Friday, 28 August 2009

Peru Natives complain of persecution, may restart protests

By Renzo Pipoli

Peru Native groups keeping ancestral ways of life may restart protests unless President Alan Garcia makes good on promises to heal dozens of Natives with bullet wounds following the June 5 clash with police armed with assault rifles, and stops harassment and persecution.

More than 300,000 Natives from the Peruvian Amazon organized through the Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon (AIDESEP) claim Garcia’s government is doing the opposite of what it said it was going to “consider,” including suggestions by the United Nations to respect rights of indigenous Peruvians.

Natives and their leaders have faced arrests and taken the blame for the June 5 clash following two months of protests that left more than 30 dead and nearly 100 people injured while top indigenous leaders have been forced into exile.

“It is clear that Alan Garcia has started a campaign to silence the legitimate aspirations of people to their free will and to their wellness and to their proposals for the defense of life and of the planet Earth,” AIDESEP leader in exile Alberto Pizango said in La Primera, a Lima newspaper.

Pizango said the Peruvian government has used the little-known National Institute for the Development of Andean, Amazon and Afro-Peruvian Peoples (INDEPA) as an instrument to get rid of AIDESEP, an organization Natives created to organize themselves.

AIDESEP joins diverse groups including the biggest tribes of Awajun, Ashaninka and Machiguenga with myriad smaller groups. It serves as a development tool and a channel for foreign aid, which is the tribe’s main source of revenue, since those groups are often neglected by government.

“They use our indigenous brothers that do not have conscience and behave as ‘Felipillos’ who betray the alignments and world vision of the indigenous people,” Pizango explained why a group of Natives want to take his leadership away. Felipillo was an infamous Peruvian Native who walked alongside conquerors in the 16th century serving as a translator.

According to the organization’s Web site, Pizango remains the head of the group.

Stolen identity

Pizango said Alexander Teest, who the Peruvian government now recognizes as AIDESEP president, was a former indigenous leader who tried to continue his term as head of the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Peruvian Northern Amazon despite the end of his period. Teest didn’t call elections, was ousted by his people, so found himself at loggerheads with AIDESEP.

Pizango said Teest has now sided with the government, and is posing as a false Native leader using the organization’s name.

Pizango also criticized Peruvian Justice Minister Aurelio Pastor for his presentation before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva because he said foreign conspirers, non-governmental organizations and the church were responsible for the deadly June 5 clash. Pastor described Garcia’s government as a victim of violence, and Pizango as violent.

“They call me violent to clean their bloody hands,” Pizango said. Natives have demanded an international investigation and strongly denied accusations of being violent.

Carlos Navas, spokesperson for Native Peoples of the Northern Amazon, said on AIDESEP’s Web site that as a result of these problems several Native communities in areas of the Amazon are unhappy with the lack of government compliance with agreements intended to secure peaceful living.

Navas said the government had fully agreed to help some 70 indigenous people, injured by bullets June 5, pay for medical treatment, but is not making good. Indigenous people are also upset about many arrest warrants issued.

The organization is also facing a bureaucratic government crackdown over supposed infractions committed years ago, and AIDESEP could be closed for good, leaving Natives without their key organization.

The alleged “serious infractions,” according to AIDESEP spokeswoman Augustina Mayan, are not over misuse of donations but “for missing a letter, a word in the name of a project and this is called by APCI (Agency for International Cooperation) false information.” APCI regulates agencies that receive donations.

Carlos Pando, APCI director, said he wants to sanction AIDESEP over infractions and is not acting politically to look good before party colleagues and superiors.

Pando has assured that he is an independent technician, though at one point, he was vice president of the APRA Party, led by Garcia; a mid-level ranking position in the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance.

Republished from Indian Country Today

PERU: Former Minister Should Answer for Massacre in the Amazon

By Ángel Páez

LIMA, Aug 28 (IPS) - "Did I have a feather on my head and kill the policemen myself?" Mercedes Cabanillas responded when journalists asked her if, as interior minister of Peru, she assumed responsibility for the operation that led to the deaths of 24 members of the police and at least nine indigenous protesters near the Amazon jungle town of Bagua.

Thirteen days later, she promoted 11 police officials who took part in the Jun. 5 crackdown on a roadblock that native demonstrators had manned for a month along a key Amazon highway near Bagua, in the northern province of Amazonas.

