Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Peru: Corrupt leader assaults protester

Saturday, October 23, 2010
By David T. Rowlands, from Green Left Weekly

Peruvian President Alan Garcia, who last year ordered the brutal massacre of protesting Amazonian tribespeople, has once again resorted to violence — this time in person.

Visiting Edgardo Rebagliati Hospital in Lima, on October 9, Garcia encountered 27-year-old Ricardo Galvez, who shouted “corrupt” at the president. Eyewitnesses say Garcia flew into an uncontrollable rage and forcefully struck the volunteer worker in the face.

Members of Garcia’s entourage landed follow up blows, knocking a defenceless Galvez to the floor where he was subjected to further mistreatment.

A dazed and bleeding Galvez was dragged away and detained by security personnel. However, the spontaneous intervention of fellow hospital workers and patients expressing their solidarity with Galvez secured his release.

This is not the first time Garcia has publicly assaulted a citizen. In 2004, Garcia kicked a protestor out of the way, later denying the incident occurred until footage surfaced.

Garcia admits to verbally attacking Galvez but denies striking him. In fact, within hours of the incident, the Garcia camp had concocted a farcical story about a patriotic hospital cleaner who had spontaneously punched Galvez to defend the honour of the nation’s head of state.

The “cleaner” in question came forward and made a full confession. But it has since been proven by Peruvian journalist Rosa Maria Palacios that this so-called cleaner is in fact a professional bodyguard and a long-serving member of Garcia’s security team.

These revelations have seriously embarrassed hospital authorities who collaborated with Garcia’s failed cover up. Garcia himself appears beyond embarrassment.

After all, this is the man who embezzled a fortune’s worth of public money and fled to France in disgrace after his first presidential term in the 80s, only to return to win the 2006 elections on the Popular American Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) ticket.

Officially a party of the workers, APRA — like the Australian Labor Party — has long since sold out to the big end of town, embracing pro-corporate policies.

Garcia’s previously unthinkable comeback was facilitated by generous campaign funding from US government sources, which financed a relentless propaganda campaign against his main opponent, left-leaning Ollanta Humala of the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP).

Galvez’s courageous stand appears to have been prompted by the latest scandal involving Garcia: vote rigging. It has been alleged that widespread electoral fraud has perverted the course of Lima’s October 3 mayoral elections.

Desperate to contain the rise of the new centre-left party Fuerza Social (FS), Garcia’s APRA machine reportedly intervened through the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPU) to illegally disallow more than 8000 votes cast for FS candidate Susanna Villaran.

Polls were predicting a strong win for FS, which would have been the first left-of-centre victory in a race for mayor since 1986. Garcia’s manipulation worked in favour of the conservative establishment candidate Lourdes Flores, prompting protests by FS supporters.

In a highly suspicious development, the ONPU has released figures indicating a dramatic narrowing of Villaran’s previously comfortable lead.

At the time of writing, the result still hangs in the balance. Should Flores be declared the winner, few are in any doubt that it would represent one of the most brazen examples of electoral fraud in Peruvian history.

The support for FS is a sign of growing popular disenchantment with the neoliberal “free trade” policies pursued by successive US-backed right wing administrations. The ruling elite and its foreign backers are determined to stem the tide.

In a disturbing sign of rising repression and censorship, maverick journalist and writer Jaime Baily’s high-rating television show El Francotirador (“The Sniper”) has been abruptly axed by channel Frequencia Latina for denouncing the vote rigging scandal and for planning to interview Galvez.

Baily has won a popular following in Peru for daring to speak out against corrupt practices. Now it appears that he has gone too far for Frequencia Latina’s owner and director Baruch Ivcher, a member of the Peruvian oligarchy and a close associate of Garcia’s.

So much for freedom of speech in “democratic” and “investment-friendly” Peru, a country recently praised by US President Barack Obama as a model for the rest of the continent.

If Bolivian President Evo Morales, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez or any other leader of the Latin American left were to conduct themselves this way, the international corporate media would immediately launch into a chorus of condemnation.

Along with the Colombian regime of war criminal Juan Santos, Garcia’s Peru is Washington’s strongest ally in the South American continent. This helps to explain why he can apparently get away with anything.

Garcia’s sordid accommodation to foreign capital has had a corrosive effect on Peruvian society, further undermining an already jaded faith in public institutions.
Public pressure forced Garcia to sack his entire cabinet in October 2008. Secret recordings had emerged of several senior government members discussing the bribes they would receive from a Norwegian oil company in return for Amazonian extraction rights.

Grassroots activist network Second Class Citizens, one of several dissident groups becoming increasingly active in Peru, said: “Our country is going through one of the gravest moral crises in its history.

“The poverty and exclusion of millions of Peruvians is being extended by institutionalised corruption and the capture of the state by private interests.

“This system based on the fire sale of the country’s assets, the destruction of our natural resources and the criminalisation of protest is fertile ground for the advancement of corruption…let’s reclaim our Peru.”

Ricardo Galvez’s act of defiance sums up the feelings of millions of Peruvians towards the rotten-to-the-core president who is a puppet dictator in all but name.

No one in Peru is seriously debating the substance of Galvez’s allegation because it is common knowledge in every quarter of the country that Alan Garcia is as corrupt as they come.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

U.S. Praise for Peru's Economy Misses the Mark

By Lisa Skeen
Republished from NACLA

Sep 13 2010 - The Peruvian economy has been enjoying something of a heyday lately, basking in the glow of the mainstream media. Currently being hailed as something of a Latin American wonder child, the Andean country has received increasing press coverage for its near decade of strong growth, which has continued despite the global economic downturn. But extensive coverage of fawning comments by President Obama have overshadowed the parallel narrative of a country potentially on the brink of disaster, with widespread voter discontent, sharp income disparity, and explosively divergent claims to land and resources.

After Peruvian president Alan García visited the White House early this summer, Obama praised the country during a press conference, stating “We've seen not only the solidification of a thriving democracy but also an extraordinary economic success story. Even over the last year in the midst of a very tough global recession, we saw that Peru was able to remain resilient.”

Meanwhile, outside the White House, a small group of activists protested the meeting. A Peruvian woman and her daughter were later charged with defacing government property after the daughter chained herself to a White House fence and the mother poured an oily substance on her.

The incident, which was meant to highlight the environmental destruction wrought by mining companies, was mentioned only in passing on an ABC news blog. Obama's “economic success story” line, however, has reverberated through the mainstream media.

His comments, however, are as much a statement of faith in neoliberal trade policies as they are a statement of faith in Peru itself.

Certainly, the Peruvian economy has expanded. In May, the International Monetary Fund estimated that Peru's economy would expand by 6.3% in 2010 – the largest increase in the western hemisphere – due mostly to foreign direct investment (FDI) in mining and energy and the soaring price of gold, Peru's second-biggest export. Bank of America estimated that investment in the country would nearly double in 2011, to $8.4 billion, from $4.4 billion in 2009.

And yet, García's approval ratings hover at around 31%, up slightly from an abysmal low of 26% in May. His ratings reflect the reality that there is often little, if any, immediate correlation between GDP growth and quality of life for ordinary citizens.

Former president Alejandro Toledo described an alternate reality in an interview with PBS Newshour: “[There are] millions of Amazonians, Afro-Peruvians, who don't have the chance to have access to potable water and sanitation, to quality health care . . . ,[and] access to energy. And that's a population that's very discontented, and today getting together.”

