very sorry for this. If my coming to Peru has meant more harm to the country, I am very sorry for this. And those who are affected by my words or actions, I ask their forgiveness.

AMY GOODMAN: Lori Berenson also told the court she does not pose a danger to anyone.

LORI BERENSON: [translated] I lament the repercussions that my parole has had on society. This has always been a media case, since I was detained. The truth is, despite how it hurts me, I accept that I have been ostracized, but according to the law and based on my behavior, I do not represent a danger for anyone.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the story, we’re joined on the telephone by Lori Berenson’s mother Rhoda Berenson in Lima, Peru. Rhoda and her husband Mark run the website freelori.org.

Rhoda, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you explain what has happened? Why has your daughter Lori and her son Salvador, your grandson, been reimprisoned?


There was an appeal on Lori’s parole. Right after she was granted parole in the end of May, the state prosecutor appealed that. That’s a process that’s permitted. Either side can appeal. And that was what was being studied in the courtroom, and there were papers that went back-and-forth on Monday. And there were a couple of main issues that the prosecutor had brought up, namely that Lori did not serve a full fifteen years—that’s three-quarters of her sentence—but had been shorter, because she had worked. If you do work-study time, you can shorten that. It’s a standard procedure, and that’s how everybody had done it in the past.

And there was also an issue about the apartment that I’m right now sitting in, as to whether or not the police had seen the apartment prior to the decision to giver her parole. The police come and check that the apartment really exists and that people aren’t saying they’re moving someplace that doesn’t really exist. So that was what the issue was, the decision yesterday, that because the apartment hadn’t been checked before the judge granted parole, that the apartment must be checked, the judge then has to say the apartment was checked and then, once again, decide whether or not to give Lori parole, and that, in the meantime, Lori must return to prison. So, because there was a technical error, because the judge did not order the house inspected, Lori had to return to prison until this is all settled.

And it’s absolutely outrageous. And actually, after—while Lori was living here, the police do come and check once a month. That’s a standard parole procedure that every—so they’ve been here. It was all ludicrous. I mean, there was a famous Peruvian lawyer who was last night saying it’s, you know, just ludicrous to send her back to prison until you finish that up, because then they can appeal again. So they haven’t really decided on any issues other than this technicality. So I know it’s probably complicated for your listeners, but there was a technicality in the original decision to giver her parole, and Lori had to be imprisoned until that is resolved, which will probably take a couple of months, at which point, we assume that that’s going to be taken care of. The judge will once again say she’s granted parole. She’ll then be out on parole again. But then again, this is Peru, so you never know. But that’s what our assumption is. But then it may be appealed again. So, this is—this is something that only happens to Lori Berenson. You know, we’ve been at this for fifteen years. Hundreds of Peruvians who have been involved in political terrorism cases have—[no audio]


We seem to have lost Rhoda Berenson, mother of Lori Berenson. Again, she has been reimprisoned along with her son Salvador. Rhoda Berenson, speaking to us from Lima.

Rhoda, did we reestablish a connection?

RHODA BERENSON: Yes, I’m here. When did you lose me?

AMY GOODMAN: Just in the last second. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Rhoda, I’d like to ask you, you were mentioning the—this is Peru. As you were talking, we were showing some of the video to those of our audience that have video access or TV access, showing the frenzy of the press around this case. Could you talk about the climate in Peru ever since Lori was released?

RHODA BERENSON: Well, the climate has always been like that for Lori, if anything happens and her name is mentioned. But the press in Peru—[no audio]

AMY GOODMAN: Hmmm. Well, I’ll tell you what we will do. We will go to a break, see if we can get her back on. Rhoda Berenson is who we’ve been talking to, mother of Lori Berenson. Lori and her son have been reimprisoned to serve out the full twenty-year sentence, after she’s already served fifteen, though her mother says this may be a technicality and she could be out sooner. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re trying to have an uninterrupted conversation with Rhoda Berenson, the mother of Lori Berenson. Lori has just been reimprisoned in Peru. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, yes, before we were cut off, Rhoda, I was asking you about the media reaction to Lori’s release a couple of months ago.

