Social conflicts up by nearly 250 percent since Peru’s Garcia took office

Social conflicts have shot up from 84 in July 2006 – a month after Peru President Alan Garcia was elected as APRA’s presidential candidate in a runoff election – to 284 this past month, reported daily El Comercio on Tuesday.

Of the 284 social conflicts tracked last month, more than 60 percent were related to regional government management and efficiency, as well as environmental concerns.

According to Ronaldo Luque, a spokesperson for the Ombudsman’s Office, most of the social conflicts associated to environmental concerns have spurred from the unyielding distrust communities have toward mining companies and the government.

A total of 235, or 83 percent, of the social conflicts registered and currently monitored by the Ombudsmen’s Office are active, while the remaining 47 conflicts are latent.

Peru’s most recent heated and severe conflict occurred before dawn on June 5, 2009, when violence erupted on a remote jungle highway in the Bagua province of Amazonas department, after army helicopters, soldiers strategically positioned atop hills, and police began to throw tear gas grenades directly into the crowd of 5,000 protesters. The tear gas caused panic and angered the protesters, who responded with violence. Police accused protesters of firing first, but the tribesmen denied having guns and said they only carried their traditional spears.

In the worst crisis since President Alan García took office in 2006, the violent confrontation left six natives, four Bagua residents and 11 police dead, as well as one officer missing and hundreds of people injured.

For almost two months prior to what is locally referred to as the “baguazo,” the Interethnic Association for the Development of Peru’s Jungle, or Aidesep, and other Amazon groups demanded the repeal of several Executive decrees enacted last year to provide attractive investment conditions for the Free Trade Agreement signed with the United States, as well as other laws they contend infringe on their own territorial rights. Decree 1090, also known as the Forestry and Wildlife Law, is one of the most contentious, as it allows land to be sold if determined to be “of national interest.”

This decree, and several others written by the Executive last year, have been declared unconstitutional by two different Congressional commissions and the Public Ombudsman’s office, on the grounds that there was no prior consultation held with the indigenous communities who will be affected by the laws, contrary to the ILO’s Convention 169 on indigenous rights.

Congress did eventually repeal the laws on June 18, but not before 10 months of outright refusals followed by promises, postponements and backtracking that eventually led to the violent death of 24 police and 10 native protesters.

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