A June report by Oxfam America paints a bleak picture of Peru. Throughout the 1990s, reports Oxfam, the country underwent a dramatic restructuring, with heavy emphasis on decentralization. As a result, local governments are now given 50% of royalties and taxes paid by extractive industries (called the canon minero), which in theory, should have been a boon to local communities, given the rapid growth of FDI. FDI inflows have nearly tripled in the last decade, from $1 billion during 1990-1999 to $2.7 billion during 2000-2009. As in the rest of Latin America, the exploitation of natural resources, particularly minerals and gas, is responsible for the majority of this investment.

Poverty indices, however, indicate that foreign investment and the current system of royalty distribution – hobbled by lack of institutional support and corruption – is highly ineffective at spreading wealth equitably. The García administration claimed the national poverty rate fell from 48.7% in 2005 to 34.8% in 2009, but Farid Matuk, a former head of the National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI) – the organization responsible for these statistics - was highly critical of García's conclusions, which have been widely reprinted in the media. According to Matuk, “The poverty figures are not a product of scientific measurements but an artistic creation . . . there is no math on earth that backs up INEI's statistics.”

A closer look at INEI statistics indicates that poverty levels have actually increased in rural areas, particularly in rural areas associated with mining, agriculture exports, and the Amazon. They range from an astounding 70.3% in Apurimac to 56% in Cajamarca (Peru's leading gold mining region) to a low of 13.7% in the Pacific coast region of Ica. Food poverty levels, considered a more accurate indicator of day-to-day hardship, have increased in rural areas, from 40.7% in 2005 to 45.8% in 2010.

Mining and gas concessions cover a staggering 70% of the Peruvian Amazon, many of which overlap with indigenous lands. Though many of the concessions are not being actively utilized, forecasts about environmental degradation are grim One recently released study offered a worse-case prediction that 91% of the Amazon would be deforested/degraded by 2041.

Rural discontent over land use, which has been simmering for years, boiled over in June 2009 with indigenous protests against the granting of exploration concessions to oil and gas companies in Bagua. Thus far, the protests have had little effect on García's policies.

The potential for such deadly explosiveness has investors concerned that there is a “sizable danger” that Peru will elect a populist president in April 2011. The possibility is considered likely enough to warrant the suspension of anticipated credit ratings upgrades until after the elections.

The potential for the election of a president who appeals to the rural poor rather than the urban business class no doubt looms large in the minds of investors and U.S. officials. Under García, Peru has remained a critical ally of the United States, particularly for its strategic location among other coca-cultivating countries that are, at best, highly wary of U.S. foreign policy. The potential deepening of a military alliance between the two countries was alluded to in comments by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates during an April visit to Lima.

But it is most likely Peru's friendliness to foreign investors that goes the farthest to explain Washington's insistent praise for Peru's “growth” amid such stark evidence of domestic discontent. The United States – Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) went into effect on February 1, 2009, and according to the U.S. Trade Representative, trade between the two countries grew to $9.1 billion in 2009, up from $3.6 billion in 1999.

The TPA included a requirement that Peru protect labor rights, as well as a pledge of bilateral cooperation on the promotion of environmental protection. Under the agreement, Peru had 18 months from the February 1 implementation date to bring itself into compliance with this pledge. In July of this year, U.S. Ambassador Ron Kirk, expressed concern that Peru would not meet these obligations by the August 1 deadline.

Thus far, the Obama administration has not seriously addressed Peru's noncompliance with those few parts of the agreement capable of positively impacting local communities. Meanwhile, the praise keeps flowing and foreign investors continue to profit as rural Peruvians sink deeper into poverty – and discontent.

Lisa Skeen is a NACLA Research Associate.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

El buen vivir: Peruvian Indigenous Leader Mario Palacios

By Deborah Poole

In 1999, community leaders representing more than 1,200 communities in nine regions of Peru came together to form the National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining (CONACAMI). Founded to counter the negative environmental and social impact of mining and the virtual absence of state regulation, CONACAMI initially sought direct, bilateral dialogue with the mining companies. But at its second national congress in 2003, delegates voted to reject dialogue and to embrace an anti-systemic politics that calls for the total rejection of mining and the neoliberal economy’s exclusionary practices and principles. They also voted to reconstitute CONACAMI as an indigenous confederation that would center its demands on defending indigenous rights, promoting indigenous political participation, and refounding the nation-state. In subsequent years, CONACAMI has expanded its presence in the Andean region through the Andean Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI), an umbrella organization that CONACAMI helped to found in 2006.

The history of CONACAMI and its importance to popular struggles in the Andes points to the centrality of both community and Mother Earth to indigenous proposals for rethinking politics and the state. In this respect, it is also significant that CONACAMI, as an organization founded in opposition to the untrammeled destruction of the environment and natural resources, has played such an important role in revitalizing indigenous political organizations in the Andean regions of Peru, where self-ascribed indigenous organizations have not historically played as visible a role as either peasant or labor movements in popular political resistance.

In May, Deborah Poole interviewed Mario Palacios, president of CONACAMI (2008–10), in New York. In the edited transcript that follows, Palacios expands on the political and cultural vision of CONACAMI and its relationships with other indigenous organizations, including AIDESEP, the Peruvian Amazonian confederation that led the indigenous uprisings of 2008 and 2009.

CONACAMI is composed of communities from the Peruvian Andes that have suffered from the chaotic and disorderly expansion of mining in recent years. In Peru, mining is a crucial activity for the government in that it represents 64% of the country’s exports. However, although the state celebrates mining as an activity that is crucial for maintaining exports, it never talks about the negative effects that mining has on our lives. Mining generates not only environmental contamination but also greater poverty; it affects social relations within communities; and it leads, in many cases, to the actual disintegration of communities. It also jeopardizes resources that are necessary for the development of communities, like water and land, by degrading or contaminating them. Faced with this, CONACAMI is responding as an organization to defend our territories and the natural resources of Peru.

CONACAMI is basically an organization of communities that works in 16 of the country’s 24 departments. There are around 6,000 communities in Peru, of which 3,200 suffer the negative effects of mining. CONACAMI has almost 2,000 Andean community affiliates. Beyond that, however our work also draws on the diversity of Peru’s social movement. For example, we are constructing a strong alliance, a process of unity with indigenous organizations from the Peruvian Amazon. In this sense, CONACAMI and the Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP) are organizations that have led the struggle in both the Andes and the Amazon. We greatly respect the work of AIDESEP, an organization that has been carrying on very effective work in the Amazon since the early 1980s. In the Peruvian Andes, however, indigenous political organizing is more recent.

Peru’s neoliberal political process bases its economy on extractive industries. This political process brings not only the “free market,” but also free access to natural resources, free investment, and above all the looting of our resources. So our ancestral communities, many of which have territorial titles that date back 300 or 400 years to the colonial period, are today suffering from the expropriation, dispossession, and dissolution of their territories, not only because of the actions of the mining companies, but also because of the state itself and the governmental policies that are being applied in Peru. This is a politics of expropriation that dissolves or liquidates communities. And within this politics of extermination of communities, the rights of ancestral, originary, or indigenous peoples are not recognized.

In these last years, however, as a result of pressure, struggle, and resistance from both Andean and Amazonian communities, the Peruvian state has recognized the existence of the International Labor Organization Convention 169 (ILO 169). Although Peru signed this international convention 15 years ago, the state has continued to deny us our rights, as indigenous peoples, in every conceivable way. But the indigenous struggle has finally forced the state to recognize that this convention does have normative value as a binding international convention. It was the indigenous uprisings of 2008 and 2009 that forced the state to recognize these rights.

