Sunday, 27 September 2009

Peru: ‘A political defeat for the government’

Kiraz Janicke

In April, Amazonian indigenous peoples in Peru began an uprising to demand the repeal of more than a dozen neoliberal decrees by President Alan Garcia. The decrees opened up vast swathes of indigenous peoples’ lands to exploitation by transnational oil, mining and logging companies.

On June 5, the government unleashed a brutal crackdown on protesters in the Amazonian town of Bagua. At least 60 indigenous people were massacred.

A nation-wide backlash forced the government to repeal three of the most controversial decrees.

Tito Prado, head of the international commission of the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP) and PNP Congresswoman Yanet Cajahuanca spoke to Green Left Weekly about the situation in the country after the Bagua massacre and the political program of the PNP, led by Ollanta Humala.

“The political situation of the country has changed in many ways” since the Bagua massacre, said Prado, who also edits La Lucha Continua. He is a member of the PNP’s Governmental Plan and Political Program Advisory Council.

“It was a political defeat for a government that dared to suppress the indigenous protests, but in the end had to repeal the neoliberal decrees.”

Cajahuanca was one of seven indigenous parliamentarians suspended for supporting the indigenous struggle and protesting against the decrees. She told GLW that the PNP opposed the decrees, which were apart of implementing the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States.

“These legislative decrees are totally detrimental to the interests of indigenous and rural areas”, she said. “Why? Because, the neoliberal model clashes with the property rights of indigenous communities.

“These legislative decrees aimed to expropriate the land of indigenous and peasant communities, as well as giving the state the freedom to grant concessions without having to inform, to consult or hold dialogue with and involve those communities in whose subsoil the resources are located.”

Cajahuanca said the issue of indigenous land rights “has historically generated considerable unease in our country. Today indigenous and farming communities say that the large corporations that come to settle in their territories, worsen rather than improve the quality of life.

“They don’t want them to come into their territories at all.

“The 12 legislative decrees are prejudicial to the sovereignty and the rights of peasant communities, and are against their way of life. They do not respect the environment.”

Indigenous peoples have been calling for dialogue over the decrees for a year and a half, but “there has been no willingness for dialogue by the central government”.

The intransigent position of the government “has generated considerable social conflict … created a confrontation, a climate of instability. The response by the executive has been the spilling of blood: 64 Peruvians dead and many more missing.”

The PNP parliamentarians, Cajahuanca said, “have had the opportunity to visit the indigenous communities in their place of origin, where they live, after three days of travel from the capital to these sites.

“All they are asking is that the water is not contaminated and that the forests are looked after, because that’s where they live. I don’t think that’s much to ask.

“All we are asking for is the right to life, something that this economic model and Mr Alan Garcia do not want to understand.”

However, the fact that the government was forced to repeal three decrees represents “a major defeat for the government”, Prado said. As the struggle occurred on a national level, it was “a triumph not only of indigenous people, but all the Peruvian people”.

“It was a national struggle that drew a dividing line across the country: on one hand you have the government, rightist parties, armed forces, the US. And on the other hand, the indigenous peoples and the settlers, farmers, workers, students came out en masse to support them.

“It is a struggle that divided and polarised the country.”

As a result, “the government was isolated … because even sectors of their allies had to condemn the fact that they had not used consultation and avoided this political crisis.

“Not only were the decrees defeated, but the cabinet fell. All the ministers had to resign, for the second time.”

Prado said this has left the government badly weakened and “the popular movement with more confidence that, through struggle and unity, important victories can be achieved — albeit partial”.

However, Cajahuanca said: “The government of Alan Garcia is still persecuting the leaders who have been leading the indigenous and peasant struggle. Many have been jailed, others are seeking asylum.

“And not only does Garcia not respect the leaders, but he also even managed to attack us in Congress. He suspended seven parliamentarians whose crime was to defend our people, because ultimately, we come from them, we were elected simply because we offered to defend their rights.”

Prado said the Garcia government had not learned the lesson of the Bagua confrontation, and continued to insist on implementing the same neoliberal policies as part of its agreement with the US.

The cabinet has been reconstituted with people even farther to the right, he said. And, rather than seeking to engage in genuine dialogue with indigenous communities, the government is pushing for more confrontation.

It is attempting to divert attention from its role in the Bagua massacre by blaming the indigenous protests on a supposed “international conspiracy” headed by the left-wing governments in Bolivia and Venezuela.

Prado said Peru is “heading towards major confrontations. The Indigenous people have only suspended their demonstrations ... and several other sectors are moving.”

He pointed to recent strikes and protests in the southern cities of Ica, Pisco and Chincha, where two years after a massive 7.9 Richter earthquake devastated the region thousands remain living in tents and the cities look like they have been bombed.

