MAC: Mines and Communities

Bloody repression erupts in the Peruvian Amazon

Published by MAC on 2009-06-08
Source: Associated Press, Reuters, CAOI, AMAZONWATCH

The violence erupted as police officers broke up a road blockade

It is no exaggeration to say that the state of Peru is currently in turmoil.

Last week, perhaps scores of Indigenous protestors were killed and wounded by police as they demonstrated along a roadway in the Amazon region. The government alleges that the police and hostages also suffered fatalities at the hands of the demonstators.

At the time of writing, it is not clear what was done to whom and how they suffered.

Nonetheless, according to various independent eye witnesses, the blame must be placed squarely on the government's determination to implement a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) - aimed at opening up much of the country to unacceptable and aggressive mineral exploitation.

In response to these tragic events, a number of organisations both inside and outside Peru, are calling for support and protests at Peruvian embassies around the world.

Below, we reproduce a call for action published on June 8th. Readers are invited to indicate their support by emailing: 


Up to 36 reported killed in Amazon land protest
Associated Press
6th June 2009

LIMA, Peru - Indians protesting government moves to develop oil, gas and other resources on their lands battled police in Peru's Amazon on Friday, with authorities and Indian leaders separately reporting 11 police and 25 protesters deaths.

Accounts of the clashes and death tolls varied widely, as no independent journalists appeared to be present on the remote jungle highway in the northern province of Utcubamba where the fighting took place.

But the political violence was Peru's worst in years and augured ill for President Alan Garcia, who has championed development of the Andean nation's natural resources despite the objections of indigenous groups.

Authorities announced a curfew Friday night in the affected area, and announced 36 arrests. Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillos said Indians were holding 38 police officers hostage at a facility belonging to state oil company Petroperu.

The violence erupted before dawn as officers broke up a road blockade by some 5,000 Indians in an area called Curva del Diablo, or "Devil's Curve."

Protest leaders said police opened fire from helicopters with bullets and tear gas, while national police director Jose Sanchez Farfan said protesters attacked officers, some with firearms. He said they also set fire to government buildings.

Cabinet chief Yehude Simon said that 11 police officers were killed - some with spears - and 109 people were injured. He said three Indians were killed in the clashes.

"One can't say that the natives were the victims," Simon told a news conference late Friday.

Farfan said at one point a group of six to eight policemen was surrounded on a hill by thousands of indigenous protesters who killed them and threw their bodies off the hilltop.

Protest leaders disputed the government's assertion, saying that 25 Indians, including three children, were killed in the clashes. They accused the government of "genocide" in attacking a peaceful protest. Another 50 Indians were injured, 14 of them seriously, said Servando Puerta, one indigenous leader.

Garcia, who has encouraged foreign oil investment and other development in Peru's pristine Amazon jungle, accused the main Indian leader Alberto Pizango of "falling to a criminal level: to assault a police post, grab arms from police, kill police who are fulfilling their duty."

Pizango denied that Indians killed police, saying the protesters were unarmed. He called for international human rights groups to intervene.

Indians have been blocking roads, waterways and a state oil pipeline intermittently since April, demanding Peru's government repeal laws they say make it easier for foreign companies to exploit their lands.

The laws, decreed by Garcia as he implemented the Peru-U.S. free trade pact, illegally open communal jungle lands and water resources to oil drilling, logging, mining and large-scale farming, Indian leaders and environmental groups say.

In addition to violating Peru's constitution, indigenous groups say Garcia is breaking international law by not obtaining their consent.

Garcia defends the laws as need to help Peru develop.

Peru's government owns all subsoil rights in the Andean country and Garcia has vigorously sought to exploit its mineral resources. A Duke University study published last year said contract blocks for oil and gas exploration cover approximately 72 percent of Peru's rain forest.

And though Peru's economic growth has led Latin America recently, Garcia's critics say little wealth has trickled down in a country where roughly half the population is indigenous and the poverty rate tops 40 percent.

Indians say Garcia's government does not consult them in good faith before signing such contracts which could affect at least 30,000 Amazon Indians across six provinces. Last month, Roman Catholic bishops in the Amazon issued a communique calling the Indians' complaints legitimate.

Pizango said last month that Indians would view any government security forces as an "external aggression" and would give their lives to defend the land.

Though he later rescinded what amounted to a declaration of insurgency, it is unclear how much influence Pizango, president of the Peruvian Jungle Interethnic Development Association, has over Indians in the conflict zone.

Garcia declared a state of emergency May 9 and suspended some constitutional rights in four jungle provinces as a result of the ongoing protests.

