Peru: indigenous uprising claims victory —for now

Indigenous groups in Peru ended more than a week of militant protests Aug. 20 at key energy sites after lawmakers agreed to overturn a new land law issued by President Alan García, which sought to ease corporate access to communal territories. García had issued the law by decree earlier under special powers Congress granted him to bring Peruvian law into compliance with a new free-trade deal with the US. A congressional commission voted to revoke the law Aug. 19, and a floor vote is expected later this week. “We have lifted the strike,” said Alberto Pizango, head of Amazon indigenous alliance AIDESEP. “We have faith and expect Congress to follow through.” (Reuters, Aug. 20)

Accords signed between Pizango and Congressional president Javier Velásquez Quesquén commit AIDESEP to ending the occupations of energy installations and Congress to open debate on the repeal of Legislative Decree 1015. It also commits Congress to establish a multi-party commission to study the situation of indigenous peoples in Peru and to demand the executive branch overturn the state of emergency declared in much of the Peruvian Amazon. (RPP Noticias, Peru, Aug. 20) Under old laws, a two-thirds majority of each indigenous community was required before land could be sold. García’s new law changed this to a simple majority. (The Independent, UK, Aug. 21)

The Congressional Commission on Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples, Environment and Ecology agreed in principle to bring any new land law into compliance with Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization. The Commission also issued an official document to the Executive calling for the overturn of Supreme Decree 058-2008-PCM, imposing the states of emergency. (Radio Nacional, Peru, Aug. 21)

On Aug. 20, the National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining (CONACAMI) launched a permanent vigil outside the Constitutional Tribunal, Peru’s high court, demanding the body strike down decrees 1015 and 1073. (CNR, Peru, Aug. 20) DL 1073, a modification to the original decree, was promulgated in July in an attempt to soften indigenous opposition. AIDESEP rejected the new decree, charging that it did not alter the fundamentals of the earlier one. (AIDESEP, July 4)

Indigenous leaders warned that the minimum demand of overturning the decrees would not secure communal territories, as land invaders and employees of resource companies who have been on the lands in question for over a year can be considered comuneros under the law—with a binding vote on the fate of the territories. (Pulsar Agency, Aug. 20)

The emergency decree of Aug. 18 affects the provinces of Bagua and Utcubamba (Amazonas region), Datem del Marañón (Loreto), and Echarate district of La Convención province (Cusco). The decree is protested by the Pro-Human Rights Association of Peru (APRODEH), which states the protests “are due to the grave threats to the ancestral territories of the indigenous peoples,” and charges that “the Peruvian state has granted concessions in said territories to oil and gas companies, without holding any consultation with the indigenous peoples who inhabit these areas.” (Europa Press, Aug. 19)

The head of García’s Council of Ministers, Jorge Del Castillo, defended the state of emergency, saying the army had re-established control of the occupied El Muyo hydro-electric plant and stations 5, 6 and 7 of the North Peru Oil Pipeline (Oleoducto Norperuano). He asserted that if the installations had not been secured, “tonight we would have had to cut electrical energy to the department of Amazonas.” He said that allowing the occupations to continue would mean the “energy collapse of the country.” (AP, Aug. 19) Del Castillo called the protests a “conspiracy against national security.” (Pulsar Agency, Aug. 20) Re-taking the installations resulted in clashes between thousands of indigenous protesters and the army in Bagua. Hospital officials in the jungle city said nine civilians were being treated for injuries. (AP, Aug. 21)

Environment Minister Antonio Brack also backed up the emergency declaration, noting that protesters threatened to close down the Camisea gas export pipeline. “The government of Peru cannot permit it,” he said. (The Independent, UK, Aug. 21)

President Alan García warned Aug. 20 that lawmakers would be making an historic mistake by repealing his new land law. In a televised speech, the president said a repeal would condemn Peru’s indigenous and rural communities to “another century of poverty and marginalization.” (AP, BBC World Service, Aug. 21)

Earlier this month, the United Nations held a celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, where Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed the UN’s dedication to ending the “expropriation of [indigenous peoples’] traditional lands.” (Jurist, Aug. 19)

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