When the press reported that the police officials had been commended for their "distinguished service" that day, the now former minister suspended the promotions until the national police force’s Office of the Inspector General – which was carrying out an internal probe into the incident - had declared whether or not the officers were implicated in the killings.

The Office of the Inspector General then issued a report indicating criminal negligence on the part of regional police chief General Javier Uribe and General Elías Muguruza, head of the special operations unit, DIROES.

The report was a bombshell.

The leader of the Nationalist Party legislators, Daniel Abugattás, announced that his party was studying whether to bring charges against Cabanillas for her participation in the incident.

Testimony contained in the report indicates that Cabanillas played a decisive role in the police operation. It was the then interior minister herself who relieved Uribe and sent Muguruza in from Lima, with orders to lift the traffic blockade.

The indigenous demonstrators were protesting a number of controversial decrees that opened up the rainforest to oil, mining, logging and agribusiness companies.

The operation, involving 600 heavily armed DINOES policemen backed up by an Mi-17 helicopter and an armoured vehicle, opened fire on the peaceful crowd of indigenous people at dawn on Jun. 5 at the spot on the highway known as the Curva del Diablo (Devil’s Curve), where the protesters were manning the roadblock.

According to sources at the national police directorate who spoke with IPS in June, the operation was carried out despite the fact that two local police chiefs had signed a non-aggression pact with the leaders of the protests.

The head of the protest, Awajún chief Salomón Aguanash, told IPS that under the agreement, General Uribe had given the demonstrators until 10:00 AM to clear out, which they were planning to do that morning at 8:00 or 9:00 AM. But the police arrived, and started shooting, at around 5:00 AM.

Meanwhile, when they heard that the police were shooting their fellow protesters, indigenous demonstrators at the nearby Petroperu oil pumping station No. 6 seized the police officers guarding the installations, stripped them of their weapons, and killed several of them in reprisal for the security forces’ failure to respect the peace agreement.

Indigenous leaders say the number of protesters killed was higher than the official death toll of nine civilians. In addition, around 100 people were injured and 80 arrested during the clash.

Protesters said they saw the police collecting the bodies of dead demonstrators, putting them in bags and throwing them in the river from a helicopter, to reduce the estimate of the number of people killed.

In a Jun. 8 appearance before Congress to explain what happened, Cabanillas said the police acted with complete autonomy and that the outcome of the operation was the responsibility of the police commanders.

But in statements to the police force's National Disciplinary Tribunal, Generals Uribe and Muguruza said the then interior minister took part in the decision-making process.

According to the Disciplinary Tribunal minutes to which IPS had access, Uribe said that although he was regional police chief in Tarapoto – where Bagua is located – "an order came from Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas for General Elías Muguruza to assume responsibility for the operation."

Muguruza, for his part, told the Tribunal: "Yes, I was in charge of the operation. The clearing of the road was entirely a police operation. At that time, Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas was aware that the operation was going to be carried out, but she did not know on what date or at what time."

The two police chiefs are being prosecuted by the National Disciplinary Tribunal because the police Office of the Inspector General, after a two-month investigation of the incident, found that they had committed extremely serious infringements by failing to adopt the measures necessary to avoid the deaths of police officers and civilians in Bagua, according to the report, to which IPS also had access.

In addition, the Office of the Inspector General found that they even disregarded an intelligence report stating that there were a large number of indigenous protesters and that they would react violently if attacked.

Despite the warnings, Muguruza decided to sweep down on the demonstrators at around 5:00 AM on Jun. 5.

After the administration of Alan García and parliament refused to revoke the controversial decrees facilitating investment by oil, mining and logging companies in traditional indigenous lands in the jungle, the national police chiefs received the government's order to lift the roadblock by force.

But Cabanillas has publicly stated that the police commanders acted in accordance with their own "professional criteria," and that she did not order them to kill anyone.

In her explanations to Congress, the former minister argued that it was the indigenous people, not the police, who were responsible for the violent clash. She pointed out that more police officers than protesters were killed.

In the wake of the tragedy, the government partly backed down, repealing two of the decrees, which had already been declared unconstitutional in December 2008 by a multi-party parliamentary commission because they undermined the right of native people to prior consultation with respect to mining projects or other economic activities affecting their communities and their collectively-owned territories.

Attorney General Gladys Echaíz said she would ask for the Office of the Inspector General's report in order to study who was responsible for the deaths. She added that if evidence against any government official or agent was found, "believe me: I won't hesitate" to call a preliminary hearing.

The report by the Office of the Inspector General quoted police officers who survived the violence at Petroperu oil pumping station No. 6 as saying that Muguruza had promised to warn their chief, Miguel Montenegro, ahead of time if the government was going to order the lifting of the roadblock by force.

But Muguruza did not warn them. Montenegro was among those killed by the protesters in retribution, because he had promised that there would be no violent crackdown.

As a result, the Office of the Inspector General recommended that the National Disciplinary Tribunal fire Muguruza and Uribe.

In his testimony to the Tribunal, Muguruza said he scrupulously followed the operation plan and was in constant contact with the different police contingents.

But the head of one of the contingents, commander Juan del Carpio, said the general failed to respond when he called him to ask for reinforcements after realising that the protesters outnumbered the police.

When the police opened fire on the demonstrators, who were only armed with spears, some of them seized the police officers' AK-47 assault rifles and shot them. Although del Carpio survived, he lost 11 of his men.

Uribe and Muguruza have now made it clear that Cabanillas knew about the characteristics of the operation, and that she even sent Muguruza from Lima to Bagua to carry out the plan. (END/2009)

Republished from IPS

Alan García minimizes achievements of UNASUR and defends U.S. bases in Colombia

San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, 28 Ago. ABN.- Peru's President Alan García, on Friday downplayed the achievements of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) saying at the meeting of that body in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, in the region "there is more conflict," that when there was no supranational organization.

The Peruvian president said the seven military bases in Colombia that the US will administer, “do not appear to be a threat” if they are to "support transportation and other areas," provided that "have nothing to do with the international deployment of a superpower in our region. "

"I do not consider it to be very serious," reiterated Garcia, who dismissed the efforts of UNASUR saying that before its existence, there had not been "so many conflicts" between the countries of the region.

However, he said, "I don’t think it would be bad in the continent if a commission took place in Colombia, to see that you are doing with those bases."

He recommended that the UNASUR Defense Council not only evaluate negotiations between countries of the region and others but also "any kind of military alliance that exists between us."

However, despite having downplayed the organization, Garcia said "the positive side in this situation, that seems very difficult, is that we have the opportunity to make a stronger institutional relaunch of our UNASUR.”

The Peruvian president praised the work of his Colombian counterpart, Álvaro Uribe, saying "I have no doubt that President Uribe is a Latin American patriot who wants to go down in history as a man who solved the terrible problems in Colombia."

Garcia referred to the speech by his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez, [who released] a White Paper on Aerial Mobility Command and Global Strategy of Bases of Support for the United States Government, and said, despite it being an official document of the Government U.S.: "I will not believe a letter released in such a manner."

Translated by Kiraz Janicke

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Peru: witch hunt against indigenous protesters

Peru's government not only ordered the brutal massacre of indigenous peoples protesting to defend the environment and their way of life from rapacious transnational companies, in Bagua on June 5, (from which at least 60 people remain "disappeared"), but has also launched racist witch hunt, forcing 2 indigenous leaders into exile, and charging a further 120 with "murder" and "sedition" in its drive to carve up the Amazon and flog it off to oil, mining and logging companies.

President Alan Garcia has cynically claimed "foreign interference" from Venezuela and Bolivia is behind the indigenous protests, while at the same time whipping up racism against indigenous communities, referring to them as "second class citizens" and saying they are like "dogs in a barnyard," in order to ram through his agenda.

Read article below about how indigenous leader Santiago Manuin, who is lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life after receiving at least 4 bullet wounds, is hounded by police armed with AK47 assault rifles.

Jail and trial are next for wounded Peru Indians

By ANDREW WHALEN (AP) Aug 3 2009

CHICLAYO, Peru — Santiago Manuin is lucky to be alive. On June 5, the Awajun Indian leader was hit by at least four bullets when police broke up a protest by Indians over government plans for large-scale economic development of their ancestral lands in the Amazon.