Because of the protests, the state oil company Petroperu stopped pumping oil through its northern Peru pipeline from the jungle on April 26. Company spokesman Fernando Daffos said the interruption had cost it $448,000 in losses.

Also affected is the Argentine company Pluspetrol, which halted oil production in two jungle blocks in the Loreto region of northeastern Peru.

Associated Press writers Franklin Briceno in Lima and Frank Bajak in Bogota contributed to this report.

Tribes keep Peru police hostage after Amazon fights
By Marco Aquino, Reuters
6th June 2009

TARAPOTO, Peru - Hundreds of indigenous protesters were holding 38 police hostage early on Saturday in Peru's Amazon jungle after fights between tribes and police killed up to 33 people in the worst violence of President Alan Garcia's government.

Demonstrators also were threatening to set fire to an oil pumping station of state-owned Petroperu unless the government told police to halt efforts to clear weeks of blockades of roads and rivers that have hurt food and fuel supplies.

Tribes, worried they will lose control over natural resources, have protested since April to force Congress to repeal new laws that encourage foreign mining and energy companies to invest billions of dollars in the mostly pristine rainforest.

Violence broke out on Friday as police tried to disperse a roadblock on a stretch of highway called "Devil's Curve" in the Bagua region of Amazonas province, about 870 miles (1,400 km) north of Lima, the capital.

Indigenous leaders said at least 22 protesters were killed. The government reported the deaths of three protesters and 11 police officers, some from spear wounds. At least 100 people were injured and more conflict appeared possible. "Everyone must know that right now there are 38 police hostage at the pumping station," Prime Minister Yehude Simon said at a news conference late on Friday. He urged calm but defended the government's use of force.


The bloodshed, which prompted calls for Simon and Garcia's interior minister to quit, has underscored deep divisions in Peru between wealthy elites in Lima and poor indigenous groups in the countryside.

It also has exposed the central government's lack of control over remote regions of the country.

Late on Friday, in a separate incident, the army said one soldier was killed and four injured when a remnant band of Shining Path rebels shot explosives at one of its helicopters parked at a base in the coca-growing zone of the Apurimac and Ene Valleys east of Lima.

The group led an insurgency for years against Peru's government but went into the cocaine trafficking business after its leaders were captured in the 1990s.

Garcia, whose approval rating is 30 percent, suffers from a lack of support in rural areas, especially the Amazon.

Critics say he has not done enough to lower the poverty rate from 36 percent and that economic boom times enjoyed before the current downturn failed to reach the poor.

They also say his policies favoring free-markets and foreign investment mainly benefit elites in cities.

Some of the controversial laws that have upset indigenous groups were passed last year as Garcia moved to bring Peru's regulatory framework into compliance with a free-trade agreement with the United States.

After the deadly violence on Friday, members of Garcia's cabinet accused protesters of being inflexible and refusing to negotiate. They said they would impose curfews.

Indigenous leaders expressed outrage and said Garcia's allies acted in bad faith when they blocked a motion in Congress on Thursday to open debate on a law that tribes want overturned.

"I hold the government of President Alan Garcia responsible for ordering this genocide," indigenous leader Alberto Pizango told reporters in Lima. (Writing by Terry Wade; Editing by Bill Trott)

Call to International Tribunal
INTERNATIONAL DENUCIATION of President Alan García Pérez of Peru and his admistration for Bloody Repression of Indigenous Peoples in the Peruvian Amazon

At least ten to twenty dead.
Urgent: Call to Peaceful Protest in front of the Peruvian Embassies of all countries
In Fulfillment of Commitment to Continental Indigenous Solidarity
Fourth Continental Summit of Indigenous Nations and Pueblos of Abya Yala
Date: 5 June 2009

The APRA government of Alan García Pérez has unleashed a bloody repression in the Peruvian Amazon this morning. The information is unclear, with no official figures, but reports vary that between ten to twenty dead in Bagua, Corral Quemado area and in the Devil's Curve. Once again, the intent is to impose death over life, slaughter over dialogue. It is the dictatorial response that after 56 days of peaceful indigenous struggle and attempted dialogue and negotiations ends with the bullets of massacres, the same of over 500 years of oppression.

Today, more than ever, it is urgent to implement the commitment of continental solidarity of the Fourth Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya Yala (Puno, Peru, 27 to May 31) and to realize solidarity with the Peruvian People of the Amazon by conducting protests outside the embassies of Peru in all countries, every day, demanding a stop to the bloodshed and repeal of the legislative decrees of implementation regarding the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with United States. Further, to call for an international tribunal against President Alan García Pérez and his government, for its intrigue and repression: it is in debt of at least ten people dead.