“They have opened up a process of social confrontation, increased political polarisation. This will continue through to the electoral process of 2011.

“The Peruvian people will have to choose between the continuity offered by the neoliberal right or a big change that only the PNP is able to express, because it has managed to cohere a large majority of the population.”

Cajahuanca said: “Our project is a project of change that wants win government.”

Cajahuanca said in the social sphere, the PNP aims to promote social inclusion “that respects the differences of all our indigenous peoples” and “improves the quality of life” of all Peruvians.

In the economic sphere, Cajahuanca said a key platform of the PNP is for the state “to be more involved in strategic activities, I refer to sectors that are related to natural resources, mining, gas, oil”, and for resources to be directed “towards the development of our country”.

“We want to improve education, provide support in agrarian affairs, because it is this sector that is the poorest, and begin to industrialise our country.”

Cajahuanca said it was necessary to implement policies “to stimulate the national market”, and introduce tax reform to force large multi-national mining companies to pay taxes and royalties.

“We also want to provide opportunities to our Peruvian entrepreneurs to upgrade their activities, in order to give greater opportunities for them to go forward faster.”

Prado said one of the central proposals of the PNP “is the convening of a constituent assembly, to dismantle the constitution we inherited from the dictatorship of [former president Alberto] Fujimori, which locked-in the neoliberal model.

“We cannot make the changes we want as long as this constitution persists. Therefore we propose a democratic constitution where the people can introduce fundamental changes against this model, against state corruption ... to recover and use energy resources for the benefit of the whole country.

“Right now, the Fujimori constitution prevents the state from taking an active role in economic life.”

Prado said the PNP program is “an essentially anti-imperialist and democratic program. The project, however, opens up a dynamic that can place tasks of a much greater magnitude on the agenda, such as is happening in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

“In that sense, part of our program is integration with Latin America, particularly with countries that have opted for change. We want to participate in ALBA [Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas anti-imperialist bloc of nations led by Venezuela and Cuba].

“And, therefore we reject FTAs as absolutely colonialist, including with the US, Europe, China and Chile.

“So we are facing a historic opportunity, because if successful, we would encourage the process of change that exists all over Latin America. It would signify a better balance of forces across the continent.”

Republished from Green Left Weekly

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Peru: The strugle for the Amazon

By Karl Cosser, Bagua

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republished from Green Left Weekly

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Peruvian Cited for “Most Racist Article of the Year”

LONDON – A column in the Peruvian daily El Correo that appeared to suggest the use of napalm against Amazon Indians was cited Wednesday by indigenous-rights watchdog Survival International as the most racist article of 2009.

“I don’t know what keeps the president from providing the air force with all the napalm necessary,” Andres Bedoya Ugarteche concludes in a June 13 piece that followed a police crackdown on Indian protesters.

The writer referred to the Amazon Indians involved in the protests as the “same people who perfected the art of shrinking the heads of their enemies and wearing them on the belts holding up their loincloths.”

“If the ‘natives’ didn’t shrink the heads of the policemen they killed (in the protests) and eat their remains, it was only because there wasn’t time,” Bedoya wrote.

He complained that the “savages” and “Palaeolithics” maintain that “oil – which belongs to all Peruvians – shouldn’t be exploited if it lies under what they call ‘their’ land. What a cheek! They’re against logging for the same reason.”

Bedoya also ridiculed three indigenous congresswomen as “the three starlets of the parliamentary sewers.”

Survival cited Bedoya’s column as part of its Stamp it Out campaign, “which aims to challenge racist descriptions of indigenous peoples in the world’s media.”

The London-based group plans to send Bedoya a certificate inscribed with a quotation from Lakota Sioux author Luther Standing Bear: “All the years of calling the Indian a savage has never made him one.”

Peru’s Congress voted overwhelmingly in late June to repeal two laws that sparked two months of protests by Amazon Indians in which as many as 85 people may have lost their lives.

The laws gave Lima the power to grant mining, logging and drilling concessions on Indian lands without consulting residents.

Starting April 9, indigenous people opposed to the legislation disrupted transport links and seized control of oil-industry installations, effectively shutting down a pipeline that carries crude oil from the Amazon interior to Peru’s northern coast.

The dispute became violent on June 5, when police used force to evict the protesters from a key highway near Bagua.

President Alan Garcia’s government said 24 police and nine Indians died. Aidesep, the indigenous peoples’ association that organized the protests, put the death toll among the protesters at between 30 and 40, and a leading Peruvian human rights organization said that 61 people remained missing in the wake of the violence. EFE

Republished from the Latin American Herald Tribune

Defending the defenceless: Peru's most wanted refuses to be silenced

From her jungle hideaway, Teresita Lopez tells Guy Adams why she won't give up fighting for her persecuted people.