Today in Peru we are debating a legislative proposal that would implement our right to prior consultation, as provided for in the text of ILO 169.1 They are also debating a Law of Indigenous Peoples. I think these are important elements to achieve the recognition of indigenous rights in Peru, because these are rights that have been dismissed or denied ever since our lands were first invaded and colonized. But the proposal put forward by CONACAMI and the indigenous movements goes well beyond this question of rights and the defense of our own territories and natural resources. We are fighting because humanity itself is lost in a way of life that is marked by forms of accumulation and by the destruction and contamination of Mother Earth. These tendencies have increased in recent years because neoliberal capitalism is putting humanity’s very survival at risk. In Peru, for example, we are experiencing in a particularly dramatic way the effects of global climate change.

For us, it is not just climate change, but rather a climatic crisis that manifests itself in the frosts, hailstorms, torrential rains, droughts, floods, and landslides that we are enduring in the Andean region. These climatic changes, which reduce agricultural production and introduce new diseases that we never before knew, are directly affecting our way of life. Humanity must think carefully if we are to avoid in the next decades a crisis that could lead to our own extinction. The indigenous movement has taken up this challenge to construct, during the past 20 years, a political proposal that is also a proposal for life, a project of life—el buen vivir. This project, which translates in Quechua as allin kawsay or in Aymara as sumah qamana, is composed of various parts: It encompasses a new vision, a new way of seeing, that is different from Western developmentalism in that we call for harmony with, and respect for, Mother Earth.2

Our project also calls for another way of conceiving the state. The republican states that were invented 200 years ago are effectively exhausted, since have not been able to resolve fundamental problems. These homogenizing, uninational, monocultural, monolingual states, which took shape in the aftermath of the French Revolution, are today in crisis. In Peru, for example, we are effectively excluded from social, political, and economic participation because the state is dominated by criollos who are, in fact, a minority in the country. So the indigenous movement has put forward the need to reinvent another form of the state and a new model of democracy—a democracy that is no longer just representative. In the Peruvian case, representational democracy, through the Congress, has effectively collapsed. The Congress is highly corrupt, inefficient, and informal. The executive branch is also characterized by high levels of corruption. So we need a different democracy, and the form of democracy that we propose from within the indigenous movements is communitarian; it is a participatory democracy of mandar obedeciendo.3

1. On May 19, the Peruvian legislature passed the Law of Prior Consultation to implement rights guaranteed in ILO 169. President García refused to sign the bill, arguing that indigenous communities are not juridically recognized subjects and that the law would give indigenous peoples “veto power” over the nation’s development initiatives. The government’s actions, which were supported by Peru’s Constitutional Commission on July 15, have met with vigorous opposition from indigenous organizations, including CONACAMI, as well as from the Peruvian Ombudsmen (Defensoría del Pueblo).

2. The literal translation of allin kawsay is “to live well.” However, the term is understood and used in a much broader sense by indigenous political organizations and activists, who use it to refer to the practices of living in harmony with nature, with other communities, and within families and communities. As such, it refers as much to the practice of equality and ethical responsibility as to the aspiration of achieving a more just world.

3. Mandar obediciendo is a Zapatista phrase that has gained wide currency in indigenous movements in Latin America to refer to practices of democratic consultation in which authorities or elected representatives “lead by obeying.” In this view of political authority, leaders do not have the authority to make decisions without both consulting their bases and taking all opinions into account.

Deborah Poole is Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. Her recent publications include A Blackwell Companion to Latin American Anthropology (Blackwell, 2008).
Republished from NACLA

Extractivism Spills Death and Destruction in Peru

By Deborah Poole and Gerardo Rénique

On June 19, a barge belonging to the Argentine transnational Pluspetrol spilled 400 barrels of oil into the Maranon River in Peru’s northeastern Loreto department. The day after the spill, the Peruvian government’s Bioactive Substances Laboratory tested the river water—which the Cocama and Achuar peoples depend upon for both water and fish—and found very high levels of oil. “It was practically all petroleum,” said chemical engineer Víctor Sotero, of the government’s Peruvian Amazon Research Institute.1

Even though the extensive contamination had been reported to the central government, Minister of Energy and Mines Pedro Sánchez seemed to suggest that the many lives and the complex environmental systems it had destroyed were not important, when he declared on national television that the Marañon spill involved a “very small amount of oil.” When “compared with what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico,” he concluded, “it should not be a cause for alarm.”2

The Marañon spill was certainly much smaller in absolute terms than the estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of crude oil that British Petroleum dumped each day into the Gulf of Mexico for almost three months.3 But scale is not an issue in environmental disasters that destroy complex ecological and riverine systems, and deprive the humans who depend on those environments for food, water, and a future for their communities. Sánchez’s comparison does, however, speak clearly of the Peruvian government’s attitude that environmental disasters are acceptable collateral damage for the millions of dollars that mining generates for Peru’s elite.

Indeed, the Marañon spill was just the latest example in a long series of environmental disasters that have accompanied Peru’s boom in mining, logging, and oil. Less than one week after the Marañon spill, the Caudalosa Chica company’s zinc and lead mine in the southern region of Huancavelica dumped more than 550 tons of tailings containing cyanide, arsenic, and lead into rivers that provide the sole source of drinking and irrigation water for more than 40,000 Peruvians.4 Again, the government of President Alan García responded with a series of denials, dismissals, and disclaimers.

One of the biggest challenges facing indigenous peoples in Peru, and throughout the Americas, is the unregulated expansion of these industries and the resulting contamination of land and water. The García government has granted oil, lumber, and mining companies territorial concessions and leases to almost 75% of the Peruvian Amazon. Of these, the vast majority (58 out of 64 leases) are located in indigenous territories. García’s government has also refused to implement rights of prior consultation—or any of the many other rights accorded to indigenous peoples in International Labor Organization Convention 169, which Peru ratified in 1993 and signed into law in 1994.

Because natural-resource extraction directly affects both nature itself and those forms of community and social life that seek harmony with the earth, it has served as a catalyst for the emergence of radical indigenous politics grounded in the defense of nature and life. Indigenous Peruvians have taken the lead in denouncing the mining, logging, and oil companies, as well as Peruvian government policies that promote extractive economies while trampling the rights of local communities and populations. In response, indigenous communities have mobilized to resist laws and policies that support the further incursion of mining companies. These include laws that grant the state ownership of subsoil resources in indigenous and peasant communities, laws that give the state the right to grant concessions without compensation, and policies that call for the titling and privatization (“regularization”) of collectively held lands in peasant and indigenous communities.

Indigenous organizations—including the Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP), the Andean Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI), and the National Federation of Communities Affected by Mining (CONACAMI)—have called for criminal charges to be brought against companies like Caudalosa Chica and Pluspetrol. Faced with continuing protests from indigenous and regional leaders over the Caudalosa Chica disaster, the government finally imposed a symbolic fine on the mining company. The fine comes nowhere close to compensating for the extensive environmental and economic damages—and it will no doubt join the long list of environmental penalties that the García government has levied yet failed to collect. In the three years leading up to these two most recent environmental disasters, Peru has managed to collect only $4.4 million of the $20 million in environmental fines it had imposed on the largest mining companies, which made more than $20 billion in profits from Peruvian mines between 2005 and 2009.5 As a result, mining and petroleum companies continue to operate in a de facto state of impunity in Peru.

This and other serious challenges remain for Peruvian indigenous movements, despite their significant advances over the years. The neoliberal agenda allows no room for negotiating territorial or political rights, and the entrenched racism of Latin America’s dominant criollo or mestizo societies makes it difficult for indigenous perspectives and voices to be heard. The García government has systematically criminalized indigenous organizations, and demonized indigenous peoples in speeches and TV spots that portray Indians who defend the environment and their territorial rights as “manger dogs,” “subversives,” and “savages.”

