Human rights leader accuses Peru’s government of hounding NGOs

By Annie Thériault

Peru’s International Cooperation Agency, or APCI, is systematically and inappropriately being used “to harass and persecute political dissidence,” said Miguel Jugo, the Executive Director of Aprodeh, one of Peru’s most reputable human rights organizations.

Jugo contended APCI was involved in a large-scale campaign orchestrated by Peru President Alan García’s government to criminalize social protest and bring about the paralysis of civil society organizations that the Exectuive considers a nuisance.

The government “wants to shut us up,” said Jugo in comments to the Peruvian Times, and in its attempt to do so, it is using the APCI as a “tool to harass and persecute political dissidence.”

But, “social issues can’t be criminalized,” added Jugo, “and a person that takes to the streets to protest is not a delinquent.”

APCI officials did not respond to Peruvian Times’ repeated phone calls seeking comment.

In Peru there are more than 900 NGOs, argued Jugo, and the APCI annually audits approximately 100, which are selected by means of a draw.

But according to Jugo, some NGOs, such as the Institute for Legal Defense, or IDL, are being audited every single year, and others are audited as soon as they are determined to be sufficiently “annoying” by García’s administration.

“Aidesep (the Interethnic Association for the Development of Peru’s Jungle) is a clear example,” said Jugo.

Aidesep, an umbrella organization for indigenous rights groups in Peru’s Amazon, coordinated a more than week-long indefinite strike in August to demand the repeal of presidential decrees they claimed were promoting unrestricted oil exploration while stripping their full rights to control communal lands.

The indigenous groups only lifted their road blockades and suspended their strike against key energy sites — including Argentine-operated Pluspetrol gas lots, part of an oil duct and a power station — after Congress President Javier Velazquez agreed to put a congressional committee’s repeal motion to a vote.

On Aug. 22, though in a televised address from the Government Palace García called the move a “grave historical mistake” and predicted that rolling back his decrees would condemn Peru’s rural and indigenous communities to “another century of misery.” Congress ratified the congressional committee’s motion to repeal the two land Amazon jungle development laws decreed by García.

Three days later, the APCI informed Aidesep that it would be audited.

Though APCI’s Executive Director Carlos Pando denied the audit was part of the government’s intimidation campaign or a revenge for the protests, Aidesep representatives don’t agree.

Since Aidesep was founded 28 years ago, the organization’s administrator Augustina Mayán argued, it has never been audited.

“This situation is being controlled by a government policy designed to intimidate NGOs,” Mayán told daily La Republica. “But I believe that this is the government’s first step and we’re waiting for many more suspicious actions to be taken against us,” because we supported “our brothers.”

After three days of thorough investigation, which yielded no anomalies, the APCI published a short two-page report giving  Aidesep a clean bill of health for its payroll and funds received from external aid, and even noted the NGO had returned 116 thousand soles, or approximately $41,000, in unused funds to an aid agency.

A few months prior, in April, Aprodeh was also audited by the APCI.

The agency’s audit came on the heels of the European Parliament’s vote against a motion to add Peru’s Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement to its list of known terrorist groups. The outcome was due, in part, to a letter sent by Aprodeh in which the human rights group argued that MRTA’s significance should not be overblown, given it has been inactive for at least eight years. A terrorist designation by the EU at this point could be used as a pretext to “persecute social activists and political opponents, accusing them unjustly of crimes of terrorism,” the letter concluded.

Shortly after, García accused Aprodeh of “treason against the nation,” and a few days later, his government published a Supreme Decree stripping nearly all of Peru’s human rights organizations of their legally constituted roles as watchdogs in the deliberations of the government’s National Human Rights Council.

“It’s more than evident,” concluded Jugo. “The APCI is being used as a tool to harass us.”

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