Inside his hospital room, Manuin lies in a bed while a plastic pouch drains his intestines. Outside the door, five police officers lounge on wooden benches, AK-47 assault rifles resting across their knees.

Manuin is the most prominent of 48 protesters wounded in the June melee who face jail the moment hospital doctors sign discharge papers, according to Peru's main Amazon Indian federation.

Critics of the government say it is no way to treat people who engaged in peaceful civil disobedience — blocking roads and rivers — to protect their traditional lands from the oil drilling, mining, farming and logging projects envisioned by President Alan Garcia.

Negotiations to resolve the dispute, involving 350,000 Amazon Indians, will be difficult if the government treats the protest leaders as criminals, the U.N. special envoy on indigenous rights, James Anaya, said last week.

The dark, wiry Manuin is more blunt.

"Justice doesn't exist for the indigenous. The government values the police more than us and doesn't want to acknowledge its mistake," the 53-year-old apu, or tribal leader, said from his hospital bed.

The government's mistake, Indian leaders and sympathizers say, has been to vilify protest leaders while failing to consider that police might have used excessive force. At least 10 civilians and 23 police officers were killed in the violence, while 200 civilians were wounded, 82 by gunshot, according to Peru's ombudsman's office.

"It's very surprising that while there are criminal investigations against people accused of killing police, no one has been arrested or implicated for the abuses that led to the death of the indigenous protesters," said Susan Lee, director of Amnesty International's Americas program. Amnesty says it has gathered testimony telling of police abuses.

Peru's justice minister, Auerelio Pastor, defended the police action before a U.N. Human Rights Committee in Geneva on Monday and said the government has no plans to drop any charges.

The government's request that protesters clear the road "by no means justifies acts of violence, and the seizure of highways and interruption of public services is illegal," he said.

Pastor also echoed a claim repeatedly voiced by Garcia: that unidentified foreign elements have incited the Indians to instigate the violence.

The president of AIDESEP, the Indian federation that organized the protests, says 120 Indians have been charged with crimes including murder and sedition. Many wounded Indians have not sought medical attention for fear of arrest, the federation's president, Daysi Zapata, told The Associated Press.

AIDESEP's top leader, Alberto Pizango, and two other officials of the organization have taken asylum in Nicaragua from sedition and rebellion charges.

In a July report following a visit to Peru, Anaya, the U.N. envoy, called for an independent, internationally backed investigation into the violence.

The government has yet to publicly respond.

Manuin is expected to be released from the main hospital in Chiclayo shortly after an operation this week to close the hole in his stomach and reconnect his intestines. He will then be jailed and tried on charges of inciting murder and unrest, which carry a maximum penalty of 35 years in prison. His lawyer has appealed to reduce his arrest warrant to an order to appear in court.

The Jesuit-schooled Manuin is an internationally recognized activist who met with Spain's Queen Sofia in 1994 after leading Awajun resistance to leftist rebels who tried to get his people to grow coca, the basis of cocaine.

On June 5, when heavily armed police advanced toward nearly 5,000 protesters at a highway blockade, he says he approached the officers seeking to talk.

"I never made it because they opened fire when I was about 50 meters (yards) away," Manuin said. Bullets tore open his left side.

Other protesters saw he was hurt, and "hand-to-hand combat broke out to remove the guns from police," he added.

Erroneous reports of Manuin's death spurred a bloody reaction hours later when Awajun protesters killed 12 police officers they had taken captive at an oil pipeline station.

Manuin faults the government, not the police officers, who he says told Indian leaders on June 4 that their superiors in Lima had ordered them to clear the highway.

The Cabinet chief at the time, Yehude Simon, said the entire Cabinet voted to issue the order. He and the then-interior minister were replaced last month as Garcia sought to allay public criticism of his handling of the protests.

The Indians had been blockading jungle highways and rivers on and off since last August, demanding the revocation of 11 decrees issued by Peru's president last year under the rubric of a free trade pact with the United States.

Peru's Congress repealed two of the decrees after protests last year and two more after June's bloodshed. Indians feared the decrees would lead to a widespread land and resource grab by private companies.

Despite the revocations of some of the decrees, 75 percent of Peru's Amazon remains carved up into oil concessions, with the government owning all subsoil rights.

"If they want to put the Amazon up for sale, they'll do it by spilling blood. Period," Manuin said.