Articles on Peru's reversal of extractive industry concessions decree
- View SourceSome articles on the recent reversal of the decree pertaining to mineral
extraction in Peru as a result of indigenous protests:
Peru's Indian groups gain strength, push for change
Fri Jun 19, 2009 11:50am EDT
By Terry Wade and Marco Aquino
LIMA, June 19 (Reuters) - Peru's indigenous movement, which was dormant
for years, has burst to life and could become a powerful political force
like those in Andean neighbors Ecuador and Bolivia.
A coalition of tribes in Peru's Amazon rain forest led months of
blockades that turned into bloody clashes with police and forced
Congress to overturn two laws that indigenous leaders said would put
ancestral lands in the hands of foreign mining and oil companies.
President Alan Garcia's cabinet chief, Yehude Simon, said this week he
will resign for botching the negotiations with tribes and failing to
avert the violence that killed at least 34 people earlier this month.
The political fallout has demonstrated the emerging strength of
indigenous political movements in Peru, reinforcing recent gains made by
Indian groups across the Andes.
Evo Morales was elected as Bolivia's first indigenous president in 2006,
while Indian protests helped force out two presidents during economic
crises a decade ago in Ecuador.
Throughout the region, Indian groups are pushing for greater control
over natural resources and a bigger share of their countries' wealth.
Many oppose foreign investment in the mining and energy industries.
"The Peruvian indigenous movement is no longer weaker than others in the
Andes," said Miguel Palacin, general coordinator of CAOI, an Indian
rights group active throughout the Andes.
"We have very good organizations here in Peru now, with new groups, and
we want to take advantage of this to gain political influence."
Peru was roiled by a war between the government and the Shining Path
insurgency in the 1980s and 1990s. Maoist rebel leaders recruited
indigenous people, and other Indians were organized in vigilante squads
to fight the guerrillas in a brutal conflict that claimed nearly 70,000
Indigenous towns and villages were hardest hit and the violence
discouraged Indians from venturing beyond their villages to organize
nationwide political networks.
Since the end of the war, indigenous groups have put together networks
with sophisticated legal, communications and fund-raising teams, often
assisted by international aid groups.
To consolidate its position, analysts say Peru's indigenous movement
could organize into a political party, formally align itself with an
existing left-wing party, or field more candidates and become a sizeable
bloc in Congress.
Estimates of Peru's indigenous population range between 15 percent and
40 percent, so to grow politically, groups must move beyond an agenda
defending the Amazon and forge ties with unions, environmental groups
and peasant associations.
RAISED EXPECTATIONS IN BOLIVIA
A strong indigenous lifted Morales, an Aymara Indian, into Bolivia's
presidency, where he promises to end five centuries of discrimination
that followed the arrival of Spanish conquistadores.
Morales built a political party by organizing coca growers in the
Chapare jungle to resist the U.S.-led drugs war. Many coca growers were
former tin miners from the Andean highlands where there was a
decades-long history of union activity.
Since taking office, Morales has pushed through a new constitution that
gives Indian groups more power. He has also told indigenous people
beyond Bolivia to agitate for change.
In a declaration he sent to an international indigenous summit in the
Peruvian city of Puno in May, he said Indians should work for
"definitive independence" and "revolution."
After the deadly clashes between police and Peruvian tribes erupted two
weeks ago, Morales accused Peru's government of "genocide." Peru's
foreign minister said Morales was meddling in domestic affairs and
called him an "enemy of Peru."
The spat has widened an ideological rift between Garcia, a free trader
and U.S. ally, and the left-wing Morales.
Although he is hugely popular with indigenous voters in the Andean
highlands, even Morales is under pressure to do more.
Indigenous leader Elias Quelca said that while Morales is moving in the
right direction, he "is barely taking a step toward decolonizing
Bolivia," where some 60 percent of the population is Indian.
"We're indigenous, the original people in this land, the government has
to work with us," said Quelca, the Jiliri Apu Mallku, or supreme
authority of the CONAMAQ, the largest indigenous organization in the
Morales granted indigenous groups seven seats in a new 166-member
Congress to be elected in December, instead of the 29 seats they asked
for. Peru and Ecuador have a handful of indigenous leaders in Congress.
In Ecuador, where 12 percent to 30 percent of the population is
indigenous, droves of Indian peasants armed with sticks and rocks helped
topple presidents in 1997 and 2000.
But they have seen their influence dwindle over the last few years after
political missteps and internal bickering.
Recent marches have failed to lure enough supporters and faded quickly,
along with Indian leaders' demands for the government to nationalize the
oil industry and ban large-scale mining near native communities.
Even so, simmering anti-mining sentiment in Indian hamlets across
mineral-rich southern Ecuador could prove to be a challenge for
President Rafael Correa and foreign miners exploring for precious metals.
