Peru: Battle Lines Drawn over the Amazon

The rhetoric was sharp enough to cut down Amazonian hardwoods.
Yesterday, Sunday June 7th, after a number of ministers had been
paraded out Saturday and the day before, Peru's el Senor Presidente,
Alan Garcia decided to make it personal. After a joint police-military
operation aimed at stopping an Indigenous protest had gone awry,
leaving many dead on both sides, Garcia declared the Indigenous
elements to be standing in the way of progress, in the path of national
development, wrenches in the gears of modernity, and part of an
international conspiracy to keep Peru down.

The rhetoric was sharp enough to cut down Amazonian hardwoods.
Yesterday, Sunday June 7th, after a number of ministers had been
paraded out Saturday and the day before, Peru's el Senor Presidente,
Alan Garcia decided to make it personal. After a joint police-military
operation aimed at stopping an Indigenous protest had gone awry,
leaving many dead on both sides, Garcia declared the Indigenous
elements to be standing in the way of progress, in the path of national
development, wrenches in the gears of modernity, and part of an
international conspiracy to keep Peru down. In a troubling statement on
the resemblance of the Indigenous protestors to the infamous Sendero
Luminoso (Shining Path) armed insurrection, Garcia seemed to imply the
Natives were a band of terrorists as he stood in front of hundreds of
military officers in a nationally televised speech. He continued to
decry the Indian barbarity and savagery, and called for all police and
military to stand against savagery.

Clearly, the battle lines were being drawn. Garcia demonstrated he
is not about to allow anything to get in the way of "our development"
of the oil and mineral resources the Amazon has to offer. Especially by
a bunch of confused savages (his words) who are pawns to the
international market and to Indian elites and therefore have no real
reason to be resisting. At this point, it was obvious he thought
nothing of the Indigenous cause, and what they actually stood for.
There is too much money to be extracted from oil, from minerals, from
logging, and from possible agriculture in the Amazon region, the 2nd
largest stretch outside of Brazil. All on land with less than 200,000
Indigenous people. All now supposed to be open for business, as a
result of a series of laws passed under the auspices of Free Trade
Agreements signed with both Canada and the United States.

All those who lost their lives - certainly more than the 30 or so
officially cited - have in the end given their lives for these free
trade agreements and their domestic implementation. After wresting a
concession from Congress - a la Bush - Garcia was able to push through
99 changes to the law of Peru. A number of these were ruled
unconstitutional later, one dealing with property law standing out.
Indigenous groups disputed from the beginning that these laws
threatened the integrity of the Amazon, its cultural and biological
diversity. Since the beginning, they were ignored. Living up to their
Amazonian warrior mythology, they decided to take action.

Protests have lasted now over 50 days, only recently erupting into
bloodshed when Garcia suspended civil liberties, declared a state of
emergency, and decided to send in the military to end the dispute. This
was all done in the name of Garcia's idea of 'democracy,' which should
be farcical to anyone who has the least idea what democracy means.
Indigenous groups have maintained they want to be included in this
so-called democracy, meaning they have a say over what happens in their
lands, and that their rights be respected. This is clearly within
international law now, after the United Nations Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples was approved two years ago.

The Declaration lays out provisions that clearly establish the
rights to free, prior and informed consent over development projects in
Indigenous territories, and the right to be involved in any decision
making processes that would impact on Indigenous Peoples' lands,
resources or rights. Repeated demands have called for there to be
dialogue with Indigenous groups. Garcia's response? Yes, there has been
dialogue - within the government, by elected officials. Obviously, this
hasn't done enough to safeguard the rights, the lives, and the
livelihoods of Amazon peoples, and a number of the new laws have been
shown to be unconstitutional. Indigenous leaders quickly condemned the
tragic loss of lives as the fault of the government, who was not
committed to dialogue, but arms. Even the ex-president has placed the
blame on Garcia for not seeking dialogue with Indigenous

Lamentably, this whole situation could have easily been prevented,
had the government cared enough about its own citizens' lives and
effective dialogue more than getting its own way. Instead, on Friday
morning, police and military descended on an Indigenous encampment near
the Amazonian towns of Bagua Chica and Bagua Grande. Reports from the
ground contradict the government version, in which security forces,
reluctant to use force, were ambushed and had to defend themselves with
bombs, helicopters, and machine guns. Other reports establish that a
private meeting was held between the military, the Indigenous
leadership, and a local bishop, among others, the night before the
violence. Indigenous groups were reportedly given until 10am to make a
decision to leave or stay, and were guaranteed that nothing would
happen until then. In response, many decided to go home. But the
government apparently lied. The operation started around 6am.

