Reconciliation between Government and Amazon communities still far off, say Indigenous leaders

Reconciliation between Peru’s government and communities in the country’s Amazon region is still far off almost a year after deadly confrontations between indigenous protestors and authorities, CNR news service reported indigenous leaders saying Friday.

“Reconciliation is still in process,” said indigenous leader Denis Pashanase. “There have been indigenous people and leaders prosecuted, people disappeared, and the laws [that gave rise to the protests] have not been repealed.”

The comments come a day before the first anniversary of a violent confrontation between indigenous protesters and Peruvian soldiers and police on a remote jungle highway in the Bagua province of Amazonas department. Six indigenous men, four Bagua residents and 11 police were killed in the clash.

The minister for Women and Development, Carmen Vildoso, resigned in protest of the government’s handling of the crisis.

Indigenous groups were seeking the repeal of several laws that were enacted by the Executive in 2008 to fit in with private investment policies within the Free Trade Agreement signed with the United States, as well as other laws that infringe on their own territorial rights.   

The protest is based on the Government’s neglect to hold a consultation with indigenous representatives prior to enactment of the laws, as stipulated by the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169.  Peru ratified the Convention in 1994.

Indigenous protests had been building up over a year of failed promises of talks by Congress and the government over the laws and came to a head when groups blocked the Belaunde Terry highway through the Bagua region.  

Congresswoman Marisol Espinoza of Peru’s opposition Nationalist party told CNR that there won’t be reconciliation until more information is provided about what happened at Bagua last year.

“For reconciliation to occur you need to know that truth,” Espinoza said.

US-based Amazon Watch, a non-governmental environmentalist group, agreed with Espinoza, saying in a press release sent by email on Friday that there is still little information on how the protests turned violent.

“After a year of dialogues and multiple investigations with conflicting conclusions, there is little clarity about how peaceful protests turned into a blood bath while little progress has been made to address the underlying causes of the conflict.”

A majority report from the Bagua Commission set up last year, and signed by only four of the seven members, placed the blame for the violence squarely on the shoulders of indigenous leaders as instigators, and treated cabinet and law enforcement decisions lightly. The commission’s president, Jesús Manacés,  and commissioner María del Carmen Gómez did not sign the final report and included dissenting observations on the “lack of impartiality, objectivity and thorough investigation.”

The majority report was considered a mockery by the Legal Defense Institute’s director, Ernesto de la Jara, while the families of the police killed in the clash considered that the report was “full of inaccuracies.”

In April this year, Manacés and Gómez issued a minority report that qualified the government actions as “badly planned, mistaken, improvised and irresponsible.”

Last year, the director of Instituto del Bien Común, Richard Smith, explained the reasons for the indigenous unrest to Barbara Fraser during an interview for Peruvian Times.

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