Teresita Lopez is in hiding. "Somewhere in the Amazon" is as much as she is willing to reveal about her current location now she has been placed on the Peruvian government's most-wanted list.

The authorities in Lima have charged her with inciting murder, sedition and insurrection. Nonsense, she says. All she has been doing is protecting the rights of Peru's 350,000-strong Amazonian Indian community and helping them safeguard their traditional way of life, under threat from a President keen to open the Amazon to international mining, logging and oil companies.

"The indigenous people of the Amazon don't ask anything of the government because it has never supported us," Lopez said in an interview. "All we demand is respect for our ways of life, and respect for our rights as citizens to live on our land – where we were born and where we will die."

The tensions in this corner of South America burst onto the international radar in June, with a massacre that became known as "the Amazon's Tiananmen". Dozens of people were killed and hundreds wounded when Peruvian police fired on crowds demonstrating on a highway near the northern town of Bagua Grande against plans to sell swathes of their homeland to foreign-owned corporations.

That spiralled into a political crisis for President Alan Garcia. His popular Prime Minister, Yehude Simon, resigned, apparently in protest at how the whole affair was handled. Now, more than two months after these grisly events, the President's still wobbly government has turned its attention to the business of exacting serious revenge.

Ms Lopez, a community leader from the Yanesha tribe, is just one of the Amazonian Indian's most prominent leaders to have been forced into hiding as a result. She could face life imprisonment if arrested and convicted.

"We have been charged with sedition, rebellion, and insurrection," she explained. "The accusations were announced at a press conference. This violates all legal procedures. The government is effectively persecuting us, the leaders, for working with indigenous people and voicing their demands."

Peruvian authorities have accused her of being responsible for sparking the Bagua massacre on 5 June. But Ms Lopez says she was 900 miles away in Lima on that day.

The basis of the charges against her is that she attended a televised press conference in the capital in May, which prosecutors say helped inspire the unrest. "I have been denounced, and a warrant for my arrest has been issued, for sitting at a table during a press conference," Ms Lopez said. "I didn't even say anything. Imagine if I had!"

The 48-year-old, from the Oxapampa region in central Peru, says she is being sheltered by "brothers, family and colleagues in the indigenous movement". She has been advised to remain in hiding or seek asylum, rather than emerge to clear her name. "I have no possibility or guarantee of defending myself legally because the executive is interfering in what the judiciary is doing," she said.

At the heart of the dispute are 13 laws unveiled by President Garcia last year. They threatened to open 67 million hectares of Peru's undeveloped rainforest to exploitation by foreign-owned logging, mining and energy companies. The Indians were outraged and staged protests to demand they be repealed. Four of the 13 controversial laws have now been dropped. However, that still leaves nine in place.

Stephen Corry, the director of Survival International, a human rights organisation that supports tribal peoples, says that Teresita's case clearly illustrates what is going on in Peru right now. "Garcia's government is determined to sabotage the indigenous movement by driving the real leaders into exile or trying to imprison them," he said.

Alberto Pizango, the leader of AIDESEP, a group representing Peru's 56 tribes, was granted asylum in Nicaragua, along with two colleagues, in the aftermath of the violence on the grounds of political persecution. The Central American nation believes that the men are unlikely to get fair trial in their homeland. The number of Amazonian Indians facing charges – in relation to a massacre they blame on the police – has soared to 120.

Among those being prosecuted, rights groups say, are 48 native Indians who are still receiving hospital treatment for injuries sustained when security forces opened fire in June. Armed guards are stationed outside the medical facilities, so the Aguaruna and Wampi Indians can be arrested and whisked to jail the moment doctors agree to sign their discharge papers.

One indigenous leader, Santiago Manuin, was shot in the stomach at Bagua by at least four bullets. From his bedside, a plastic pouch still draining his intestines, and five AK-47-toting guards at the door, he told the Associated Press last week: "Justice doesn't exist for the indigenous. The government values the police more than us and doesn't want to acknowledge its mistake."

Although Peru insists that just 33 people died at Bagua – of which 10 were protesters and 23 were armed police officers – several observers claim scores of other tribes-people remain unaccounted for. News reporters at the scene estimated the death toll at 60.

Peru's government has faced widespread international criticism in the wake of the killings. Its justice minister was hauled before a UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva this month and the UN special envoy on indigenous rights has called for an independent investigation.

Somewhat belatedly, given its speed in filing charges against the indigenous leaders, Peru this week finally announced action against some of the armed officials who were present at Bagua, charging two police generals and 15 other officers with homicide.