The current events have occurred just hours after the Congress, in an openly provocative act, decided to postpone further discussion on the repeal of the legislative decrees of implementation for FTA that facilitate the invasion indigenous territories, while the executive branch moved to send an additional numerous police contingent to the Amazon region.

We call upon indigenous organizations, social movements and human rights organizations around the world to take concrete action: letters to the Peruvian government, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples, Amnesty International, Survival International, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Inter-American Commission Human Rights, International Labor Organization (ILO Convention 169) calling to immediately send missions to Peru, in order to stop the violence and respect indigenous rights.

The organizations of the UN must act resolve and join in the demand raised by the chairman of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Victoria Corpus Tauli, to lift the state of emergency in the Peruvian Amazon, to cease the repression and to honor the international standards that guarantee the exercise of indigenous rights.

Today in Lima, the Peruvian social movement organizations, articulated in the Community Front for Sovereignty and Life will mobilize at 5 pm from the Plaza Francia, demanding to put to a stop the suppression and the repeal of legislative decrees affecting the rights land of Andean and Amazon peoples and national sovereignty.

¡No more repression!
¡Immediate repeal of anti-indigenous legislative decrees of the FTA!
Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Argentina

Police Violently Attack Peaceful Indigenous Blockade in the Peruvian Amazon
Four Confirmed Dead and 18 Injured in a Pre-Dawn Attack on Peaceful Demonstrators
5th June 2009

Bagua, Peru - At approximately 5 am this morning, the Peruvian military police staged a violent raid on a group of indigenous people at a peaceful blockade on a road outside of Bagua, in a remote area of northern Peruvian Amazon. Several thousand Awajun and Wambis indigenous peoples were forcibly dispersed by tear gas and real bullets, among them are confirmed reports of at least 18 injured and four people confirmed dead, although the number of dead is likely to be several times higher.

At 2am police began to approach the demonstrators as they were sleeping along the Fernando Belaúnde Terry road. Demonstrators refused to move from the roadblock as helicopters dropped teargas bombs from overhead. Eyewitnesses report that police attacked from both sides firing real bullets into the crowd as people fled into the hills. As the unarmed demonstrators were killed and injured some wrestled the Police and took away their guns and fought back in self-defense resulting in deaths of several Police officers.

In local radio reports, the chief of Police claimed that the indigenous demonstrators were armed with guns necessitating the use of bullets for dispersal. This claim is refuted by dozens of local eyewitnesses including local journalists. Marijke Deleu, a Belgium environmentalist from the local conservation organization reported from the scene that the Amazonian demonstrators have been entirely peaceful and only bear traditional spears and in no way provoked any violence.

The Garcia Government yesterday accused the indigenous movement of turning violent and issued an order for the police to begin forcibly removing indigenous demonstrations that have paralyzed the Amazon region of Peru for nearly two months.

Gregor MacLennan of Amazon Watch who is currently in Peru stated: "It is outrageous and absolutely untrue that indigenous peoples provoked violence. Rather, they are engaged in peaceful and non-violent civil disobedience in the tradition of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. It has been the Peruvian Government forces who have provoked violence against peaceful people who are trying to protect their forests, their sacred lands from shortsighted pollution and industrial development. They are sacrificing a lot to safeguard the Amazon for future generations and for all Peruvians."

Indigenous peoples have vowed to continue protests until the Peruvian Congress revokes the "free trade" decrees issued by President Garcia under special powers granted by Congress in the context of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

In the past two weeks, the constitutional committee of Congress has ruled that legislative decree 994 and 1090 were unconstitutional. The Peruvian Congress was scheduled to debate the revocation of decree 1090 again yesterday, however, Garcia's political party once again prevented the debate. The government Ombudsman office has filed a demand with the constitutional tribunal on the unconstitutionality of decree 1064, which affects the land rights laws in Peru.

The protests have provoked national debate about government policies in the Amazon that ignore indigenous peoples and encourage large-scale extractive industries and the privatization of Amazonian lands. Indigenous peoples claim that new laws undermine their rights and open up their ancestral lands to private companies for mining, logging, plantations and oil drilling.

A coalition of human rights and environmental organizations are urging the Garcia Government to step down and cease violent confrontations by the military and calling for solidarity demonstrations at Peruvian Embassies around the world.

AIDESEP, the national indigenous organization of Peru has called for a nationwide general strike starting June 11th.

Commentary by
Jose De Echave C.
5th June 2009

How can we, today the 5th of June, celebrate Environment Day in a country that wakes up with news such as that in Bagua?

