Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango granted safe passage from Peru to Nicaragua

The Peruvian indigenous leader Alberto Pizango boarded a flight Wednesday to Nicaragua, where he has been granted asylum.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs granted a letter of safe-conduct to Pizango, a Shawi Indian and former president of Peru’s Interethnic Association for the Development of Peru’s Jungle, Aidesep.

But, according to Foreign Affairs Minister José Antonio García-Belaunde, the letter of safe-conduct does not exclude the possibility that Peru may later file for Pizango’s extradition.

Pizango sought refuge in the Nicaraguan Embassy in Lima last week and requested political asylum, shortly after Peru’s Justice Ministry charged him with sedition, conspiracy and rebellion for leading protests over plans to open large swathes of the Amazon jungle to oil drilling and other large development projects.

Pizango called for an “insurgency” against the government in May, but he later withdrew the call, signing an agreement with the Public Ombudsman’s Office. 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 which 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In December 2008, a multi-partisan committee in Congress found the laws to be unconstitutional and recommended they be repealed.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 in late March 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 subsequent violence. that erupted when police and army troops were sent at dawn on June 5 to break the Bagua highway blockade, resulted in the death of 24 policemen and at least nine indigenous protesters.

Pizango, a long-time and well regarded leader among Amazon communities, is considered by the government to be largely responsible for the crisis. He accused the government of genocide following the clash.

President García, referring to the natives as “pseudo-indigenous,” responded by accusing the Amazon communities of genocide and of impeding progress by opposing gas and oil exploration on their lands, and blamed their opposition to his plans on “elemental ignorance” and manipulation by outside agitators — inferred to be Venezuela and Bolivia.

For many politicians, though it has been vehemently denied by Pizango and Amazon specialists, the conflict is part of a wider plot designed by envious foreign nations to provoke a coup d’état. The indigenous peoples, they claim, are being misinformed and manipulated by political forces such as Peru’s Nationalist Party, led by Ollanta Humala, by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

“I believe Evo Morales is encouraging the violence in Bagua,” said Belaunde.

“Bolivians are coming to Peru” with the intention of destabilizing our democracy, he added in comments to Canal N. “This is what Morales wants to do here. I say it now, clearly, it’s not going to happen.”

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