Local sources instead claim they were sleeping, unarmed, when
bullets were fired in their direction. When the police finally arrived
to physically remove protestors, it was then that many police were
disarmed, killed, or taken prisoner by the masses of protestors,
probably numbering over 2,000 in days prior, now down to a few hundred.
By now, the war had been declared, and wouldn't stop well into the
night as police and military continued in a violent sweep, ending up
going into the towns and reportedly searching house by house in
vengeance. Police entered with weapons of war against civilians. Now
the military has been reported to be wearing civilian clothing to carry
out what seems more and more to resemble a civil war. Families decry
that they haven't been allowed to enter the areas to search for missing
family, or enter jails to visit and feed prisoners. All this done in a
declared state of emergency, with many liberties and human rights
withdrawn for local citizens.

Then came the outrage. But not by locals or Indigenous groups,
though that was palpable. By the very same government who initiated the
action. Their reports came out throughout the next day - a dozen
security forces murdered in cold blood, maybe 3 Indians hurt. Now 24
police and military cruelly assassinated, about 9 Indians dead (no
information how). The choice of words is translated from government
pronouncements, and reflects their dim view of Indigenous deaths,
despite many being civilians, with a few children among those murdered.

On the other side, Indigenous groups reported at least 30 civilians
and Natives were killed, but also that government officials had gone
through lengths to disappear some of the bodies, a claim documented by
Amazon Watch (see link below). Some AIDESEP members in the communities
dispute that the number is much higher, closer to 100, including
peasants and civilians. Video evidence clearly shows Natives armed only
with spears against a tactical unit in one confrontation, and photos
show police firing live weapons from the roofs, reportedly into crowds
gathered below. A national newspaper even reported that one could
clearly find pictures of more than a dozen Natives and civilians dead,
online. No matter, the numbers had suddenly taken on a new importance.

This had been the worst episode of violence since the 90's, so one
might think the government might want to cut its losses and signal a
shift towards more productive measures. Indeed, both sides could claim
that they lost a number of lives, impetus to stop the bloodshed. Except
that the war had already been declared, and may only be heating up.
Hence the president's fiery rhetoric, about how dare the savage Indians
hurt our humble police, who didn't want to raise their weapons. With
their claim of nearly 30 deaths to the Indians' 9 pushed them to call
it a massacre (matanza, masacre) and seemed to pave the ethical and
emotional road towards stronger retaliation, as all news channels were
flooded with pictures of the soldiers bodies being flown out. The
president of the ministers' congress today appeared before congress and
on national television to decry all the foreign news reports that fail
to coincide with official numbers. Not only that, of course, these
Natives were getting in the way of our development, of our modernity,
denying us our basic human rights. Many of these government claims are
thin disguises to misrepresent the Indigenous movement and its

Take the issue of development. Indigenous communities have
repeatedly said they aren't against development, but it has to be a
different kind of development, one more responsible. A reasonable
claim, especially considering that the loss of the Amazon rainforest is
one of the top drivers of climate change. On the issue of leadership
and responsibility, the government has maintained that this was a
top-down movement led by Alberto Pizango, president of AIDESEP, the
Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest,
an Indigenous organization with representation from Amazon communities.
This flies in the face of the history of the protest, which has
literally involved thousands of communities, and shown itself to be led
by local communities in their own decision making structures. The
government has instead tried to pin the blame on Pizango as the main
instigator, as a political agent of other parties or perhaps other
countries, and a criminal mastermind who has tricked his followers into
rallying against perfectly good legislation. They have gone so far as
to issue a warrant for his arrest now, with many news reports hinting
he has fled to Bolivia, and the Indigenous leadership have lost contact
with him.

