Peru president contends quid pro quo by lawmakers to end indigenous strike is ‘grave historical mistake’

Indigenous groups lifted their road blockades and suspended their strike against key energy sites Thursday, a day after a congressional committee voted to repeal two land development laws decreed by President Alan García.

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.” In a televised address from the Government Palace on Wednesday, García urged Congress not to ratifiy the committee’s decision when the legislature convenes on Friday.

If the decrees are repealed “out of fear of protesters, fear of unrest perpetrated by those who want special treatment at any cost, Peru will one day remember that this was the moment when change came to a halt and thousands of people were condemned to misery,” said García.

“There is fear of change,” García added. “I believe that it would be a grave mistake and I continue to propose things as I have discussed them. It is a historical mistake not to understand this and it will condemn the campesinos to another century of backwardness and misery.”

But the tide appeared to be turning against García, as Peru’s highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal, on Thursday also agreed to hear the case to determine the constitutionality of Legislative Decrees N°1015 and 1073. García issued the decrees in May under extraordinary powers granted by Congress so Peru could quickly get into compliance with its free trade agreement with the United States.

Indigenous rights groups, headed by the umbrella Interethnic Association for the Development of Peru’s Jungle, or Aidesep, agreed to a 48-hour truce Wednesday immediately after Congress President Javier Velazquez agreed to vote put the repeal motion to a vote on Friday. The deal was struck hours after clashes between 500 demonstrators and police in Bagua left at least 18 people injured.

“We have lifted the strike,” said the President of Aidesep, Alberto Pizango, announcing the temporary lifting of the protests that disrupted operations at drilling platforms, the El Muyo hydroelectric power station, and sections of an oil duct in northern Peru. “We have faith and expect Congress to follow through.”

The agreement signed between Pizango and Velazquez also commits Congress to establish a multi-party commission, which will include Amazonian leaders and professionals, to study the situation of indigenous and Amazonian peoples in Peru.

Velazquez  agreed to take steps to end a 30-day state of emergency declared earlier this week by García for three Amazonian provinces and one department.

The Congressional Commission on Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples “has opted for a democratic solution by delivering an opinion to repeal this law,” said Velazquez. “This must be respected, and what we have done is clear to road for the plenary to decide.”

Approximately 12,000 indigenous people, belonging to 65 different ethnic groups, participated protesting in Peru’s jungle since August 9.

Aidesep and the indigenous peoples are demanding that Peru President Alan García revoke the controversial communal land rights decree N°1015 they say is designed to strip them of their full rights to their communal lands – estimated to contain billions of dollars worth of minerals, oil and lumber – 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.

Decree N° 1073 made subtle changes to the legal definition of collective land ownership in Peru’s Amazon and Decree N°1015 replaced 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” to approve private development projects. 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.

The measures, the Aidesep contends, weakens tribal control of ancestral lands and makes it easier for private investors to obtain permission from indigenous communities to set up business.

But, according to García, the indigenous peoples are “misinformed.”

“It’s easy to throw around falsehoods and say that the state is going to sell all the land,” said García, arguing that decision-making on a two-thirds basis is an antiquated system set up 400 years ago during colonial times. He said loosening the collective hold, or “hyper-majority,” on tribal lands is the only way Peru’s jungle inhabitants will escape centuries of underdevelopment and poverty.

“History has proven this over and over again,” he said.

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