Peru Interior Ministry to monitor social conflicts in collaboration with Ombudsman’s Office

Nearly two months after the deadly Bagua clashes that left 34 dead and hundreds of people injured, Peru Interior Minister Octavio Salazar Miranda announced Wednesday the creation of a special office to monitor social conflicts and prevent any further outbreaks of violence.

“We have to evaluate the situation. We can’t watch events unfold from a law enforcement perspective, but from a social and anthropological one,” said Salazar in comments to daily Peru21. “We want to make sure that the police is not advised only when things have already turned sour… this is why we are creating an office to monitor social conflicts.”

Salazar said efforts would be made jointly with Peru’s Ombudsman’s Office.

“The Ombudsman’s Office is a very important and experienced organization,” said Salazar. “I will be speaking with Ombudswoman Beatriz Merino soon. What’s important is defining a global understanding of the issue.”

Last June, the Peruvian Times reported that social conflicts in Peru have shot up from 132 in March 2008 to 273 in June 2009. Of the 273 social conflicts tracked last month, more than half were related to environmental concerns and 83 percent are still active.

Last month’s most heated and severe conflict occurred before dawn on June 5, 2009, when 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 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.

For almost two months prior to what is locally referred to as the “baguazo,” the Interethnic Association for the Development of Peru’s Jungle, or 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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