Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Home | Contact us | Search
Our mission | MOGC publications | Staff members | Our partners | Contact us
Africa | Asia | Middle East | Latin America | United Nations |
War is not the answer | Arms control/proliferation | U.S. military programs/policies | Security | Alternatives to violence
Maryknoll Land Ethic Process | Climate change | GMOs | Water | U.S. energy policy | Earth Charter |
Trade/Investment | Foreign debt | Millennium Devel. Goals | Corporate accountability | Int'l financial institutions | Work | Economic alternatives
Indigenous peoples | Migrants | Children | Women | People with HIV/AIDS
Educational resources | Contact policymakers | Links | MOGC publications |
Subscribe | NewsNotes archive

Peru: Police attack indigenous protest
NewsNotes, July-August 2009

On the morning of Friday, June 5, 600 police and Special Forces officers opened fire on approximately 2,500 unarmed indigenous protesters who were blocking the main supply road just outside of Bagua, Peru. The blockade, one of many similar peaceful protests throughout Amazonian Peru that had been in place since April, was set up in response to a set of decrees passed in the last year to open up traditionally indigenous territories and national reserves to mining, logging, and oil drilling companies without previous consent or consultation of the indigenous communities. The following article was written by Hannah Rakoczy, an intern with the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

These “legislative decrees” (collectively known as the Law of the Jungle) were passed by President Alan Garcia under fast-track authorization (meaning he did not require Congress’ approval before implementing them), claiming the laws were necessary to execute the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement signed in 2006. President Garcia then used the blockades as an excuse to declare a state of emergency in the region, suspend constitutional rights, and use unnecessary force and violence in an attempt to break through the demonstrators. Twenty-four police officers and over 40 protesters were killed in the ensuing encounter; more than 150 protesters were injured and over 250 are reported missing.

Rather than providing any kind of aid or medical assistance to those affected by the violence, the government responded to the incident by attempting to cover it up. It quickly blamed the protesters, who had been demonstrating peacefully for over 50 days and were armed with nothing more than wooden spears. The media reported the government’s official statement that only nine protesters had been killed despite eye-witness accounts that the number was actually much higher. Stating that the the protesters are “pseudo-indigenous” and “not first-class citizens,” President Garcia accused them of “savagery,” “barbarity,” and “elemental ignorance.” He also has accused the Venezuelan, Bolivian, and Nicaraguan governments of “inciting unrest” within his country; on June 15 he withdrew the Peruvian ambassador to Bolivia after Bolivian President Evo Morales condemned the massacre as genocide. In addition, seven indigenous Congress members were suspended for 120 days due to their hunger strike in protest of the government response to the massacre; a warrant of arrest for Alberto Pizango, a popular indigenous leader who is currently seeking refuge in Nicaragua, has also been issued.

Rather than give up in fear, however, the indigenous community has only become more resolved. Its leaders are calling for a permanent repeal of the Law of the Jungle, the creation of a permanent commission on indigenous issues with indigenous representation, recognition of property rights and titles to indigenous lands, the suspension of current free trade agreements (FTAs) with the U.S., European Union, China, and Chile, and the dismissal of Prime Minister Yehude Simon as well as other high-ranking administration members. The National Organization of the Amazon Indigenous People of Peru (AIDESEP), an umbrella organization of over 30 separate indigenous communities, organized a national day of protest, held on June 11. The mass gatherings demonstrated overwhelming popular support for the indigenous community, and over the next few days spread from the main cities out into the countryside. Protests outside Peruvian embassies and consulates around the world were coordinated to coincide with the national demonstration and show solidarity with the indigenous population of Peru.

In light of the strength and determination of the indigenous protesters and their supporters, Congress agreed to temporarily suspend two of the more threatening decrees, and voted 82-12 on June 12 to permanently repeal them; the remainder of the laws were due to be debated in the coming weeks, despite claims by President Garcia that he would continue to push ahead with his model of development regardless of the outcome. After several days of negotiations with indigenous leaders, Prime Minister Simone stated that he would resign his office once the decrees are rescinded and the remainder of the demands are met.

Activists in the United States have asked the Obama administration to examine the current FTA with Peru to determine whether or not the decrees were in fact necessary for implementation. If so, the U.S. could be seen as directly responsible for the deaths that occurred in Bagua at the beginning of June. The examination might also lead the administration to take a closer look at similar existing FTAs and be more careful when drafting future agreements. An official statement or position from the U.S. would put the Peruvian government under even closer international scrutiny and help ensure that the demands of protesters are met and that the situation is resolved peacefully, fairly, and quickly.

The situation in Peru can be seen as a foreshadowing of growing conflicts between indigenous communities and mining projects around the world. Governments, desperate to fuel growing economies, increasingly are encroaching on indigenous lands where much of the world’s natural resources remain. In order to resist these intrusions, indigenous communities are becoming progressively more organized. Unfortunately, the repression that occurred in Bagua is only an indication that as our planet’s resources become more limited, indigenous populations will be further threatened by the governments that should be protecting them.

Faith in action:
Go to the Quixote Center’s website and sign on to a letter to President Obama calling for him to publicly denounce the massacre of June 5 in Bagua.

About us | Privacy Policy | Legal  |  Contact us
© 2010 Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns