A year ago this past weekend 34 people died near a section of road in
In many ways it was a typical Peruvian protest. The indigenous people who had congregated from all over the region to call for the right to be consulted over energy and mining projects on their land had blocked the road for several days.
Pressure built as essential supplies into the town of
It was at this point that Bagua departed from the normal pattern of protest in
Twenty-two people died in the ensuing clash, and protesters at an Imacita pumping station took hostage and later killed 12 police officers. The violence spilled over onto the streets of Bagua Chica and Bagua Grande.
Given the murder of the police officers, it has been easy for some domestic media to portray Bagua as the work of savage natives, which is a great shame for a country that still struggles to overcome deep racial divisions.
Bagua was not an isolated conflict—despite GDP growth forecasts of 6.2 percent to 7 percent for 2010, a flood of foreign investment and booming construction in
Beatriz Merino, Peru’s ombudswoman, has raised red flags over this many times, citing persistently high numbers of protests, many of them linked with concerns over the environment or extractive industries.
There were 260 social conflicts in April, three times the number in January 2008, and Ms. Merino says at least five of these—including a proposed petrochemical plant near a nature reserve on the coast south of
In the aftermath of Bagua, President Alan García sacked his entire cabinet (many were reappointed) and embarked on a series of consultations and investigations into Bagua and rights of indigenous communities.
Congress has passed a new law giving indigenous people the right to be consulted ahead of any projects on their land (the Peruvian state has the rights to the subsoil). The law brings
Building trust between an administration plagued by corruption scandals linked to hydrocarbons concessions and the community will be a more difficult, long-term project, however. While there are many mining companies today who observe all the rules and make significant contributions to communities,
As one mining executive of a foreign company told me, “It’s always the same. The locals protest and the government ignores them until they block roads or highways, at which point the government shifts its position, until the next time.”
Mr. García has the extremely difficult task of governing a nation with more than 7,000 indigenous communities, accounting for a third of the population. He often argues that it is wrong for a small group of people to stand in the way of the benefit of an entire nation, which plays well in the capital of
Naomi Mapstone is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org. She is a journalist based in
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