Nine more police officers were reportedly killed in a standoff with indigenous protesters in Peru’s Amazonas region June 6, bringing the total dead since the previous day’s police attack on a road blockade in Bagua municipality to an estimated 60. Authorities say 22 officers of the Peruvian National Police (PNP) have been killed—seven with spears. Indigenous leaders say at least 40 of their people have been killed, including three children. The government says it can confirm only nine civilian deaths. Thousands of indigenous protesters armed with spears are blockading roads throughout the region.
A 3 PM-to-dawn curfew has been imposed on Bagua, and the town has been occupied by the PNP’s elite National Directorate of Special Operations (DINOES). Authorities report 72 arrests. Officials declared a 60-day state of emergency throughout Amazonas region, as well as three adjoining provinces of Cajamaraca and Loreto regions.
The facts remain disputed of the early-morning June 5 police attack on a protest roadblock that sparked the violence. Police say protesters seized some three dozen officers during the confrontation. Of these, 25 were reportedly rescued the following day when police stormed Station No. 6 of the Oleoducto Nor-Peruano in Imacita, which had been seized by protesters. The PNP said nine hostages were taken some two kilometers from the station and killed while an army general was negotiating with the protesters.
Among at least 45 people being treated at the main hospital in Bagua is local indigenous leader Santiago Manuín, who received eight bullet wounds in the initial attack June 5, according to anonymous medical sources.
Peru’s Defender of the People (public ombudsman), Beatriz Merino, toured hospitals and clinics in Utcubamba province, of which Bagua is the seat, and complained of a shortage of “blood, analgesics, antibiotics, trauma equipment and doctors.”
Arrest order issued for AIDESEP leader
Also June 5, judicial authorities issued an arrest order for Alberto Pizango, president of the Peruvian Amazon indigenous alliance AIDESEP, on sedition charges for allegedly inciting the violence. Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillos asserted that Pizango had fled, likely to Bolivia. After the initial roadblock attack, Pizango issued a statement accusing President Alan García’s government of “genocide.”
AIDESEP issued a new statement as the arrest order was announced, calling for formation of a special “Multi-sectoral Commission” to investigate the matter, with participation from all parties in Peru’s congress, the Defender of the People, and the Organization of American States (OAS).
García invokes Shining Path, Bolivia
President Alan García, responding to the crisis, said Peru had “suffered a subversive aggression against democracy and against the National Police. We should respond with serenity and firmness.” The president compared the “savage and barbaric methods” used to kill police “who had surrendered and been disarmed” with those of the Shining Path guerillas.
“There is a conspiracy aimed at stopping us from using our natural resources for the good, growth and quality of life of our people,” García said June 7, in comments strongly implying a Bolivian hand in the unrest. “You have to ask yourself: Who stands to benefit from Peru not being able to use its gas? Who stands to benefit from Peru not finding any more oil? We know who. The important thing is to establish the ties in these international networks which have emerged to foment unrest.”
Bolivian Justice Minister Celima Torrico weighed in, calling the roadblock attack a “bloody massacre,” and characterizing García’s indifference to indigenous demands as shameful (reprochable). Peru’s ambassador to Bolivia, Fernando Rojas, protested the comments as “intervention in internal Peruvian issues.”
Lines drawn on Amazon resources
The pending package of laws at issue in the protests would open communal rainforest lands and resources to oil drilling, logging and mining, significantly weakening provisions for consultation with indigenous inhabitants. AIDESEP charges the laws would violate Peru’s constitution as well as international law.
Contract blocks for oil and gas exploration cover approximately 72% of Peru’s rainforest, according to a study published last year by Duke University in North Carolina. While Peru’s growth rate has led Latin America in recent years, García’s critics say little wealth has trickled down in a country where some half the population is indigenous and over 40% live in poverty.
AIDESEP says the planned thrust of oil development would affect at least 30,000 indigenous inhabitants of the Peruvian Amazon Indians across six regions (the country’s basic territorial devision, formerly known s departments). The state company Petroperu stopped pumping oil through its northern pipeline in response to the protests on April 26. García declared a state of emergency on May 9, suspending some constitutional rights in four rainforest regions including Amazonas. But Roman Catholic bishops in the Peruvian Amazon issued a statement calling the indigenous complaints legitimate.
See our last posts on Peru and the struggle for the Amazon