Indigenous communities pursue strike, charges pressed against Alberto Pizango for “insurgency call”

As indigenous communities throughout Peru’s jungle provinces continue to block highways, waterways and oil pipelines, Peru’s Justice Minister pressed criminal charges Friday against Alberto Pizango, who called for an “insurgency” against the government last week.

“People have to learn that their actions have consequences,” said Justice Minister Rosario Fernández. “When Mr. Pizango called for an insurgency, I was in Chile and from there I gave the prosecutor instructions about filing charges because what he did was illegal and is unconstitutional.”

Pizango, President of Peru’s Interethnic Association for the Development of Peru’s Jungle, or Aidesep, called for an “insurgency” against the government last week. Though he later withdrew the call, signing an agreement with the Public Ombudsman’s Office and admitting that it was somewhat excessive, Pizango now faces rebellion, conspiracy, and sedition charges.

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In December 2008, a multi-partisan committee in Congress found the laws to be unconstitutional and recommended they be repealed.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.”

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