Peru’s Amazon leaders retreat insurgency call, agree to pursue claims within the law

Amazon tribal leaders agreed Saturday afternoon to retract their call for insurgency, signing an agreement with the Public Ombudsman’s Office after intense talks and agreeing to continue their demands within the rule of law.  
The brief statement signed by leaders of Aidesep, the Association for Inter-Ethnic Development of the Peruvian Jungle, included the following:

1. The indigenous representatives manifest that, at the request of the Public Ombudsman and with prior consultation to the regional bases, they rescind the reference made to the “right to insurgency” in the statement and manifest published on their website, and make a commitment to maintaining and developing their protest within the Rule of Law.
2. Additionally, the indigenous representatives state for the record that they will persist in their willingness to dialogue with the government authorities and the Congress of the Republic, to whom they request to revoke the State of Emergency.

On Friday, Alberto Pizango, president of Aidesep, had announced the communities’ right to insurgency, because they were “tired of being played around with” by the central government, which had shown “little interest” in repealing a series of laws that the Amazon communities consider seriously damaging to their way of life and to their land rights.

“Our ancestral laws will become obligatory in our territories and we will look on the entry of any external force as an aggression,” Pizango said to a crowd of supporters in Lima. He also said the Amazon communities would not obey the state of emergency rules decreed for regions in Cusco, Ucayali, Loreto and Amazonas.

Pizango’s statements triggered immediate responses from the government. Premier Yehude Simon accused Pizango of wanting “to spill blood. He is placing thousands of natives under the guillotine.”  The minister of Justice, Rosario Fernandez, said that the native communities’ insurgency would be considered sedition.

President Alan Garcia said that “The lands of Amazonia belong to you, to your children, they belong to the whole nation, they belong to all Peruvians and not to a small group who live there.” He emphasized that “the riches of Peru belong to all Peruvians.”

After the community leaders signed the Ombudsman agreement, Alberto Pizango told Andina state news agency that he recognized that his call to insurgency was somewhat excessive for many people.

Aidesep and other Amazon groups, including the Confederation of Amazonian Nationalities of Peru that had rejected the insurgency strategy, have been seeking to repeal several laws that were enacted by the Executive last year 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.

Protests a year ago calmed down when the government promised to look at the issue. In December 2008, a multi-partisan committee in Congress found the laws to be unconstitutional and recommended they be repealed. One of the key reasons is that the Executive ignored its obligation to consult with the native communities before enacting the laws, under the International Labour Organization Convention 169, to which Peru is a signatory, concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries.

Congress sat for over five months on any decision or even to debate the committee’s findings, and indigenous communities began seven weeks ago to stage protests in several parts of the Amazon region, blocking highways and rivers, and cutting off water and electricity at a pump station on the North Peru oil pipeline. The increasing violence and the intervention by a Navy gunboat and helicopters to break one of the river blockades prompted Congress to hold a rushed debate. But no decision was made, and the majority voted to send the findings to the Constitution Committee.

The state of emergency declared this past week to break through the blockades, and permit law enforcement to search people and homes without a warrant, has been criticized by political analysts and a number of leading economists and anthropologists, including Alberto Adrianzen, Pedro Francke, historian Sinesio López, Salomon Lerner, Humberto Campodonico and Ricardo Giesecke.

Their statement demanded a halt to the “devastating and irreversible environmental impact on the water and land ecosystems of Amazonia provoked by implementing free trade agreements.” They added that Amazonia will be Peru’s strategic resource in the 21st century because of its water, energy and biodiversity, but warned that “all this is being destroyed by subdivisions into oil and gas lots, gold mining, the massive and illegal lumber extraction, drug traffic, and other extractive industries.”

Meanwhile, the Public Ombudswoman, Beatriz Merino, warned the Government Saturday that it lacked prevention capabilities. “We need more prevention and dialogue strategies than there are now,” she said during an RPP Radio interview, mentioning that there are currently 80 social conflicts nationwide that are in the dialogue stage, and that conversations in 88% of the conflicts began only after violent actions had erupted.

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