Indigenous organizations have made common cause with political actors who do not necessarily identify as indigenous but share their concerns. On July 7 and 8, for example, indigenous leaders joined opposition political representatives from Huancavelica to lead a regional strike and a “sacrifice march” to Lima to protest the García government’s refusal to act in the Caudalosa Chica case. Only after a general regional strike, marches, and protests of indigenous and popular organizations, and an increasing critical media, did the government reluctantly agree to temporarily close the mine.6

1. Quoted in Milagros Salazar, “Don’t Minimize Impacts of Amazon Oil Spill,”
Inter Press Service, July 1, 2010.

2. Iván Herrera Gálvez, “Perú: el mito de la petrolera ‘limpia y responsible’ se hunde en la oleosa realidad,” Servicios en Comunicación Intercultural Servindi (servindi.org; Lima, Peru), June 30, 2010.

3. CNN.com, “Oil Estimate Raised to 35,000–60,000 Barrels a Day,” July 16, 2010.

4. Servicios en Comunicación Intercultural Servindi, “Peru: Denuncian atentado criminal a la ecologia de los rios Totora y Opamayo,” June 28, 2010.

5. Milagros Salazar, “La impotente regulación,” IDL-Reporteros.pe, June 3, 2010.

6. La República (Lima), “Ordenan paralizar operaciones de mina Caudalosa Chica,” July 13, 2010.

Deborah Poole is Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. Her recent publications include A Blackwell Companion to Latin American Anthropology (Blackwell, 2008). Gerardo Rénique is Associate Professor of history at City College, City University of New York. Republished from NACLA

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

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Peru: 100 thousand construction workers rally to demand wage increases and improved working conditions

By Yasser Gomez

14/07/10 - The Federation of Construction Workers of Peru (FTCCP) decided to take the demands of workers against the employers to the streets in Lima where 20 000 workers mobilised and 80 000 in other cities around the country.

The workers held pre-rally concentrations in many areas from where they marched to the Plaza Dos de Mayo in downtown Lima, where they all converged. Then they marched to the Congress. Mario Huaman, secretary general of the FTCCP and CGTP (1) espoused a platform of struggle in front of thousands of workers.

"This is a march in repudiation of the APRA government, because of the 4000 workers who were sacked only for deciding to unionize. We reject the systematic anti-labor policies," he said.

Also, Huaman said that whenever mobilisations are held the government criminalizes protests and as a result of the repression so far there has been 70 deaths among workers, peasants, indigenous, environmentalists and popular leaders.

The secretary general of the FTCCP denounced the violence in the sector and the parallel unionism promoted by the mafia and criminal gangs in a so-called new Federation, sponsored by the APRA government. He also demanded higher wages in proportion to the rapid growth in the construction sector the country and the productivity of workers, which is among the highest in Latin America.

Mario Huaman called for better working conditions. “In 2008 we presented to Congress a draft law for health and safety. But we have not had a reply. Since then, 131 workers have died in construction accidents at work. There is no law to protect the lives of workers.” Before this Huaman was emphatic in expressing demands of the working class. "An employer who does not apply the safety measures must be jailed, because you can not play with the lives of workers."

In addition, Huaman demanded improved social security and lowering the record of contributions to fifteen years, so that workers have access to a retirement pension. "Because only 8% of construction workers have access to retirement." Finally, workers proclaimed their support for the demand of the peoples of southern Peru, against the Camisea gas exports in order to avoid increasing the price of fuel and the cost of living.

(1) CGTP – General Confederation of Peruvian Workers

Yásser Gómez is a journalist and editor de Mariátegui. La revista de las ideas.

Translated by Kiraz Janicke for Peru en Movimiento

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Peruvian Indigneous leader Unjustly Arrested on his Return from Exile

Alberto Pizango, president of the Peruvian national indigenous federation AIDESEP, has been arrested immediately upon his return to Lima today (May 26, 2010) after several months in exile in Nicaragua. He is facing politically motivated charges in Peru which Peruvian human rights experts say have no legal foundation and should have been dismissed long ago.

Pizango was granted asylum in Nicaragua nearly a year ago after the Garcia administration attempted to hold him responsible for fatalities during the violent June 5th army raid on indigenous protestors outside the Amazon town of Bagua. The incident, which left 34 people dead on both sides and more than 200 people injured, eventually led to the Peruvian Congress repealing two of nine contested Presidential decrees that had sparked nationwide indigenous protests.

International and Peruvian human rights groups are calling on the Garcia Government to drop the trumped up legal charges against Pizango and instead address the root causes of the conflict with indigenous peoples.

Pizango said of his decision to return "I represent indigenous peoples, I am returning to take on the hard task of resolving these problems, so that we as indigenous peoples can have a voice, can have justice, and can truly live in peace as we deserve."

Pizango returned just days before Peruvian President Alan Garcia is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. on June 1st. Lima will also be in the spotlight as it hosts the General Assembly of the Organization of American States from June 6-8.

The protests last year were sparked when President Garcia used the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement to justify the promulgation of a series of decrees that roll back indigenous land rights and open much of the Peruvian Amazon to foreign corporations. Given the U.S. connection to the conflict in Peru, rights groups are pushing President Obama to raise this issue with Garcia.

"Pizango's courageous return to Peru marks an important opportunity for the Peruvian government to begin repairing its relations with indigenous peoples," said actress and indigenous rights activist Q'orianka Kilcher. "President Garcia should consider that the world is watching and that all of this is unfolding on the eve of his meeting with President Obama and the assembly of the Organization of American States."

Peruvian human rights experts agree that the pending charges against Pizango have no legal foundation and should have been dismissed long ago.

Pizango stated: "Nearly a year has passed since the tragic events in Bagua, yet we have not reached any resolution. Now is the moment for the Peruvian government to show good faith and stop persecuting indigenous peoples."

To mark the one-year anniversary of the violence in Bagua, indigenous and human rights groups are planning a series of events to bring attention to continuing indigenous rights violations and the criminalization of protest in Peru.

In February 2010, the International Labor Organization (ILO) of the United Nations asked the Peruvian government to "suspend the exploration and exploitation of natural resources which are affecting [indigenous peoples]" until the government has developed consultation and participation mechanisms in compliance with the ILO convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples.

"The Garcia administration does not seem to have learned the harsh lessons of Bagua. Just last week, the government intensified its assault on indigenous rights by offering yet more indigenous territory to foreign oil corporations so that half of all indigenous lands in the Peruvian Amazon now fall within oil concessions," stated Atossa Soltani, Amazon Watch's Executive Director.

"President Garcia is imposing a model of 'development' for the Amazon that is based on shortsighted extraction of natural resources and tramples on the rights of the people's whose lives depend on the rainforest," added Soltani.

International norms such as ILO Convention 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples obligate governments to respect indigenous peoples' right to decide their own future. Governments are legally required to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of affected indigenous peoples before moving ahead with policies or economic activities.

Republished from Amazon Watch

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Peru: Opposition to demand Alan Garcia's resignation for "permanent moral incapacity."

Lima April 7 - Opposition leader Ollanta Humala announced on Tuesday that the Peruvian Nationalist Party will present a demand for Peruvian President Alan Garcia be removed from his post for "permanent moral incapacity."
Humala said the demand is being made in the face of "the policy of criminalization of protest" that exists in the country, which he said has resulted in more than 70 dead and 600 injured in the four years of Garcia's term.

Humala explained that "a very serious fact can be shown, which is a policy of criminalization of protest, which so far during his four-year-rule is leading to a growing number of deaths."
"There are more than 70 dead, more than 600 injured, people disappeared, one political refugee and more thant 1300 Peruvian citizens, the majority of them social leaders, that have been charged with the crime 'protesting against the Government'", he said.
Some 6,000 artesanal miners are currently blocking the road in the town of Chala, about 620 kilometers south of Lima, where six people died last Sunday (five by gunshot wounds), in clashes with police.
In the clashes twenty civilians were also wounded (15 shot) and 8 policemen, said the Ombudsman.