Almost two months of mobilizations in the Peruvian jungle have made it evident that the government does not have the capacity to understand the dimensions of the demands and the debate proposed by the indigenous communities. The legislative decrees seek to give way to the expansion of investments of a kind that lacks control mechanisms and which are way above the capacity of both civil society and the State to control and regulate in the interests of the people.

The jungle belongs to all Peruvians, says the president. We could say: of all Peruvians and of all humanity due to its growing importance and strategic value. But one must pose the question: what are we doing to protect it? Does the decree package that is being questioned, protect it?

The decrees have clear signs of unconstitutionality: some of them have already been approved and others, like number 1604, are being questioned by the Ombudsman.

What is happening in the country is not sustainable: the communities know this - as should the government along with its Environment Minister.

How can we celebrate the Environmental Day in a country that allows for situations like those in La Oroya, generated by the company Doe Run, to occur?

This company has made a mockery of the whole country, the banks and even the mining companies.

Some government officials are not tolerating anymore mockery and are presenting their resignations.
What is happening around this case is no minor issue.

It is a shame - what is happening in the country. It is a shame that, with the exception of the Ombudsman, the State is not responding seriously. It is a shame that the Minister of the Environment has no real role. Of course, it is also a shame that there should be so much violence and deaths in the communities (el Pueblo) and among the police.

It is also a shame that the media misinforms. Some opinion leaders, view the conflicts out of Lima, ask themselves: who is manipulating the communities? This is a deeply racist point of view that shamelessly discriminates and affirms that the poor can be manipulated precisely because they are poor.

Whoever that knows the country a little, and knows the communities, understands that this is not the case.

If it is not - then they should ask the mining and petrol companies if it is easy to manipulate the Achuar, the Awajun Wampis, the campesinos of Cajamarca, the ronderos of Piura, or the communities in Cotabambas?.

Definitely, today, we cannot celebrate Environment Day.

Halt State Violence in Peru and Respect Indigenous Peoples Rights
Statement of Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of Peru

We strongly condemn the violent dispersal by the military on June 5, 2009, against the peaceful blockade by indigenous peoples in Bagua, Peru. Indigenous peoples have been fired upon and killed while asserting their legitimate and internationally recognized rights.

We fully endorse the call of the Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz to the Peruvian government urging that they:

• Immediately cease all violence against indigenous communities and organizations;
• Ensure immediate and urgent medical attention to the wounded and assist the families of the victims; AND
• Abide by its national and international obligations regarding the protection of all human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples and human rights defenders, especially their right to life and security.

We fully support the indigenous peoples of the Amazon in Peru in their protest and their right to protest against Legislative decrees 994 and 1090. These government policies not only undermine indigenous peoples rights but also pave the way for the unacceptable privatization of ancestral lands of indigenous peoples in the Amazon for easy access by the extractive industry such as mining and oil, logging and plantations.

Peru ratified ILO Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and was the Chair of the UN Working Group on the Draft Declaration, the body which elaborated and negotiated the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples until it was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in 2006. It voted yes for the adoption of the UN Declaration of Indigenous Peoples Rights by the UN General Assembly in 2007. It therefore has the obligation to respect the rights of indigenous peoples contained in these and other international human rights instruments. We believe there can be no justification for the Government of Peru to order the military to attack and violently disperse the indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon who have been protesting since April 2009 against governmental policies which they believe undermine their rights, already won in the international arena.

We support the right of indigenous peoples to have their free, prior and informed consent obtained when any development project is brought to their lands and when legislation is made which directly affects them, which is one of the basic rights embedded in the UN Declaration. Legislative decrees 994 and 1090 were passed without this prior consultation. Through the collective actions of indigenous peoples in Peru, they were able to convince the constitutional committee of Congress to rule that these were unconstitutional.

The indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon have the right to their lands, territories and resources and the right to self-determination. Therefore they should be the ones who will decide how their lands, territories and resources should be used. They have the right to freely pursue their own economic, social and cultural development and thus are the ones who should determine what kind of development is appropriate for them. Clearly, they have decided that the Free Trade Agreement between the Peruvian government and the United States to exploit the Amazon for oil, gas and minerals and to open up these territories for logging and monocrop plantations is not appropriate for them or their territories.

We therefore call for the immediate cessation of any and all further attacks by the military against the indigenous peoples, the withdrawal of the military and call for good faith dialogue between the indigenous peoples and the government within the framework of upholding indigenous peoples rights. We also call on the Peruvian government to take immediate steps to restore some confidence by establishing a credible and independent investigation of the June 5, 2009 incident and by providing appropriate medical care for those injured and indemnification for the victims.

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