President Garcia declares 30-day state of emergency to quell indigenous protests in Amazon

President Alan Garcia declared a 30-day state of emergency in three Amazonian provinces and one department after negotiations between Environment Minister Antonio Brack and indigenous rights groups broke down Friday and a violent confrontation left eight police officers and one protester injured on Sunday.

Legislative Decree Nº 058-2008-PCM, which was published Monday in official state daily El Peruano, provides for the suspension of constitutional rights such as the freedom of assembly and movement in areas “perturbed by violence and prevented from functioning normally,” and gives Peru National Police the authority to arrest people and carry out raids without a warrant.

The state of emergency was declared in the provinces of Bagua, Utcubamba and Datem del Marañon in the Department of Amazonas, Echarate in the Department of Cuzco and in the Department of Loreto given that the strike is “jeopardizing the security of the northern pipeline’s pumping stations and that of important gas field installations.”

Since negotiations broke down last Friday, protesters, demanding the repeal of presidential decrees they say are promoting unrestricted oil exploration while stripping their full rights to control communal lands, have continued to occupy seized drilling platforms and buildings in southern Peru as well as the El Muyo hydroelectric power station owned by Oriental Electric Corp., Argentine-operated Pluspetrol gas lots in Camisea gas field Block-56, public buildings, and part of an oil duct in northern Peru.

Daily El Comercio reported Monday that members of the Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Northern Amazon, or Orpian, have blocked off kilometre 196 of the Interoceanic Highway, the Corral Quemado Bridge and other roads leading into the departments of Amazonas and San Martin.

“What is happening in these Amazonian regions has happened in other parts of the country,” said anthropologist Oscar Espinoza de Rivero in comments to daily La Republica. “They don’t listen to the indigenous peoples’ claims and most often the only alternative they have left is to take drastic measures that everyone wants to avoid, such as blocking highways, taking over gas fields or rivers.”

Protesters and police also met head-on in a violent confrontation Sunday when outraged indigenous Aguaruna protesters attacked seven officers who attempted to clear out one of the El Muyo hydroelectric power station’s water inlets. The station has been paralyzed — its inlets blocked by tree branches and stones — and provides electricity only two hours daily since the strike began on Aug. 9.

When some protesters began to throw spears and arrows, Peru National Police threw tear gas into the crowd.

But the violence spun out of control when one officer shot a protester in the left arm. He was immediately attacked by the crowd, and suffered from perforated intestine from a spear, and another wound near his right eye and a head injury.

All seven officers were taken hostage, including a police captain, and transported to Imaza, where daily La Republica reports 20 other police officers are being held.

The Interethnic Association for the Development of Peru’s Jungle, or Aidesep, and more than 65 different indigenous communities are demanding that President García revoke the controversial communal land rights decree N°1015 as well as 37 other decrees promulgated as part of the Peru-U.S. free trade agreement they say violate their territorial and ancestral rights.

But negotiations are now deadlocked as the indigenous peoples refuse to accept Brack as a legitimate government spokesman or end the strike until the decrees are repealed, and the government won’t resume talks until the protesters end their strike.

“If they don’t put an end to the strike, we won’t resume the dialogue,” said Brack.

The talks haven’t failed,” Brack told state news agency Andina, but “they have been interrupted” because the indigenous peoples and Aidesep asked for “impossible” things, such as making changes to the Constitution argued Brack. “As you all understand, this is juridical impossibility.”

And, he added, “they said that I, the representative of the government, didn’t have authority of decision,” given that I didn’t sign any of the decrees they want repealed, and demanded that all of the government’s authorities, including President Garcia, and Cabinet Chief Jorge del Castillo, come to Loreto for negotiation.

On Friday, after a day and a half of negotiation, and what seemed to be a promising start — a first tentative agreement had been drafted — the talks collapsed.Brack has pointed fingers at “four extremely leftist lawyers that are influencing the communities,” and Congressman Victor Isla, a member of Ollanta Humala’s nationalist opposition party and former regional President of Loreto, accusing them of spoiling the government’s efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully.

“Mister Isla is more preoccupied with “Chavezism” and antinational projects than falsely defending the natives,” said Brack. “I state his name to make it clear who he is, where he’s from and why he instigates these types of things. He can refute it.”

Isla denied the accusations.

“I have never spoken with the indigenous leaders,” Isla told Radio Programas radio. “It would be an honor for me, but (Brack) can’t credit me for something I didn’t do, he is mistaken or misinformed, or is acting in a tendentious manner.”

Brack fled the jungle town of Loreto by helicopter on Friday as angry protesters began to fill the building where the negotiations were taking place.

Peru’s Air Force acted rapidly, daily La Región reported, as rumours circulated that the indigenous peoples had planned to take Brack hostage.

The protest comes three months after the promulgation, without congressional approval, of Legislative Decree N°1015 last May, which simplified the process for private investors to obtain permission from indigenous communities to set up business. It overturns an earlier communal land rights law approved by Congress in 1995 that required the “consent by a two-thirds majority vote by all members of the community” for communal lands in Peru’s highlands and jungle.

Now, instead of requiring a vote representing 66 percent of the entire community, investors need only to persuade a simple majority of those in attendance at a community assembly, according to the decree published in the official gazette, El Peruano.

Although the decree’s title proclaims it as a stimulus measure for agricultural production and competitiveness, critics contend it opens a loophole for mining development and oil exploration in the high Andes and Amazon region.

Aidesep and the indigenous rights groups it represents also argued that the decree ignores United Nations Convention N°169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, to which Peru is a signatory.

According to the UN convention, governments must “consult the peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures and in particular through their representative institutions, whenever consideration is being given to legislative or administrative measures which may affect them directly.

The next round of negotiation, still to be headed by Brack, is to be held in Lima at a date currently unknown.

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