The protest is against a decree that aims to formalize mining in the jungle region of Madre de Dios, with a great biodiversity and the main focus of artisanal gold mining.

Garcia reiterated Tuesday that his government would not negotiate with the miners until they stop the protests and road blockades.
The president warned that his Government's obligation is to "respect and enforce the law" and stressed that "no one can block roads without the risk of a charge and a criminal penalty."

However, Humala together with a spokesperson for his party said today he would evaluate the terms of the demand for the president's resignation and that his party is also seeking the interpellation to the prime minister, Javier Velásquez.
In this regard, he indicated that "there must be a political, not just operational, responsibility, that corresponds to police orders."

"Why did the prime minister? Precisely because he is the great coordinator of this whole operation and which has finally come out with a more radical position than those who are on the road, a hardline position that he is not going to dialogue" he said.

According to Humala, in the current administration there is a policy of "not giving importance to life in the face of the implementation of certain policies that respresent the interests of economic groups."

"The government is in favor of defending this model, the crony capitalism, defending various economic 'lobbies' that are behind the takeover of public infrastructure, natural resources, it has no qualms about putting at risk the lives of citizens, who ultimately are those who elected it," he concluded.

Translated by Kiraz Janicke, republished from Aporrea.org

Monday, 5 April 2010

Police in Peru Killed Between 4 to 9 Miners During a National Strike against Government Decrees

Carlos A. Quiroz - Peruanista

April 4, 2010 - Between 4 to 9 people were killed today in Peru and about 17 were injured, after a clash between Peruvian police forces and informal miners blocking a main road, as part of a national strike against the Alan Garcia government's decrees intended to prevent informal gold mining.

The violence occurred early today Sunday April 4, 2010 as protesters blocked the Pan-American road in the small fishing town of Chala, located in the Arequipa region.

The government of Alan Garcia is trying to promote the formalization of between 60,000 to 100,000 informal miners who extract mostly gold in rivers and lakes of several provinces of Peru, producing between $600 to $840 million dollars in annual revenues.

According to the miners, they are also in support for a legal formalization but with rules that can promote their small businesses, something that is not accepted by the Garcia administration. There are not intentions for an open dialogue from the Peruvian government, that has chosen police repression instead.

The Prime minister of Peru, Javier Velasquez confirmed only one casualty but Peruvian radio station CPN and others covering the protests, said that at least four people were killed including 3 miners, a local civilian. About 7 police agents were injured in the attacks.

The national strike is organized by the organizations National Federation of Small Miners of Peru [Federación Nacional de Mineros Artesanales de Perú – FENAMARPE], and the Mining Federation of Madre de Dios [Federación Minera de Madre de Dios].

The FENAMARPE says in its website that more than 300,000 miners have started today “an indefinite strike” in the regions of Ayacucho, Arequipa, Apurímac, Lima, Piura, Ica, Puno, Cusco, Ancash, Huancavelica, Cerro de Pasco, Tacna, Huánuco, La Libertad, Cajamarca, Moquegua, Huancayo and Madre de Dios.

Rafael Seminario, one of the leaders of FENAMARPE said that at least nine people died this morning, after police shot the miners who were blocking the Pan-American road. The miners are demanding the approval of laws that will strength the small mining ventures, and that the government revokes decrees that “affect thousands of Peruvians that working in mining as their only way of living, in the poorest and most hidden regions of the country”.

The leftist blog Prensa Alternativa wrote that witnesses assured that “the police opened fire directly to the protesters”, killing Alejandro Llamoca Barriga (34), Edgar Mitma Wuilcarima (37), Arturo Zamaca Chiri (26) and Juan de Dios Larrea Huamaní (38). There could be more dead people, apparently hidden by the police at the local health care center, something yet to be confirmed.

According to BBC about 6,000 miners arrived from other regions to Chala , but other protests were also held in the coastal town of Nasca, and in the Amazonian regions of Madre de Dios, Cusco and Puno.

The Lima government has mobilized 6,400 police officers to avoid road blockades and other possible actions to be taken by the protesters, says Living in Peru adding:

Teódulo Medina Gutiérrez, from the Federation of Informal Miners, had explained that they want the repeal of the decree 012-2010, that establishes a reorganization of the informal mining activities in Madre de Dios region, because they consider it as unconstitutional.

Fernando Gala, Deputy Minister of Mining, told the press that the decree does not intend to take informal miners out of their business, as they claim. The government says that Russian and Brazilian mining corporations are manipulating the protesters.

Living in Peru also reports that the government of Peru has declared the state of emergency in seven provinces, giving the internal control to the Police, with the support of the Armed Forces:

Facing the possibility of an indefinite strike that may mobilize thousands of informal miners nationwide, the government declared the state of emergency in seven southern Provinces: Nazca, Palpa and San Juan de Marcona in Ica region, Tambopata and Manu in Madre de Dios region, and Caravelí and Camaná in Arequipa region.

Pollution and human exploitation

The president of Peru, Alan Garcia has said to CPN radio that his administration will avoid the existence of any informal mining activity, because it pollutes rivers, destroys the environment, slaves children and young workers and it creates natural disasters due to lack of proper technology.

In this sense, Garcia is right.

Many Indigenous people have migrated from the Andes to the Amazon forests of Madre de Dios, Puno and Cusco searching for promising jobs in gold mining. They work for “middle-men” ventures who work for bigger mining concessions leasing from the government. This has led to the creation of unruly small mining towns, causing pollution by chemicals used by miners. See this video:

Unfortunately, and due to the records of the Garcia administration which allows bigger cmining corporations the same kind of abuses, it's hard to trust the intentions of Garcia and its cabinet.

The other side

While the Peruvian government has become very strict with small miners, doing its job to protect the environment but the Garcia administration overlooks worse abuses committed by big mining corporations in other parts of the country, like in Yanacocha (the second biggest gold mining venture in the world) and Tambogrande where people have died of mercury pollution. Both projects are located in northern Peru and one of the activists against these abuses, father Marco Arana, is now a potential presidential candidate.

Also the Garcia administration accuses the leftist Partido Nacionalista party to promote the strikes, and the minister of Environment, Antonio Brack has said that “bad elements” could infiltrate the protests as the miner may carry guns and act violently.

The small miners say they are not promoting violence, and they have invited the National Ombudsman and the National Prosecutor's Offices, to supervise the mobilizations. The general director of FENAMARPE also said that informal mining creates $850 million dollars annually and the strike could cause over S/. 2.7 million soles in daily lose to the national economy.

In this situation both parties are looking for a formalization of the small miners, but the government seems to want to eliminate the small competition, perhaps to benefit bigger corporations.

This is especially convenient now that the Inter-Oceanic highway is coming to completion, connecting both coasts of Brazil and Peru, allowing the transportation of gold production for exportation. More details about this conflict will come to light, as the strike continues this week.

Republished from Peruanista

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Jailed Leaders of Clandestine Police Union in Peru Call for National Strike

Kiraz Janicke/Esvieta Topovich - Peru en Movimiento/La Primera

April 1, 2010 - Jailed leaders of the clandestine United Police Union of Peru (SUPP) have called for a nation-wide strike by the Peruvian National Police (PNP) on April 5 to demand salary increases, which have remained unchanged for 20 years.

From their prison cells the leaders of the underground union called on police officers around the country to stay at home that day in order to make the Alan Garcia government understand the profoud levels of discontent that exists in the police force.

"One day off work is not a crime nor a serious infraction," SUPP general secretary Richard Ortega Quispe said in a statement from the Pre-Police School of Anti-Narcotic Affairs in Ayacucho, where he is being held.

