President Garcia’s communal land rights decree faces opposition from Peru’s indigenous right groups

Peru’s campesino and indigenous rights groups are in an uproar over a presidential decree they say is designed to strip them of their full rights to their communal lands for outside development.

President Alan Garcia signed into law the Legislative Decree Nº 1015 on Tuesday, without congressional approval, simplifying the process for private investors to obtain permission from indigenous communities to set up business.

The decree 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.

“This law is for Alan Garcia. But it is not for the Aguaruna, the indigenous people who have their own law,” Santiago Manuim, a representative of the Aguaruna tribe in Peru’s northern jungle, told CNR radio Thursday.

“We will oppose it,” he said.

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.

“This decree wasn’t promulgated to benefit the campesinos, but rather the mining and oil companies that are looking to purchase the land from the indigenous communities,” said human rights lawyer Wilfredo Ardito.

Campesino organizations plan protests for June 20-24, as well as a nationwide strike July 8-9.

On its editorial page Thursday, La Republica described the measure as the Executive branch’s “ever growing intent to govern the nation through legislative decrees, running roughshod over congressional authority.”

The newspaper called on Congress to step in and use its Constitutional authority “to review and correct the entire legislative regulation dictated by the Executive to modify or overturn this legislative decree.”

Opponents say the decree ignores United Nations Convention Nº 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.

Garcia, a former leftist turned avid free-market convert, had made known his intention to change Peru’s indigenous land use law last November in an Op-Ed piece in daily newspaper El Comercio.

Depicting the communal land rights law as “absurd,” Garcia argued that Peru’s highlands and Amazon jungle should be no different than its coast, where communities always made land use decisions based on simple majority votes of those who showed up for the meeting.

“This situation must be corrected,” he wrote, “and nobody who claims to be a leftist shouldn’t be surprised.”

Peru’s labor unions follow the same logic, he contended, requiring that “50 percent plus one of the workers in attendance express their consent, and not 50 percent plus one of all the workers on the payroll.”

But Peru’s indigenous rights groups don’t appear to be buying the analogy.

“They want to strip us of our lands, of our rights. We will defend what is ours,” Mario Palacios, president of the National Confederation of Communities Effected by Mining, told La Republica.

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