Cardinal Cipriani warns of “foreign meddling in Peru’s internal affairs” during July 28th homily

The Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, said during his sermon on Independence Day Tuesday that “Peru needs an iron front to stamp out foreign meddling and interference in the country’s internal affairs.”

“Peru is an open country and is always ready to initiate dialogue with those willing to collaborate in good faith,” said Cipriani during the Te Deum service held in Lima’s Cathedral, attended by President Alan Garcia and his cabinet. “But we are implacable and firm with those who plan to destroy us,” he added, tacitly referring to Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales and echoing President Garcia’s frequent remarks that recent social unrest is encouraged by countries envious of Peru’s strong economy and oil and gas reserves.

Venezuela is believed to be attempting to influence domestic politics through the “ALBA” houses, which are Venezuela-based non-profit centers that operate independently of any government-to-government agreement and are concentrated in poor areas of southern Peru, particularly Puno. They offered access to free medical care and, until 2006, offered free eye surgery and air transport to Venezuela, including free room and board during recovery and the later return to Puno. The success of the program lent political popularity during Peru’s 2006 presidential campaign to candidate Ollanta Humala and his Partido Nacionalista Peruano, openly supported by Chavez.

A congressional committee report issued in Lima last March by Congressman Walter Menchola, of Peru’s National Unity Party, recommended that the Venezuela-funded Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or “ALBA houses” be shut down.

Last June, after the deadly clashes in Bagua, both President Garcia and Foreign Affairs minister José García Belaunde said the conflict was and continues to be part of a wider plot designed by envious foreign nations to provoke a coup d’état. The indigenous peoples, they said, were being misinformed and manipulated by political forces such as Peru’s Nationalist Party, as well as Chavez and Morales – who they accused of trying to meddle in Peru’s internal affairs, “brainwash the ignorant natives,” and “ideologically infiltrate the country” to promote a regional revolution.

Despite the government’s attempt to link not only the Bagua clash but also a series of social protests in southern Peru to these “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.

In the build-up to what is locally referred to as the “Baguazo,” the Interethnic Association for the Development of Peru’s Jungle, Aidesep, and other Amazon groups had made their first demands in August 2008 to repeal several Executive decrees that had been enacted early in 2008 to provide attractive investment conditions for the Free Trade Agreement signed with the United States. The grounds were that the laws infringed on their territorial rights and that they had not been consulted. Decree 1090, also known as the Forestry and Wildlife Law, was one of the most contentious, as it allows land to be sold in the Amazon if determined to be “of national interest.”

This decree, and several others, were 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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