Similarly SUPP organisation secretary, Edward Casas Diburcio, who has been on hunger strike for 18 days, sent a letter from his bed at the Police Hospital, where he was transferred on Tuesday from the PNP Technical School in Puente Piedra, Lima.

Taking a day off work is only a minor offense under Law No. 29,356, of the police disciplinary regulations, which is punishable by a warning or a maximum of six days in jail, Diburcio explained.

Both leaders said that they and their colleague Abel Hallasi Zarate, held in Cusco, had been imprisoned unjustly. In addition to their immediate release, the police of the country are demanding an end to the politics of deceit from the government, a salary increase and the re-boost of the "broken" police pension fund.

Ortega Quispe said President Alan Garcia, Premier Javier Velásquez, the ministers of Interior, Finance and Defence and senior police commanders would be responsible for any "undesirable" events may arise from the lack of police on the streets.

He also said businessmen, bankers, transport companies, traders and the general public would have to take their own precautions to prevent their property and assets being affected by the lack of security.

The general coordinator of the SUPP, Wilson Vilcaromero, who began a hunger strike today, also held Garcia responsible for what may happen in the streets.
The SUPP has 30 thousand members, out of a total of 90 thousand active police officers in the PNP Vilcarmero said.

Raul Herrera Soto, president of the Retired Police Officers Federation (Federpol) which represents 15 thousand members, announced that from early Monday morning, retired police officers will take over bridges, highways and roads to support the strike by active police officers.

The SUPP clashed previously with the Garcia government over the Bagua Massacre of indigneous protesters on June 5 last year, where 23 police officers were killed and unknown number of indigenous protesters were dissappeared.

In a statement shortly after the massacre the SUPP sent condolences “to the spouses, children and families of our comrades in arms, who were members of the clandestine police union, as well as to the families of our native brothers, to all of those fallen in Bagua; those in uniform, who were following orders of repression by the APRA [Garcia’s party] government,… and the natives defending the land and resources of the jungle, which belong to all Peruvians, in the face of their imminent privatisation."

“The only aim of the APRA government is to defend their sell-out politics and to sell off the country, which the most conscious uniformed workers [the police] reject, repudiate and condemn.”

Friday, 26 March 2010

Free Trade Undermining Rights in Peru

By Milagros Salazar

Thursday, 25 March 2010(IPS) - Peru is enthusiastically espousing free trade, and has signed six tariff-lowering agreements in the space of a year. But it has not matched them with the internal policies needed to reduce their impact on labour rights, the environment, and sensitive areas like agriculture, social organisations and experts say.

"Who benefits from these free trade agreements (FTA)? What policies have been put in place to ensure fairer redistribution of the profits from foreign trade? Over the last year, only a handful of people have benefited," Alejandra Alayza, coordinator of the Peruvian Network for Globalisation with Equity (RedGE), told IPS.

The United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (PTPA) came into effect Feb. 1, 2009 and set the pattern for negotiating the terms and conditions of subsequent agreements, Alayza said. It was followed by FTAs with Chile, Mercosur (the Southern Common Market, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), Canada, Singapore and China.

This month saw the conclusion of negotiations on an FTA with the European Union, and Foreign Minister José Antonio García Belaúnde has already announced that the government of President Alan García is intent on closing similar deals with Japan and South Korea.

Peru is also entering into talks with Central America, the Dominican Republic and the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement, which includes Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States and other countries.

"In the context of signing so many FTAs, it is essential to guarantee labour rights so that workers share in the benefits," Alayza emphasised.

Former deputy Labour Minister Julio Gamero, an expert on labour issues, told IPS that the PTPA with the United States has not improved employment conditions and workers' rights in the country. In fact, he said, in some ways they have worsened.

The number of collective bargaining agreements between organised workers and employers on wages and conditions was 434 in 2007, but declined sharply to 364 in 2008 and 233 in 2009.

Health and safety inspections of workplaces in the Lima metropolitan area also fell, from 742 in 2008 to 326 in 2009, while the proportion of workers belonging to trade unions dropped from 7.1 percent of those in formal jobs in 2007, to 4.5 percent in 2009.

The agricultural exports sector, which reaps the most benefits from the PTPA, has only five workers' unions among its 1,500 companies.

Aspects such as the right to form trade unions, wage conditions and compliance with the country's labour laws were incorporated as an annex on labour issues in the PTPA, only after pressure was exerted by social organisations.

However, "the authorities have only adopted short-term measures," said Gamero, who was in the administration of former president Alejandro Toledo, García's predecessor.

Gamero said that only when a U.S. delegation came to Lima in January to examine labour issues was it announced that a liaison office would be set up between the government and trade unions to deal with conflicts and workers' demands.

"A year has gone by, and only this one meagre step has been taken, while dismissals of union leaders and workers who join unions continue apace," he complained.

Neither have measures been taken to cushion the negative impacts on the most sensitive sectors, such as agriculture, experts say.

Only three percent of Peru's agricultural land is used for growing asparagus, mango, sweet peppers and other leading agricultural exports, the sector that is most favoured by the PTPA with the United States.

In contrast, 73 percent of agricultural land is used to cultivate potato, rice, maize, coffee, sugarcane and cotton, which are particularly sensitive products under the agreement, because of the subsidies paid to U.S. producers of these foods.

President García "promised he would renegotiate the PTPA in order to protect peasant farmers and institute compensatory prices and subsidies for three products (maize, cotton and wheat), but he has not done so," Alayza said.

Agricultural expert Miguel Macedo proposed an automatic tariff mechanism to correct price distortions in the case of subsidised products imported from industrialised countries. He also proposed carrying out a detailed census of agricultural producers, and improving the country's estimates for production quantities and the impact of the FTAs.

These proposals are among several initiatives for internal discussions that have been raised by various non-governmental organisations in the context of Peru's removal of its trade barriers.

With regard to environmental issues, a new forestry and wildlife law including the views of indigenous people and civil society is still pending approval by Congress.

While preparing the way for the PTPA with the United States, Peru's forestry laws were modified by a legislative decree, which was later repealed after mass protests by forest-dwelling indigenous peoples.

In August 2009, the Agriculture Ministry declared that revising and updating the law, by means of a participative, decentralised and nationwide process, was a priority. But a secretariat for this purpose was not set up until December.

After the June 2009 conflict in the jungle province of Bagua, in which 33 police and indigenous people were killed when the security forces cracked down on a protest by native demonstrators, the executive branch held meetings for dialogue, seeking views on the forestry laws. But Sandro Chávez, head of Foro Ecológico, a biodiversity conservation organisation, told IPS that the government's draft law does not reflect the contributions made by experts and indigenous peoples at those meetings.

Another aspect of the PTPA that has come under expert criticism is its protection of intellectual property rights over test data on new medicines. PTPA rules allow pharmaceutical companies to withhold information about any patented medicine for five years, thus securing a monopoly that excludes competitors and maintains high prices.

According to Javier Llamoza, of Health Action International Latin America (AISLAC), "protecting test data on medications is a way of creating a monopoly, which violates people's basic right to health." He said at least 12 applications for such protection have been made, by eight different companies, and two applications have already been approved.

Llamoza said that when generic versions of a drug become available on the market, prices typically fall by between 30 and 70 percent, while if a company has a monopoly on a drug, its price can increase up to 21-fold.

Recently, criticism has also been levelled at the FTA with China, in force since Mar. 1.

A study by economist Víctor Torres indicates that the sectors worst affected by this agreement, like the garment industry, leather production for footwear and the textile industry, have only been partially protected from China's low prices and allegedly unfair trade practices. As a result, lay-offs are likely to occur in these labour intensive sectors.