RHODA BERENSON: Well, the reaction was horrendous. You know, there is nothing Lori can do that they don’t turn against her. And they’re physically—when, any time either Lori, I or—last night was Lori and her baby, were almost crushed. I mean, the baby was screaming, because the priests come swarming right in on you. And, of course, when that happens, the immediate media reaction was, "Well, she shouldn’t have had her baby with her." You know, this is like—you know, it’s like blame the victim kind of thing, when, of course, if she didn’t have her baby with her, they would have yelled, "She doesn’t have her baby! She’s abandoned her baby!" There’s nothing Lori can do that they don’t twist in a negative way. I mean, nobody knows her real story. Nobody knows that she was not convicted of being a member of a terrorist group, that she was acquitted of that. Nobody knows that. They make up any—she can walk down the street, and they call her assassin. You know, she’s certainly never assassinated anybody. Nobody knows the facts. They just quote anything they like. And it’s—so, for the entire time she was out, there were articles every single day about Lori Berenson, Lori Berenson, Lori Berenson.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you afraid for her—

RHODA BERENSON: Are you still there?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. Were you afraid for Lori and her son Salvador’s safety during the period that they were out?

RHODA BERENSON: We had—there were some threats. You know, we were nervous. I really didn’t expect anyone was going to physically attack either of them. And, you know, I would say a huge majority of the population is anti-Lori, but we still managed to walk the streets and have people come up to us and say, "Lori, not everybody’s like that. We’re on your side." So, it was—yes, we’re always nervous here, because people recognize us.

AMY GOODMAN: Rhoda, can you explain what Lori was convicted of?

RHODA BERENSON: She was convicted of renting an apartment which was used by the MRTA. Also, at the time, she had been charged with being a member of the group and helping plan things or—you know, all of that, she was acquitted of. So she was found guilty of renting the apartment for her. And I think in her little speech the other day, she said she accepts responsibility for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Has Salvador, her son, gotten the operation that he needs?

RHODA BERENSON: No, that’s scheduled for November. And certainly we’re hoping that Lori is out on parole. And, you know, with the Peruvian public feeling so uncomfortable, for whatever reason they have, with her, it just makes sense, in my mind, that they all say, "Throw her out of the country."

AMY GOODMAN: Does she want to come to the United States?

Well, we lost Rhoda Berenson again, but we’ll have to leave that for another day. Rhoda Berenson, the mother of Lori Berenson. Again, Lori Berenson and her son Salvador, fifteen months old, have been put back in prison after serving fifteen years. Lori faces another five.

Republished from Democracy Now

Peruvian Government Draft Report Buries the Truth about Bagua, Resurrects Racist Stereotypes

David Hill

One year since the tragic events at Bagua in northern Peru, when armed police attacked indigenous Awajún and Wampis protesters, it is clear Peru’s government has no intent to change its hostile relationship with the country's indigenous population. In a move that has provoked outrage in many quarters, President Alan Garcia recently blocked a law, voted by Congress, that would have recognized indigenous people's right to consultation about projects affecting their land – precisely one of their demands when protesting the year before.

It wasn’t just the fact that Garcia blocked the law. It was the way he did it. In a response not unlike last year’s, when he described the protesters at Bagua as "pseudo-natives" committing acts of "savagery" and "barbarism", Garcia returned the law to Congress with several suggested modifications and claims, including one that the "legitimacy" of indigenous organizations should be judged by Peru’s Office of Electoral Processes and another that Peru’s Andean communities are not really indigenous.

If you think Garcia is the only one holding such offensive views, think again. In early December 2009 a draft report written by the government commission appointed to investigate the causes of the violence at Bagua was leaked to the Peruvian press. Two members of the commission, one of whom was Carmen Gomez Calleja, a nun, quickly distanced themselves from the draft, and later refused to endorse the report even after it was finalised and major changes were made.

"Our president, Alberto Pizango, regrets the differences that have emerged between the members of the commission investigating what happened at Bagua," said national indigenous organization Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP). "He agrees with Maricarmen Gomez, who has warned how the draft report contains serious errors such as holding indigenous people responsible for the death of 34 people."

That wasn’t the draft report’s only error. In addition to completely failing to clarify what happened at Bagua or explain why or how so many people were killed, the draft repeatedly makes gross generalisations about "the native", claims they were manipulated into protesting by outsiders, and concludes with a series of "recommendations" to Peru’s indigenous population that are so ignorant, so paternalistic and, ultimately, so offensive that they almost defy belief.

"The native is handicapped by race, by being indigenous, by living in the rainforest," reads one sentence in the draft’s second paragraph. "The current situation in the Amazon means that the native must revise his culture and social, political and religious structures," reads one recommendation. Another: "The natives need to adapt to a globalization model inspired by an authentic humanism." Another line reads: "The natives should abandon their belief that all people are equal..."

Reaction to the draft was scathing:

"The antithesis of a serious work of investigation," said a spokeswoman from Peru’s Institute of Legal Defence.

"Shot through with stereotypes of a culture it knows nothing about," added one columnist from the La República newspaper.

"Not the result of sober investigation. It oozes racism, treating indigenous people as ignorant and incapable," said Bartolomé Clavero, a member of UN’s indigenous issues forum and a regular commentator on Peru.

For Peruvian anthropologist Alberto Chirif, the draft could almost have been written 100 years ago. "Handicapped by race, by being indigenous, by living in the rainforest? Nothing could be further from the truth," said Chirif. "This is an old strategy, used by the rubber barons a century ago who said indigenous people couldn’t testify about the torture they had experienced or the number of people who had died because they were racially incapable of doing so."

Even more extraordinary is what the draft report says about "uncontacted" tribes: that’s to say, indigenous people living in the remotest parts of the Amazon who have no contact with outsiders and are very vulnerable to contact because of their lack of immunity to disease. In Peru, two of the most common Spanish terms for these groups are "indígenas aislados", the term often used in the draft, or "indígenas no contactados", used by President Garcia in his recent letter to Congress blocking the law.

The draft report makes several unlikely, unsubstantiated claims about the aislados. At one point, it says that members of one group, when "they finish studying at university", intend to "kill the people who call them aislados because this misleading term is impeding their ability to develop." At another, it says some aislados, unhappy about being called that, have threatened to kidnap an oil company worker "so they can show the whole world they’re not aislados and deserve help like anyone else."

The leaked draft also makes several unsubstantiated accusations against those working in support of the aislados’ rights. It accuses NGOs of condemning them to live "underdeveloped" lives and causing "injustice that will provoke violence", and anthropologists of being "racist", "romantic", inventing the idea of an "isolated native", violating their rights, committing "scientific fraud" and "ethnocide." Calling them aislado is a "time bomb", states the report.

Just to be clear, the people who NGOs and anthropologists say live "without contact" do just that. Although it is true that has not always been the case – e.g. some groups had contact during the "rubber boom" 100 years ago and then retreated into isolation after so many indigenous people were killed – today sightings of them are rare, encounters rarer still. Contrary to what the draft claims, there are no aislados studying for a degree.

"The report tries to discredit those working in defence of isolated tribes by using an argument that is absolutely mistaken and fallacious," said Beatriz Huertas, a Peruvian anthropologist and the author of one of the few books about Peru’s aislados, called "Indigenous Peoples in Isolation in the Peruvian Amazon". "The fight for their rights is about ensuring their existence and survival on the grounds that they have the right to decide how they live. It’s about respecting their rights to self-determination."

Ultimately, in addition to everything else that is wrong with it, the draft report must be seen as an explicit attack on the aislados and those working to ensure their rights are respected. The reason for this attack is obvious. In recent years, as Peru’s government has opened up more and more of the Amazon to oil and gas exploration, an increasing number of people, in Peru and internationally, have spoken out in defence of those, i.e. the aislados, who are most likely to be affected.

David Hill is a researcher with Survival. Republished from Upside Down World