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Violence Sparked by US-Peru FTA Highlights the Need for Stronger Communal Resource Rights

July 2009

The US-Peru Free Trade Agreement (FTA), created in 2005 by the Bush and Garcia administrations, came into effect on February 1st, 2009.  Since this time, several protests have been held within the country by indigenous groups, peasants and their supporters.  At the heart of the protests are several laws, which have been enacted, and since revoked, by the Garcia administration under the FTA. LD 1083 (Promotion of Efficient Use and Conservation of Hydraulic Resources) and LD 1090 (Forestry and Woodland Fauna Law) threatened to allow the same type of deregulation and resource exploitation of indigenous land as is allowed under other neoliberal treaties such as NAFTA (the agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico), encouraging the privatization of the country’s water resources as well as 60% of Peru’s forested land by transnational corporations.

Following a prolonged call for the suspension of LD 1090 by AIDESEP (Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Forest), a Peruvian indigenous rights group, on April 9th Awajun and Wambis protestors set up blockades along the highway in order to block access to oil pipelines deregulated under LD 1090 and other FTA laws.  This action was followed by large demonstrations in the capital city of Lima on May 26th and a second oil pipeline blockade on May 28th.

On June 5th the Peruvian government responded by sending 639 Special Operations forces to suppress the protestors stationed along Devil’s Curve, near the town of Bagua, where the indigenous groups had been blockading a pipeline for ten days. The government’s action resulted in the death of at least 33 Peruvian citizens, whose bodies were reportedly later burned by the military forces, and in the wounding of hundreds more. As well as violently suppressing protestors, the Garcia government called for the arrest of AIDESEP leader Alberto Pizango, who was forced to flee the country.

In response to the State violence, Garcia’s cabinet chief, Prime Minister Yehude Simon resigned from his position, openly admitting that Garcia’s government should have done more to gain indigenous leaders’ support before enacting the laws.

According to LA Times author Chris Kraul, since the June 5th massacre, Garcia has been criticized for insensitive remarks towards indigenous Peruvians, including calling them “garden watch dogs,” that “don’t eat [n]or let others eat,” as well as for chalking up the conflict to be the result of the ignorance of indigenous peoples about the economic necessity of foreign investment, rather than of a long historical conflict for sovereignty between the nation-state and indigenous groups.

Counter to Garcia’s claims of indigenous ignorance, this outbreak of State violence came only a few weeks after the IV Continental Indigenous Summit was held in Puno, Peru on May 27th through the 31st.  Among the topics discussed during the conference, which was attended by over five thousand indigenous leaders and activists, was the creation of alternatives in the face of a global economic crisis brought on by neoliberal policies. Regrettably, however, most of the groups from the Peruvian Amazon were absent due to their ongoing strike against the government.

IV Continental Indigenous Summit and I Summit of Women Indigenous of Abya Yala

The National Coordination of Communities Affected by Mining in Peru (CONACAMI), a Grassroots International grantee, was one of the leading organizers of the IV Continental Indigenous Summit.  The Summit not only brought together indigenous representatives of organizations from across the Hemisphere but over 500 international observers, including indigenous people from Africa and allied organizations from the United States and Europe.
Prior to the main summit, indigenous women also organized the I Summit of Women Indigenous of Abya Yala.  The event’s final declaration highlighted free trade agreements and the growing criminalization of social movements as major threats to the defense of indigenous people’s human and resources rights in the Western hemisphere.

Grassroots International was happy to have supported the IV Continental Indigenous Summit in Puno. Along with our partners and allies, we stand in solidarity with the Peruvian indigenous communities and their resistance to free trade agreements.

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