Micro and small businesses (MSEs) are the most likely to suffer from the FTA, as in the footwear industry, for example, where 98.5 percent of companies are MSEs.

The FTA with China lacks even a minimum framework for environmental standards and labour protection.

China introduced a broad definition of investors which includes companies from other foreign countries as long as they are controlled by Chinese capital. Under the FTA, however, Peru does not enjoy the same privilege.

In case of disputes, China cannot be sued in international courts without the case first going through an "internal administrative review process" in China. This safeguard is not applicable to Peru, however, which will therefore need to be on its guard, experts say.

The Militarization of the Peruvian Countryside

Mar 22 2010, Kristina Aiello

On December 30, Peruvian Defense Minister Rafael Rey stated that the acquisition of military equipment to be used in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) against the armed group the Shining Path would be the first priority in 2010 for Peru’s defense budget. Increased military spending is part of a governmental effort to strengthen the country’s domestic security forces, a process that includes plans to purchase new tanks from China and several war planes from Brazil, France, and the Netherlands. Peruvian President Alan Garcia also has budgeted resources to improve coordination between police and military forces during operations against insurgent targets, as well as the training of special operation forces dedicated to that task. Although Peru also receives substantial military support from the United States, any equipment received under that agreement is currently authorized to only combat drug trafficking.

Despite the re-emergence of guerrilla warfare in the VRAE, many rights groups fear that Peru’s increased counter-insurgency presence could have far-reaching consequences beyond the policing of armed groups like the Shining Path. Since taking office in 2006, Garcia has initiated an aggressive economic development strategy focused on opening up Peru’s natural resources to international extraction corporations, often in the face of large-scale protests and organized campaigns. The administration has responded with efforts designed to criminalize the opposition’s actions via newly enacted legislation, while simultaneously beefing up the country’s private security sector and authorizing the wider deployment of Peru’s military forces. The government has coupled these efforts with an aggressive propaganda campaign that links protestors to armed groups as a justification for increasing the national security presence in regions that are attractive to foreign investors.

Garcia’s efforts to construct a legal infrastructure to criminalize lawful protest began on April 28, 2007, when Congress passed Law 29009, delegating legislative authority to the executive branch to regulate organized criminal activity including drug trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, and gang activity.

The delegation of legislative authority has been a favorite tool for Peru’s party in power. It allows the legislative branch to abdicate its role to the presidency in order to facilitate the passage of controversial or politically difficult legislation. Once the power to legislate in a particular area has been delegated, the executive branch can then unilaterally act by decree, allowing leaders in Lima to avoid having to defend a potentially unpopular policy during an exhaustive and public congressional debate. Former President Alberto Fujimori used this process to enact several legislative decrees to help the government combat “aggravated terrorism,” decrees that many human rights groups argued threatened civil liberties.

The Garcia administration has used its authority under Law 29009 to issue several legislative decrees that have severely curtailed the right to protest. The decrees were enacted after massive strikes rocked the country, cutting across several sectors of Peru’s economy.

Legislative Decree 982 expanded the legal definition of extortion to include actions broadly associated with public protest. These included the obstruction of roads and the disturbance of government functions for any particular reason, both of which became punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Public officials became guilty of extortion for participating in protests that led to the benefit of third parties. In addition, any police or military official acting under official orders whose actions resulted in lethal harm became immune from prosecution.

Other legislative decrees made it easier for the police to detain individuals accused of criminal activity. Legislative Decree 989 allowed an individual to be held in custody for 24 hours without a warrant, even if that individual was detained far from the alleged criminal act. Legislative Decree 988 stated that individuals detained with a warrant could be held incommunicado for up to ten days regardless of the crime. And finally, Legislative Decree 983 permitted preventative detention of up to 36 months for “complicated cases” while the criminal investigation proceeded.

The Garcia administration has also enacted new legal instruments to expand the government’s domestic use of the military. In 2008, the administration used its executive authority to issue Supreme Decree 012-2008-DE/CFFAA, which regulates Law 29166, a statute that governs the activities of Peru’s military forces. Prior to its enactment, the Department of Defense could only deploy the military after officially declaring a state of emergency. Now the government can deploy troops in support of the Peruvian National Police regardless of whether or not a state of emergency has been declared. The decree also expanded the circumstances under which the military could use deadly force to include the protection of public and private property.

The purpose behind this effort is clear: It justifies the deployment of the country’s security apparatus into resource-rich zones to serve as protection for corporate interests. Several officials of the Garcia administration have given interviews to the media in which they linked indigenous groups protesting the government’s development strategies to armed groups like the Shining Path. In a January television interview, Garcia referred to these indigenous protestors as members of a paramilitary group.

The communities of Ayabaca province in the northwestern coastal department of Piura provide a strong example of this paradigm. Community groups and environmental activists have engaged in a long struggle against the granting of mining concessions in the Ayabaca mountain range, home to a cloud forest that runs along the border between Ecuador and Peru, that serves as a vital source of water for the entire department. Since the struggle began in 2003, nearly 300 leaders of local communities and environmental activists have faced criminal prosecutions and have been linked by government officials and the press to terrorism or drug trafficking.

The Garcia administration appears intent on ratcheting up the pressure by using those criminal allegations against activists and community members as a pretext to establish a military base in the region, a prospect widely rejected by the surrounding communities. If successful, local activists fear that this would serve as a pilot project for similar activities based in other areas facing social conflict over resource extraction activities.

Rights groups have also warned about private security companies. Across Peru, extraction firms are privately contracting these forces, and part of the security they provide appears to be the conducting of espionage operations on groups opposing resource development projects. In the Cajamarca department, the Yanacocha gold mining project that is majority owned by the Newmont Mining Corporation headquartered in Denver, Colorado, the largest gold mining company in the world, hired two private security firms, Forza and Andrick Service, to provide security for their gold mining operations. Forza has been linked to the espionage operation known as “Operación el Diablo,” in which several activists opposing Yanacocha were video taped and photographed. Andrick Service has also been implicated in illegal wire-tapping operations. Both firms also have strong ties to Peru’s Navy and are suspected of having received intelligence from the Navy’s intelligence arm.

The Garcia administration is intent on continuing its extraction-based development strategy. Government officials recently urged Congress to approve a bill that would facilitate the removal of whole communities in resource-rich areas when a particular project was deemed fundamental to the public interest. The passage of this bill will have an impact on hundreds of communities across the country, which will organize themselves in opposition to the government’s plans to take their homes and harm their environment. The increase in social strife will likely be met by greater efforts to militarize Peru’s countryside.

Republished from NACLA, Kristina Aiello is a NACLA Research Associate.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Peru: Public Sector Workers Call Nation-wide Strike

Prensa CGTP / Mariátegui

A press conference called by the Confederation of State Employees (CTE) and the Confederation of Intersectoral State Employees of Peru (CITE), was held at the headquarters of the CGTP (General Confederation of Workers of Peru) today, where it was announced that a 48-hour stoppage will take place on 23 and 24 March.

Union leaders Winston Huaman (CITE - Administrative Sector of the University), Jorge Villagarcía (CTE - Education Sector) and Raul Montero (CITE - Municipal Workers Federation) said that among main demands of state workers are the implementation of the right to job security contained in Legislative Decree No. 276 and its regulations, under threat by Legislative Decrees 1025 and 1026; with respect to the civil service, the improvement of wages through collective bargaining and the establishment of a unified system of remuneration, the incorporation of contract workers into the unified permant system through the CAS regulations (Legislative decree 1057) and a full frontal fight against corruption.

They added that they will hold a massive mobilization marching from the Plaza 2 de Mayo to the office of the National Civil Service Authority (SERVIR) located in the Ministry of Labor.

