Aidesep: resurgence of violence likely if government fails to fulfill its promises

Things much worse than what occurred in Bagua – where violence clashes left 24 policemen and at least ten natives dead – could happen if the government does not commit to its engagements and set up a negotiation table, said Daysi Zapata, the vice-president of the Association for the Development of Peru’s Jungle, or Aidsep.

“If the negotiation table isn’t set up, worse things than what happened last July could happen, things that have never before happened in Peru,” said Zapata. “If the government does not keep its promises, we will think that we are not considered… and we will reject the President because he will have proved incapable of resolving the Amazon’s problems.”

“The commission is crucial, and aims to determine why things happened as they did, how many missing persons there are, and how many are dead,” added Zapata. “But there is no political will… the Ministers are not here, and the Regional President who should be sitting down at this table with us are not here either.”

Before dawn on June 5, 2009, violence erupted on a remote jungle highway in the Bagua province of Amazonas department after army helicopters, soldiers strategically positioned atop hills, and police began to throw tear gas grenades directly into the crowd of 5,000 protesters.

The tear gas caused panic and angered the protesters, who responded with violence. Police accused protesters of firing first, but the tribesmen denied having guns and Peru’s DA has confirmed that they only carried their traditional spears.

Despite the government’s attempt to link not only the Bagua clash but also a series of social protests in southern Peru to “outside interests”, leading political analysts and sociologists say the protests are home grown and lay the blame squarely on the central government’s procrastination in negotiating and solving issues.

In April, the Public Ombudsman, mentioning the dire lack of dialogue and pro-active decisions by the government, opened a special department to fill the gap, acting as a bridge to negotiate or at least listen to social demands and to bring both sides to the table.

For almost two months prior to what is locally referred to as the “baguazo,” Aidesep, and other Amazon groups demanded the repeal of several Executive decrees enacted last year to provide attractive investment conditions for the Free Trade Agreement signed with the United States, as well as other laws they contend infringe on their own territorial rights. Decree 1090, also known as the Forestry and Wildlife Law, is one of the most contentious, as it allows land to be sold if determined to be “of national interest.”

This decree, and several others written by the Executive last year, have been declared unconstitutional by two different Congressional commissions and the Public Ombudsman’s office, on the grounds that there was no prior consultation held with the indigenous communities who will be affected by the laws, contrary to the ILO’s Convention 169 on indigenous rights.

Congress did eventually repeal the laws on June 18, but not before 10 months of outright refusals followed by promises, postponements and backtracking that eventually led to the violent death of 24 police and 10 native protesters.

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