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Issues In-Depth: Indigenous Protests in Peru

Since early April, Peruvian indigenous communities have been protesting laws that open the door for private investors to develop land in the Amazon that they traditionally hold. The issues in this conflict range from indigenous rights to protection of the Amazon and the U.S.-Peru free-trade agreement.

 

AmericasQuarterly.Org covers the conflict as events unfold.


AQ Daily Focus: Peruvian Prime Minister to Resign

by AQ Online

June 17, 2009

Yehude Simon announced yesterday on a local radio program that he would leave office once the conflict with the country’s indigenous population in the Amazon is resolved. The prime minister has been under pressure by the opposition after the June 5th protest left at least 30 civilians and 22 policemen dead. He has vowed to bring peace and stability back to the country before his resignation takes effect.

In recent days Simon has initiated dialogue with Daysi Zapata Fasabi, the leader of the indigenous protesters, and has slowly given in to her demands. The executive recently annulled two of the decrees that would have brought private sector encroachment on traditional indigenous lands. The prime minister announced that a bill revoking all of the remaining laws would be introduced in the Peruvian parliament today. Upon being criticized for changing his position Simon replied: "The government has to know how to listen …we have done the right thing. If the cabinet has to take a step back, we will take a hundred steps back for the country." >.

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AQ Web Exclusive: Peruvian Indigenous Land Conflict Explained

by Lila Barrera-Hernández

June 12, 2009

Few regions in the world are as richly endowed as the Peruvian Amazon. Beyond housing around 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity, it is rich in mineral, hydrocarbon and forestry resources, and its rivers are a coveted source of freshwater, food and energy.

But the Amazon’s riches have also set the stage for a bitter conflict between the region’s indigenous peoples and Peru’s national government over land and resource rights and future development. The conflict has escalated alarmingly over the past two months. On June 5, a confrontation in the town of Bagua between protestors and authorities left at least 30 activists and 22 police officers dead.

At the center of the conflict is a set of legislative decrees issued in early 2008 by the executive, bypassing the normal congressional discussion and scrutiny process. President Alan García’s extraordinary legislative powers were justified under the guise of ensuring quick implementation of the Peru-U.S. free-trade agreement. However, the 101 decrees issued go well beyond facilitating U.S.-Peru trade relations. Using a popular free-trade arrangement—60 percent of Lima residents see it as positive for Peruvian development according to a 2008 report by the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs—as a springboard, the decrees implement a much wider agenda aimed at opening a vast area of the Peruvian Amazon (around 60 percent of the country’s territory) to development, making it easier for private investors to settle and acquire lands. The decrees (994and 020-2008-AG in effect create a special fast-track regime for awarding title to “idle and unproductive lands” with agricultural potential to private developers. But, in fact, most of the land under dispute is traditionally held by indigenous groups.

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AQ Blog: No End in Sight for Peru's Indigenous Protests

by Naomi Mapstone

June 11, 2009

What a difference a week can make. Only days before Peruvian cabinet minister Carmen Vildoso resigned in protest at the government’s handling of indigenous land rights protests, she was touring Huancavelica, the country’s poorest province, showcasing anti-poverty initiatives.

Listening to campesinos’ stories of growing papaya and salad greens at elevations of 12,300 feet (3,750 meters) thanks to basic agricultural training and provisions, Ms. Vildoso seemed to be enjoying a rare “good news” moment in her portfolio. The Mi Chacra Productiva (My Productive Land) program, though small-scale (an initial $3.4 million budget to benefit 7,000 families), has begun to have an impact in the remote town of Pampas, which is about an hour’s walk from one of the main routes traversed by people hauling cocaine paste out of the valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers. Employment opportunities here are minimal, and for many years residents of working age have had to move to Lima or to the regional capital of Huancayo to feed their families.

For the first time, a timid young mother told me, her family could feed itself and produce enough extra guinea pigs or eggs to sell at the local market, which meant her husband could stay with the family.

That fragile optimism was nowhere to be seen this week, when a clash between 600 police and 2,000 protesters on a remote highway near Bagua in the northern Peruvian Amazon escalated into the worst violence since the Shining Path (an insurgency that terrorized the countryside in the 1980s and early 1990s) years.

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AS/COA Weekly News Roundup:

Political Fallout in Peru after Bloody Clash

June 10, 2009

Indigenous protesters and police forces clashed in Peru’s northern Amazon region over the weekend in a violent clash that claimed dozens of lives on both sides. The unrest followed months of demonstrations against a set of decrees that protesters said violated their ancestral claims on land and resources in the region. The Minister for Women and Social Development Carmen Vildoso resigned as a result of the controversy over the government’s handling of the clashes. Indigenous leader and head of the Inter-ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle Alberto Pizango was granted political asylum by the Nicaraguan government on June 8, after the government accused him of inciting violence against the police on June 5.

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AQ Daily Focus: Indigenous Protests in Peru

by AQ Online

June 5, 2009

In Peru, seven police officers are dead and 20 people are wounded after indigenous protests in Bagua Grande Amazonas turned violent on Wednesday. The protestors, at it since April 9, are pressuring President Alan García to “modify or strike down” decrees issued last year that facilitate commercial investment in, and access to, the Amazon basin.

A parliamentary vote earlier this week nearly repealed one of the controversial decrees, but a walk-out by members of García’s Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA) party blocked the final vote.

Criticism of García’s position is coming from both domestic and international groups, including local Catholic bishops and the London-based Survival International. García has responded with the assertion that “the riches of Peru belong to all Peruvians.” Others warn that repealing the decrees could endanger the free trade agreement between Peru and the United States.

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