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Voices Raised Against Violence in Peru

OneWorld.net, News Report, Posted: Jun 12, 2009

Violent confrontations broke out Friday as approximately 400 Peruvian riot police used force to dismantle a blockade built by indigenous protesters on a highway in northern Peru, near the town of Bagua Grande, reports the BBC. "At least 30 indigenous protesters and 24 police officers are reported to have been killed in two days of clashes," notes the news agency.

"The use of army units to quell these protests is merely inflaming an already volatile situation, and does nothing to address the Indians' fundamental and justified concerns," said the human rights group Survival International.

Roughly 2,500 people participated in the protest. Dozens are missing and feared dead.

The military is now clamping down on the surrounding area -- preventing people from looking for those who may have died -- and officials have ordered the arrest of 36 demonstrators, charged with "kidnapping, homicide, impeding delivery of public services, disturbing the peace, and sedition," reports CNN.

Over the last two months, indigenous Peruvians have been protesting government policies that would allow major corporations to mine for oil and gas on indigenous communities' ancestral lands. (Read more from Survival International below.)

Testimonies from Protest Leaders

"Three armed forces helicopters are flying, throwing tear gas bombs, and firing bullets directly [at protesters] as if we were criminals, as if there weren't women and children protesting," said Servando Puerta, president of the Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Peru's Northern Amazon, according to Latin America Press. The indigenous protesters could not have fired on security forces since they were only carrying bows and arrows, added the Amazonian tribal leader.

"I personally hold the government of Alan Garca Prez [the Peruvian president] responsible for ordering the genocide," continued Alberto Pizango, president of the Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Amazon (AIDESEP), who has since fled into hiding to avoid persecution. "They're killing us for defending our lives, our sovereignty, human dignity... For thousands of years, we've run the Amazon forests."

According to Gregor MacLennan, who is based in Peru with the organization Amazon Watch, many eyewitnesses in Bagua saw "police throw the bodies of the dead into the Maraon River from a helicopter in an apparent attempt by the Government to underreport the number of indigenous people killed by police."
WASHINGTON, Jun 9 (OneWorld.net) - Following deadly clashes between indigenous protesters and the Peruvian military, one indigenous rights organization is urging the Peruvian government to withdraw all armed forces and recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to their land.

Human rights organizations are concerned the government will order another military offensive against thousands of indigenous peoples conducting a similar protest in Yurimaguas, near the northern town of Tarapoto, adds Amazon Watch.

Suspend Oil and Gas in the Amazon, Say Advocates

Survival International has called on all oil and gas companies to suspend operations in the Peruvian Amazon until the conflict can be resolved, maintaining that only when indigenous communal land rights are recognized can fair negotiations take place between local communities and mining corporations.

"In the last few years more than 70 percent of the Amazon has been parceled out to oil and gas companies for exploration, and a series of large-scale finds threaten to transform much of the Indians' virgin forests," notes Survival. In neighboring Ecuador, exploitation of natural resources has also been tied to chronic pollution and ill health of local indigenous peoples.

"We cannot continue to allow a group of transnational companies to divide up the Amazon, as if it were just a business without consideration given to the territory of ancestral peoples, or without taking into account that this is the 'lungs of the world' and the greatest source of fresh water on the continent," said Egberto Tabo of the Coordinating Body for the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin during the eighth annual United Nations meeting on the rights of indigenous peoples. "We will not permit the continuation of this exploitation." Indian Country Today reports.

In addition, a coalition of 45 international human rights groups, indigenous organizations from throughout the Americas, the Conference of Bishops of Peru, and a number of celebrities are calling for an end to the violence by the Peruvian government and for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, writes Amazon Watch.

Specifically, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has said it "is deeply concerned, as the state of siege is resulting in the suspension of personal liberties and political freedoms of the indigenous peoples in the Amazon region, the criminalization of indigenous leaders and human rights defenders, and the increasing militarization of indigenous territories."

Poverty Despite Resource Wealth

"Peru is not converting its resource wealth into benefits for its poorest citizens," says Oxfam America.

While half of Peru's population lives in poverty, the government receives more than $2 billion per year from extractive industries, such as gold and silver mining, and the construction of natural gas pipelines, specifies the international development agency.

The Peruvian government, mining industry, international donors, and civil society must therefore ensure that mining revenues trickle down to all sectors of society, so that desperate and frustrated low-income communities no longer resort to violence to demand a more equitable distribution of resources, concludes Oxfam.

Take Action

Vowing to keep up pressure until indigenous rights are respected, the Amazon Indian organization AIDESEP announced a national demonstration to be held on June 11.

Meanwhile, Amazon Watch has started a Peru emergency appeal to support medical relief for the wounded, provide legal defense for those charged, and launch a media campaign led by indigenous organizations.

For background on development and human rights in Peru, see OneWorld.net's Peru country guide.

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