Although Correa is part of a new group of Latin American leftists that
include Bolivia's Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he has
argued with Indian leaders.
Correa has even called them "childish" environmentalists who stand in
the way of the development of poor communities sitting on top of huge
gold and copper deposits.
But Correa, like Garcia, might have to change his tone if Indians mount
a strong campaign to block mining projects.
"I have learned that wanting to quickly modernize the country brings
conflict," Garcia said this week. "If death and pain occur, we will
address it, reconcile our differences, and start over." (Additional
reporting by Alonso Soto in Quito and Eduardo Garcia in La Paz; Editing
by Fiona Ortiz and Kieran Murray)
© Thomson Reuters 2009.
From the New York Times:
June 19, 2009
Peru Overturns Decrees That Incited Protests
By SIMON ROMERO
CARACAS, Venezuela — Peru’s Congress on Thursday overturned two decrees
by President Alan García that were aimed at opening large areas of the
Peruvian Amazon to logging, dams and oil drilling but set off protests
by indigenous groups this month in which dozens died.
The move appeared to ease tensions with the indigenous groups, which had
continued with their protests and road blockades in parts of Peru
despite Congress’s decision to suspend the decrees last month. After the
vote on Thursday, however, some indigenous leaders said they would lift
the scattered blockades and halt the protests.
“Today is a historic day for all indigenous people and for the nation of
Peru,” said Daysi Zapata, a leader of the Peruvian Jungle Inter-Ethnic
Development Association, a group representing more than 300,000 people
from Peru’s indigenous groups.
The apparent end to the impasse came after at least 24 police officers
and 10 civilians were killed in clashes and acts of retaliation in
northern Bagua Province, some of Peru’s bloodiest political violence
since a two-decade war ended in 2000.
The decrees, issued by Mr. García as part of a regulatory overhaul for a
trade deal with the United States, were intended to open parts of jungle
to investment and allow companies to bypass indigenous communities to
attain permits for petroleum, biofuels and hydroelectric projects.
Other disputed decrees by Mr. García remain in effect, raising the
prospect of new protests. Still, Mr. García acknowledged in a speech
late Wednesday that his government had made a crucial mistake by not
including native groups in discussions over the decrees before he issued
The repeal of the decrees and the apology by Mr. García open a new phase
of uncertainty in Peru, where economic growth is sharply declining amid
a decline in commodities prices.
Andrea Zarate contributed reporting from Lima, Peru.
From The Huffington Post
Victory in the Amazon
Thousands of indigenous people from the Amazon jungle of Peru
accomplished the unthinkable yesterday. Their movement to save the
Amazon and their communities forced the Peruvian government to roll back
implementing legislation for the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement that
would have opened up the vast jungle to transnational oil and gas,
mining and timber companies.
The decision did not come without blood. Police attacked indigenous
roadblocks and sit-ins in Bagua in northern Peru, killing some sixty
indigenous protestors members of a 300,000 strong interethnic
association of Amazon groups. The Peruvian government claims that 24
police officers and nine civilians died in the violence. The
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur and
other human rights and environmental organizations throughout the world
have initiated investigations into the massacre.
Peru's Congress, deep in a political crisis of national and
international legitimacy, voted 82 to 12 to repeal Legislative Decree
1090, the Forestry and Wildlife Law and 1064, the reform to permit
changes in agrarian land use without full prior consent.
As president Alan Garcia went on national television to admit errors in
not consulting with the indigenous groups of the Amazon, Daysi Zapata,
representative of the association celebrated the triumph:
"Today is an historic day, we are thankful because the will of the
indigenous peoples has been taken into account and we just hope that in
the future, the governments attend and listen to the people, that they
don't legislate behind our backs."
Zapata called to lift roadblocks and other actions throughout the
country, while anticipating more battles to come over the repeal of
seven related decrees, reinstatement of legislators suspended for
protesting government actions, and the safe return of the president of
the association, Alberto Pizango, forced to seek asylum in Nicaragua.
Indigenous women fought at the forefront of protests against the
displacement of indigenous communities in the Amazon in the interests of
foreign-led development plans. A Spanish sub-titled video of an Aguaruna
mother provides a rare glimpse of how the Amazon communities view these
plans--even if you don't understand her language, her anguish and anger
cut straight to the heart. Other videos taken by journalists who risked
their lives as police fired on demonstrators, quickly circulated in the
cyber world, raising global indignation.
Washington's "New" Trade Policy Leads to Amazon Massacre
The recent clash between indigenous peoples and the Peruvian national
police sends a powerful message from the Amazon jungle straight to
Washington. The enormous social, political, and environmental costs of
the free trade model are no longer acceptable.