The Secretary General of the CGTP Mario Huaman, said the union federation supports the strike by state sector workers and also rejects the attempt to fill the state apparatus with supporters of the ruling party. "APRA wants to fire workers with unconstitutional legislative decrees and replace them with APRA supporters" he said.

Translated by Kiraz Janicke for Peru en Movimiento, republished from Revista Mariategui.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Peru: Suspension of Mining Operation Merely a Placebo

By Milagros Salazar

LIMA, Mar 9, 2010 (IPS) - Although the Peruvian government reported that it had suspended the exploration activities of the Afrodita mining company in the country's northern Amazon jungle region to avoid further protests by local indigenous people, officials took no actual steps to bring the firm's work to a halt.

So what really happened?

After a meeting of the Council of Ministers, Prime Minister Javier Velásquez and Minister of Energy and Mines Pedro Sánchez announced on Feb. 17 that the Peruvian company's permits to drill in the rainforest had been suspended.

The two officials said OSINERGMIN, Peru's mine and energy regulatory agency, had stated that the decision would be in effect until the company provided evidence that it had authorisation to use the land where the exploration activities are being carried out.

"We have reached a decision on the Minera Afrodita business," Velásquez repeated in parliament two days later. "OSINERGMIN just suspended the company's activities. And it is not like the company says - that we have given in to blackmail (by local indigenous protesters); what happened was that the firm did not comply with what is established by law."

Leaders from 52 native communities complain that the company has polluted two rivers in Awajun indigenous territory with the mercury and cyanide used in mining operations.

Afrodita has been exploring for gold and silver in the Cordillera del Cóndor mountain range in the northern province of Amazonas, 15 km from the Ecuadorean border, despite protests by the local Awajún Indians.

Many local members of the Awajún ethnic group were also involved in a two-month roadblock and protests near the northern jungle town of Bagua - also in Amazonas - that ended in a tragic clash with police on Jun. 5, 2009 in which at least 10 native demonstrators and 23 police officers were killed.

The mining boom in Peru that has resulted from soaring minerals prices over the last few years, and the passage of laws aimed at opening up the jungle to the extractive industries, have led to numerous conflicts between mining companies and native communities protesting the environmental and social effects of the mining industry.

After the government reported the suspension of Afrodita's activities, OSINERGMIN inspection and oversight chief Guillermo Shinno told IPS that the company could continue its prospecting operations as soon as it obtained a permit showing it had surface rights to the land in question.

"We have to clarify that OSINERGMIN has not brought the company's exploration activities to a halt; it merely sent the firm an official letter indicating that it cannot engage in such activities without a land-use permit," he said.

In its Feb. 11 letter to the company, the regulatory agency cited a document in which the Ministry of Energy and Mines informed the company that the Superintendencia de Bienes Nacionales (Superintendence of National Assets) had not issued Afrodita a permit granting it surface rights or ownership to the land where it has already begun to operate.

In other words, OSINERGMIN's letter merely notified the mining company that it needed a permit. The firm has not yet presented its request for the permit to the Superintendencia, sources in the government office told IPS.

In a statement, Afrodita said it would "temporarily" bring its drilling operations to a halt while the administrative problems were worked out.

But OSINERGMIN said that "no appeal is necessary, because no administrative steps have been taken" to stop the company's activities.

Afrodita also said that during the halt in activities, it would focus on analysing geological reconnaissance data collected in the area where it is prospecting mainly for gold and silver.

Minera Afrodita is owned by Peruvian geologist Carlos Ballón, who is also a director of the Cardero Group, the umbrella company that includes Dorato Resources.

Through a series of option agreements, Dorato Resources Inc., a Canadian mineral exploration company set up to focus on the Cordillera del Cóndor - described by the firm's web site as "one of the most important gold-bearing districts in the region since pre-Incan times" - has the right to acquire 100 percent of Afrodita, which has held seven concessions in the area since 1995.

Dorato says the option would involve "an extensive land package of approximately 800 square kilometres."

But the Peruvian constitution bans foreigners from owning property within 50 km of the border.

Canada is the second-largest investor in Peru, after Spain. The biggest Canadian company operating in this South American country is Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold miner.

Mining is one of the engines of the economy in Peru, which according to "Top Mining Companies in Peru" put out by the Peru: Top Publications publishing company, is the world’s leading producer of silver and tellurium, and is second in zinc, third in copper, tin and bismuth, fourth in lead, molybdenum and arsenic, and sixth in gold and selenium.

In a communiqué, Dorato said "The Peruvian government is stating that although Minera Afrodita has legitimate, long-standing mining claims and a valid drill permit, it does not own the surface rights and therefore cannot proceed with the previously permitted and officially endorsed drill programme.

"The company believes, based on legal advice, that this reasoning has no legal basis, as Minera Afrodita has only carried out exploration work on state-owned land, where such work is expressly authorised under Peruvian Mining Law pursuant to which no additional authorisation is required.

"The exploration authorisation was granted to Minera Afrodita in December 2009, after having agreed with the local population, in a public assembly in the Santa Maria de Nieva town, the undertaking of exploration activities in the area," it adds.

But OSINERGMIN clarified that what Afrodita obtained on Dec. 9, 2009 was approval of the environmental impact study for the mining project, and that to begin exploration work it also had to prove that it had ownership or surface rights to the property in question, according to the country's environmental regulations.

And in the case of communally owned indigenous territory, a permit granted by two-thirds of the local community is needed.

"Approval of the environmental assessment study is not sufficient to begin exploration operations; other permits are also needed," Shinno told IPS. He pointed out, for example, that the company also needs to apply for a water use permit.

The technical report by the Ministry of Energy and Mines explaining that the environmental impact study was approved clearly states that a land-use permit is needed.

On page 13, the report says "it is the responsibility of the Afrodita SAC mining company to have, before the start of exploratory activities, surface rights to the land where said activities are to take place."

The report, seen by IPS, also says that approval of the environmental impact study "does not constitute the granting of authorisation, permits or other legal requisites that the mining project must have before it begins operations."

Under OSINERGMIN regulations, Afrodita could be subject to sanctions for beginning exploration work without the required permits.

The prime minister took advantage of the company's failure to comply with the regulations to try to nip in the bud indigenous protests that threatened to spread once again in the country's Amazon jungle region.

The suspension of Afrodita's activities was one of the 16 demands that indigenous organisations of northern and eastern Peru set forth in a Feb. 22 protest.

But the Awajun are demanding more than a mere suspension of operations. They are worried about pollution of rivers and destruction of flora and fauna by mining industry activity in the area.

Their worries are not unfounded. In 2009, OSINERGMIN initiated legal procedures to sanction Afrodita for mismanagement of solid waste. The company has appealed. But the regulatory agency declined to provide further details.

For the Awajun people, the hill in the Cordillera del Cóndor where Afrodita has cleared four hectares of jungle represents Kumpanan or "powerful hill", considered to be the father of lightning and the owner of air and water, according to the Lima newspaper La República.

The Awajun (also known as Aguaruna) are the biggest native ethnic group in Peru's Amazon region and have a reputation as fierce warriors.

Their leaders have denounced that Afrodita pays soldiers from military barracks in the area to guard the company's operations, rather than protecting the local population.

The Awajun also reported a year ago that the El Tambo military post was used as a base of operations by the company. At that time, the tension was at its peak, because local native anti-mine protesters had taken several mine workers hostage after they entered Awajun territory without permission from the local communities. The hostages were released unharmed after a few days.

For now, the government's announcement of a suspension of operations would appear to be merely a pain-killer or even a placebo, because the central problem remains unsolved: Afrodita will be able to continue operating as soon as it takes care of the pending bureaucratic steps. (END)

Republished from IPS