Whether that will be enough to appease Mr Garcia's opponents and repair his reputation remains to be seen. Since the events at Bagua, the President's approval ratings have dropped to 25 per cent, and his former ally Yehude Simon is said to be considering a hostile bid for his job.

Republished from The Independent

Peru: Protests against Gold Fields in Hualgayoc leave 5 people injured

By Isabel Guerra

The protests in Vista Alegre, Hualgayoc (Cajamarca region) against the mining company Gold Fields have left five injured people so far (three policemen and 2 farmers), when the police was trying to clear a road that the protesters were blocking.

According to El Mercurio de Cajamarca, a group of approximately 300 farmers were not only preventing Gold Fields workers to get to Corona mine, but also tried to take hostages, so the police had to intervene using the force and even tear gas.

The farmers, who have been protesting at a spot called Coimolache (in the Cajamarca-Hualgayoc road) since last Wednesday, demand Gold Fields to meet its promise to provide water service for the town, since water reportedly disappeared in the district once the company started operations in the area more than two years ago.

Since then, Gold Fields has been providing water for the community through a water tank truck.

Gold Field issued an statement promising they would honor the promise, but the villagers continue partially blocking the road, halting any vehicle related to the company.

Republished from LivinginPeru

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Peru: Thousands protest to demand earthquake reconstruction funds

The aftermath of the earthquake (Foro Ica)

By Kiraz Janicke

Thousands of residents of Ica, Pisco and Chincha marched through their respective cities on Monday as part of a regional strike called by the Ica section of the General Confederation of Workers of Peru, the Civil Construction union and Sutep [teachers union], among others, to demand the delivery of reconstruction funds and an audit of domestic and international donations more than two years after a 7.9 rictor earthquake devastated the region.

Many of the regions residents are still living in tents and say their cities look like they have been bombed. Protesters say corrupt government officials have embezzled donations and government relief money destined for reconstruction efforts.

Protest organisers denounced that more than 25 scaffolding workers were arrested during the protests in a clash with the National Police and that APRA [President Alan Garcia's political party] leaders intervened to pressure the local judiciary and law enforcement bodies to repress the protests and keep the workers in jail. In particular, they dennounced local APRA leader and COFOPRI official, Erick Garcia.

Street vendors, housewives, students and truck drivers also participated in the protests in the region, which is often promoted by the García government as an example of economic growth and the sucess of neoliberal policies. The earthquake brought to light the lies of these statements and the failure of a mining boom that has privileged only a tiny minority the protesters said.

The organizers said their would be further protests such as an indefinite strike in the coming days until their demands are met.

The CGTP called on the government to immediately release the 25 workers and attend to the demands of the eathquake victims who are still suffering the ravages of disaster and the APRA regime's inability to resolve the problems.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Peru: Kichwa Peoples say no to PERENCO and call for the immediate suspension of its operations.


The Alta Napo Kichwaruna Wangurina Organization - ORKIWAN denounced that the French oil company PERENCO, after its entry into their area without any consultation and through questionable dealings with a corrupt sector of leaders and officials, seeks to divide and weaken the local organization and its links with the national organization AIDESEP, in order to avoid any claim or action in defense of indigenous lands.

An example of this is the behaviour of the oil company representative Italo Flores, who at the meeting in the community of Puerto Elvira, said that “some regional and national leaders are misinforming the public about the good work of the oil companies because they do not want the development of peoples, so the government has ordered to go after these bad leaders because they are whipping up the population which is manipulated by organizations opposed to progress.”

The comments of Flores (from PERENCO) created bad feeling in the assembly, causing the Indigenous attendees to decide unanimously, with 133 community authorities present, to not allow PERENCO to enter [the area] and for the immediate suspension of all activities being undertaken by the company. Later, they renewed the ORKIWAN leadership, now chaired by Professor Henry Coquinche Coquinche from the Angoteros native community, who was sworn in office in the course of this week, with all decisions to be sent to the roundtable which will take place between the Central Government and indigenous organizations in the Peruvian Amazon, as well as the Minister of Energy and Mines and President of the Republic.

The PERENCO representatives then left the area, promising to return within a month to continue their activities but the Alto Napo Kichwa brothers say they will not let them operate further – a scenario of social confrontation in the Peruvian Amazon in which the government is not acting as it should.

They also gave support to the Educational Program of Training of Bilingual Teachers-FORMABIAP that AIDESEP promotes and fosters. Thus, the pedagogical work that the FORMABIAP promotes through the CEBES (Communities and Schools for Well Being), in the village of Alto Napo Kichwa, in some schools in that jurisdiction, is moving ahead with public support.

Translated by Kiraz Janicke, republished from AIDESEP.