In addition to the dead, hundreds remain missing and reports that the
police threw the bodies of the protestors in the river to hide the real
death toll have begun to circulate. Survival International and Amazon
Watch have deplored the violence, the subsequent crackdown on NGOs in
Peru, and the role that the free-trade agreement played in the crisis.
In May 2004 the U.S. and Peruvian governments began negotiations for a
free trade agreement and signed the bilateral agreement on December 8,
2005. The signing provoked the first round of widespread protests, led
by small farmers. Demonstrations against the agreement continued up
through the signing of the ratified version by former president Bush and
President Garcia in January of this year; four protestors were killed in
No doubt exists about the connection between the protests, the executive
decrees, and the U.S. free trade agreement. In his televised mea culpa,
Garcia began by stating that the repudiated measures were designed to
eliminate illegal logging and informal mining (by legalizing it in the
hands of transnationals, according to critics) and was "a demand of
ecologist and progressive sectors in the North American Congress in
negotiations to pass the Free Trade Agreement".
The U.S.-Peru trade agreement is held up as a model of the new trade
agreement developed through a compromise between free-trade Republicans
and Democrats with growing anti-free trade constituencies. To avoid the
negative connotations of free trade agreements it was redubbed a "Trade
Promotion Agreement" and incorporates environmental and labor standards
into the text. These are the standards Garcia says he was complying with
when he passed the decrees to open up 45 million hectares of Peruvian
jungle to developers.
The Democratic leadership in Congress pushed the new model that looks
remarkable=y like the old model, although the majority of Democrats
voted against it. At the Pathways to Prosperity meeting, Sec. of State
Hillary Clinton hailed the agreement as "good environmental
stewardship"-- just four days before Peruvian police shot indigenous
activists protesting invasion of the Amazon jungle.
The Obama administration has so far avoided commenting on the conflict.
But neither the battle for the Amazon or the debate over free trade's
role in indigenous displacement and environmental destruction are likely
to go away any time soon, despite repeal of the decrees.
A planetary lung and a legendary reserve of culture and biodiversity,
the Amazon region embodies conflicting values and views of human progress.
For Peruvian President Alan Garcia, in an editorial in El Comercio, the
jungle is currently just a big waste: "There are millions of hectares of
timber lying idle, another millions of hectares that communities and
associations have not and will not cultivate, hundreds of mineral
deposits that are not dug up and millions of hectares of ocean not used
for aquaculture. The rivers that run down both sides of the mountains
represent a fortune that reaches the sea without producing electricity."
Garcia argues that indigenous peoples, just because they were born in
the Amazon, do not have special land-use rights on the land. Instead,
the Amazon should be carved up into large plots and sold to investors
with the capital to exploit it. The Peruvian government coveted the free
trade agreement with the United States because, along with the required
changes in national legislation, it opens up the Amazon to foreign
In contrast, the indigenous communities and their supporters seek to
conserve the Amazon jungles and preserve traditional knowledge and
cultures, all of which would be threatened by exploitation,
bioprospecting and patent law changes under the FTA.
This contest between oil wells and jungles, foreign engineers and Amazon
inhabitants has spread to the rest of Peru and the world. On June 11,
tens of thousands of people marched in support of the indigenous
protests in cities and towns across the country, chanting, "In defense
of the jungle--the jungle is not for sale." Simultaneously,
demonstrators hit the streets to show support for the indigenous
communities in cities throughout the world.
And it follows similar battles in other countries. In Mexico, hundreds
of thousands of farmers marched to protest NAFTA's agricultural chapter;
in Colombia, indigenous and farm organizations marched to oppose a
U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement; in Costa Rica, nearly half the
population voted against CAFTA; and Guatemala, CAFTA protesters were
killed in the streets.
Yet somehow these voices never make it into the U.S. trade debate. The
assumption that a free trade agreement is a gift to a developing country
continues to be enforced by a U.S. government refusal to listen to
voices other than national economic elites. Meanwhile, the New York
Times echoes accusations that foreign countries or terrorist
organizations have duped these thousands of women, farmers, indigenous
groups, and workers into opposing progress.
As long as providing clear access and mobility for transnational
companies and financial capital is accepted as the sole measure of
progress, concerns for the earth and human beings with little economic
power and a different view of development won't be part of the discussion.
We have to rethink the free-trade model and listen to the men, women and
children on the bottom of the economic ladder who sacrifice their lives
to help save the Amazon jungles they call home. We owe them an enormous
The global crisis compels a new vision of sustainable growth and social
equity. The Obama administration has noted the need for
changes--reviewing trade policy should be at the top of the agenda.
Saleem H. Ali, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Environmental Planning and Asian Studies
Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources
University of Vermont,
153 S. Prospect St.
Burlington VT 05401, USA