Genaro Ledesma Izquieta, a campesino leader and later congressmember who was one of the most respected figures on Peru's political left, died April 1 at the age of 86. Born in Cajabamba, Cajamarca region, he moved in his youth to the mining town of Cerro de Pasco in the Central Andes, where he founded the Popular Worker-Student-Peasant Front (FOCEP), uniting campesinos and mine workers to fight for land and labor rights. In 1960, he was elected mayor of Cerro de Pasco province. But he was imprisoned later that year in connection with a May Day campesino mobilization at the hamlet of San Antonio de Rancas. Three were killed when police fired on the protest, but Ledesma was charged with provoking the violence. With the military coup of Gen. Ricardo Pérez Godoy in 1963, Ledesma was imprisoned a second time—now in the notoriously harsh island prison of El Frontón. But the workers and peasants of Cerro de Pasco launched a sucessful campaign to have him elected to Peru's Congress, and authorities were forced to free him to allow him to take his seat.
Human rights organizations have come out in full condemnation of Israel's violent response to massive unarmed civilian protests in Gaza on March 30, which left 16 Palestinians—one farmer and 15 protesters —dead along the Strip's border. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, released a statement condemning Israel's use of military snipers against the civilian protesters. "The Israeli military's use of 100 snipers against unarmed Palestinian civilian protesters in the Gaza Strip is illegal," the statement said, adding that "live gunfire on unarmed civilians constitutes a brutal violation of the international legal obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants."
Seemingly irregular oil contracts have emerged as a factor in the ongoing political scandal that last week brought down Peru's president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Following accusations from left-opposition congressmember Manuel Dammert (Nuevo Perú), state agency PeruPetro admitted that hours before leaving office on March 21, Kuczynski had issued a Supreme Decree initiating the process of approving five offshore oil concessions with a private company—but without the involvement of PeruPetro in vetting the contracts, as required by law. Calling the deals "lobista," Dammert is demanding that new President Martín Vizcarra declare the contracts void. The exploration contracts for blocs off the coast of Tmubes region are with Irish company Tullow Oil, They still must be approved by the ministries of Energy & Mines and Economy & Finance. (Gestión, March 29; TeleSur, March 26; Gestión, March 24)
Potato farmers across Peru's sierras blocked roads with their tractors and trucks for weeks starting in mid-January, demanding a subsidized distribution system for the staple crop in the face of plummeting prices. The National Commission of Potato Producers (Conapropa) struck a deal with the government Jan. 10, but wildcat protests continued in Huancavelica, Huánuco, Junín, Ayacucho and Arequipa regions. Finally, farmers advanced on Lima in a cross-country motorcade. This forced Conapropa leader Fernando Gutiérrez back to the table, meeting with Agriculture Minister José Arista in early February to strike a better deal. Huancavelica regional governor Glodoaldo Álvarez denied government claims of over-production by farmers, and pointed to massive imports since the 2009 Free Trade Agreement with the US. Farmers at the roadblocks carried banners with slogans such as "¡Abajo el TLC!" (Down with the FTA!). (Peru21, La República, Feb. 2; TeleSur, Feb. 1; El Comercio, Jan. 12)
Legal proceedings continue in Bagua, a town on the edge of the rainforest in Peru's Amazonas region, against 25 Awajún and Wampis indigenous activists over deadly violence at a pumping station for the North Peru Oilduct in June 2009. Station 6 had at that time been under occupation by indigenous activists opposed to expansion of oil operations into their Amazonian homelands. Violence broke out at the occupied pumping station on June 5, 2009, when word reached the activists there of that morning's Bagua massacre, precipitated by National Police attacking an indigenous roadblock outside the town. Ten agents of DINOES, the National Police elite anti-riot force, were slain in the clash at Station 6. Prominent indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, already cleared of charges connected to the violence at Bagua, is now among those being tried for the bloodshed at Station 6. The trial at the Bagua Penal Chamber opened Jan. 9, with the defendants facing possible life terms for kidnapping, armed rebellion, riot and other charges. (La República, Ideele Radio, Lima, Jan. 9)
On March 24, the exiled Royal House of the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia elected Prince Frederic Luz as its new monarch—claiming dominion over a large area of Chile in the name of the region's Mapuche indigenous inhabitants. Although now dispersed in Britain and France, the Royal House traces its origin to 1860, when Orélie de Tounens, an idealistic lawyer from Tourtoirac, crossed Chile’s Rio Biobío into Mapuche lands never colonized by either the Spanish empire or the Chilean state. The Biobío was recognized as the northern border of Mapuche territory under a 1641 treaty with the Spanish. De Tounens learned the local language, adopted Mapuche ways, and was recognized by their elders as King Antoine—ruling a territory that stretched to the southern tip of the continent. In 1862, he was captured by Chilean forces, convicted of sedition, and only spared execution due to his perceived insanity. He made several failed attempts to return to Patagonia and win international recognition for his now-exiled government, but died in poverty in 1878. By then, Chile and Argentina were launching military campaigns to "pacify" the Mapuche. Historians estimate the Mapuche population of southern Chile fell by 90% as a result of this "pacification."
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Lima on March 22, the day after Peru's scandal-embattled president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced his resignation. Clashes were reported in the city's downtown Plaza San Martín, with tear-gas used and several injured. The resignation came after months of political machinations in Peru's congress had put off Kuczynski's ouster, and the ire of the demonstrators was directed not just at the disgraced "PPK," but Peru's entire political class. Gerónimo López Sevillano, secretary general of the CGTP union federation, called for a constituent assembly to forge a "new social pact" after new elections are held, while echoing the popular slogan "que se vayan todos los corruptos" (throw out all the corrupt ones). The left-opposition party Nuevo Perú (which has two congressional seats) also called for a new constitution to "refound the country and devolve power to the people." (La República, InfoBae, March 23)
Human Rights Watch on March 26 released a report charging that Ecuador's former president Rafael Correa abused the criminal justice system to target indigenous leaders and environmentalists who protested mining and oil exploitation in the Amazon. The 30-page report, Amazonians on Trial: Judicial Harassment of Indigenous Leaders and Environmentalists in Ecuador, notes ongoing efforts by Correa to silence ecological opposition, starting with the 2013 closure of the Pachamama Foundation by presidential decree. In 2016, his administration sought to similarly close another leading environmental group, Acción Ecológica, but backtracked after the move provoked an international outcry, including condemnation by UN experts. The report also notes criminal cases against indigenous and environmental activists in which "prosecutors did not produce sufficient evidence" to support the serious charges they brought.