The other easily disputed claim is that this is an Indigenous
movement uniquely, the implication being that this does not apply to
anyone non-Indigenous, and others should repudiate the movement. It is
well known in and around the Amazonian towns, however, that there have
consistently been Mestizos, those of mixed race who make a slim
majority of Peruvians, as part of the movement. In recent days
reportedly a number of disenfranchised army reservists also decided to
join the Indigenous cause. Looking at the protests in and around Bagua,
it can clearly be seen that as many as half the protestors were not
Indigenous, but were there in support. Also in the past, it has been a
number of labour unions and farmer groups that have participated in
national strikes, concerned over the same free trade agreements as
Amazon communities. The implications here are critical, though, and
seem to seek a precedent in declaring the Indigenous movement to be a
criminal, or even terrorist, movement and outlaw their activities,
organizations, and politics.

What comes next? On the Indigenous side, there have been calls for a
national strike on Thursday, the 11th. In this case, many labour groups
have been involved from the beginning, so it remains to be seen whether
this will go farther than strikes in the past, which have shut down
vital transportation and oil infrastructure, as well as Machu Picchu,
the main tourist destination of Peru. Indigenous leaders have said,
however, their protest will continue until they are able to renegotiate
the controversial laws. On the government side, we can only wait and
hope for the best. If the inflamed words and rallying of the troops are
any indication, however, they may be getting ready to try and strike
down harder on the Indigenous movement sooner rather than later.
Reports have come in that Special Forces have been seen in the area.
All this may spell out more bloodshed in the name of democracy.
However, they are also acutely aware they are under the international
microscope right now, despite the lack of substantial media reporting
about the situation here in Peru.

And that may be where hope rests. This is a critical moment, as the
government plans its next steps. There needs to be a strong
international focus on Peru, to let them know they cannot get away with
more human rights abuses. Already, protests are planned across the
United States, with more in planning in Canada. Letters have been sent
to the government and to representatives at embassies around the world.
AIDESEP has called for a national inquiry into the events of Bagua and
the deaths. They have also issued a request for an international
observer committee to come and be witnesses to the situation. A
national strike is planned for this Thursday, with participation from
diverse groups, calling for resolution to the situation and the
resignation of Alan Garcia. AIDESEP is also collecting funds to aid in
its work and support observers to get into the region.

A curfew has been imposed. Amazonian towns have been militarized.
AIDESEP officials are in communication with the communities that there
are many missing, many presumed dead. The government has begun
persecuting and threatening jail for Indigenous leaders, while the
leaders have said they are ready to go to jail to defend their rights.
The fear is growing that the government is trying to build support to
further repress Indigenous groups. This is not a path to peace and

For now, the protests will continue. If we are serious about
safeguarding the human rights of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous
peoples of the Amazon, we need to act now. The violent repression of
Indigenous protests and the loss of civil liberties must come to an
end. If we want to protect and preserve the Amazon, and its
bio-cultural diversity, especially in the face of climate change, there
is no better protection than keeping it under the control of those who
have maintained it forever. The free trade laws that open up the Amazon
to logging, mining, oil and agroindustry must be suspended. Indigenous
Peoples' rights - to self-determination, to their lands and resources,
to their lives - must be protected and guaranteed. If we are to stop
other atrocities and bloodshed, the battle line must be withdrawn,
immediately, and there must be dialogue.

For up-to-date information and planned actions:

So far actions are planned in Canada, the US, Australia, India and more.

Website of AIDESEP: Aidesep, pueblos indigenas amazonicos del Peru | Portada

Donations can be made to "SOLIDARIDAD AIDESEP", at Bank Name: Banco de Credito del Peru Account number: 193-1070011-1-01 Account name: AIDESEP-VARIOS Swift Code: BCPLPEPL Address: Jr. Lampa 499, Cercado de Lima, Peru

Peruvian news network, with many (shocking) videos:

Collection of actions to take and media sources:

In depth analysis of the situation:

AmazonWatch investigates disposed bodies:

Send a letter to Peruvian officials:

Preliminary blog: Calm at the Center of the Storm: Reporting from the Amazonian Peoples' Headquarters in Lima |

More photos:

Democracy Now! Report:

News Report from Australia:

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