Peru: congress suspends decrees on Amazon resources as protests mount

Following the wave of violent unrest in the Amazon region, on June 10, Peru’s congress temporarily suspended two decrees issued by President Alan GarcĂ­a that would open vast areas to corporate exploitation and allow companies to bypass indigenous communities in winning permits for resource extraction. The following day, police used batons and tear gas to turn back protesters who marched on the congress building in support of indigenous demands that the laws be overturned. At least 20,000 students, trade unionists and indigenous Peruvians from both the Andean highlands and Amazon lowlands joined protests. Some of the students reportedly hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at police. Several were arrested, but police did not release a figure.

A general strike also brought thousands of protesters to the streets of Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, and to other towns in rainforest. Protests were also held in the highland city of Puno, near the Bolivian border, and in Arequipa on the Pacific coast. Main roads were also blocked across the Altiplano.

“The government made the situation worse with its condescending depiction of us as gangs of savages in the forest,” Wagner Musoline Acho, an AwajĂşn indigenous leader, told the New York Times. “They think we can be tricked by a maneuver like suspending a couple of decrees for a few weeks and then reintroducing them, and they are wrong.” (NYT, AP, La Prensa, Bolivia, June 12; NYT, June 11)

Law 1090, which would reform Peru’s Forestry and Wildlife Law, and 1064, allowing the corporate contracts on communal indigenous lands without prior agreement of the inhabitants, were suspended by a vote of 57-47. Indigenous leaders say the laws violate the International Labor Organization’s convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as the Peruvian constitution. (RPP, Peru, El Pais, Uruguay, June 10)

On May 20, the Constitutional Commission of the Peruvian congress found that that the laws violate Article 66 of the country’s constitution, which holds that laws governing extraction of natural resources can only be changed by an “organic” process—that is, a vote of congress—rather than presidential decree. (La Republica, Peru, May 20) The “legislative decrees” were issued by GarcĂ­a in June 2008 in preparation for the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Since they were found unconstitutional, GarcĂ­a’s bloc in congress has held up discussion on rewriting them. But in reaction to the violence, several members of GarcĂ­a’s own APRA party joined with opposition parties to vote for the laws’ suspension, and GarcĂ­a acquiesced. Followers of the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP) disrupted the vote to demand that the laws be not simply suspended but permanently overturned, with party leader Ollanta Humala saying on the floor of congress that GarcĂ­a has “hands drenched with blood.” (La Prensa, Bolivia, June 11) Law 1090 would remove 45 million hectares—or 60% of Peru’s rainforest—from the country’s Forestry Heritage protection system. (IPS, Nov. 1, 2008)

See our last post on the struggle in Peru.

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