Giving the lie to its earlier claims that it was impossible to repeal the contested decrees that sparked 70 days of protests and blockades throughout the country’s Amazon region, the Peruvian government rescinded two of those laws on June 18th.
The protests started after President Alan Garcia passed 10 laws by presidential decree that would open up vast tracts of indigenous land in the Amazon to exploitation by mineral (including oil and gas) exploration, logging, agriculture and hydroelectric dams. The government claimed that the laws were necessary to bring the country into compliance with the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement.
Following the June 5 massacre of nonviolent protesters in Bagua, events in Peru and worldwide continued to escalate. On June 8, Minister of Woman’s Affairs and Social Development Carmen Vildoso resigned from the cabinet, stopping short of citing the violence as her reason for leaving. On June 10th, the legislature voted to suspend, for 90 days, two of the 10 decrees. Indigenous protesters widely decried this as a move solely intended to distract them, and refused to abandon their blockades.
Communities around the world responded with acts of solidarity. The World Council of Churches and other human rights organizations including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and the International Labor Organization called on the Peruvian government to end the violence, while a coalition of 15 environmental and human rights groups sent a letter demanding that the US take a role in resolving the conflict. The US government responded with only vague statements that it supported any measures that would lead to an end to the violence.
Activists staged protests at Peruvian embassies and consulates worldwide, some as far away as Amsterdam. A group of protesters, including people from Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network, the Earth First! roadshow and Rising Tide North America, carried out a street theater protest in front of the consulate general’s office in San Francisco on June 16, then went inside to deliver their demands in person. This demo, which was organized with less than 24 hours notice and took place on a weekday morning, drew 40 people.
Others turned to sabotage for their solidarity actions. On June 15, the Peruvian consulate in Denver, CO was spray-painted with messages calling for the liberation of the Amazon and the end to the destruction of the rainforests and the murder of indigenous peoples fighting for their land. An Earth Liberation Front action in Mexico was also dedicated to ” the fierce defense that is being carried out in the Amazon in Peru.”
Amazon Watch reports that “tens of thousands” of people wrote the Peruvian government in outrage during the crisis.
Bolivian President Evo Morales blasted the Peruvian government for its actions, agreeing with indigenous leader Alberto Pizango that the government’s attacks on indigneous peoples constitute “genocide.” Railing against an “international conspiracy,” Peru recalled its ambasador from Bolivia.
Finally, Prime Minister Yehude Simon announced that he was asking Congress to repeal two of the laws, and said he would resign once the conflict was resolved. This would lead to the replacement of Garcia’s entire cabinet. The 120-member Congress voted 82-12 to repeal the two laws on June 18, and the indigenous coalition the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP) called for an end to the protests. The Peruvian ambassador to the U.S. acknowledged that the government had failed to consult properly with indigenous communities before passing the laws, and President Garcia went on national television to say the same thing.
Even though the active protests may be winding down for now, AIDESEP is still demanding the repeal of the rest of the contested laws, an end to the “state of emergency” (martial law) that the government declared in the Amazon region after the protests began, and the decriminalization of indigenous activists.
AIDESEP President Alberto Pizango remains wanted by the government on charges of sedition. He fled on June 8 to the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima and has since been granted asylum in that country.
Amazon Watch attributes the partial victory in this struggle to the efforts not just of of tens of thousands of Peruvians who put their bodies on the line over the last 70 days, but also to the tens of thousands of international supporters who helped focus the spotlight on the Peruvian government’s actions. So thank you to everyone who took part in the various calls to action! We’re introducing a new “partial success” category for our blog posts to help highlight these important milestones in our larger struggle.
As the indigenous people of the Amazon have noted, this is not the end of the struggle, just as it was not the beginning. You can still email the President of Peru or US Secretary of State and demand that all the contested Free Trade Laws be repealed.
And of course don’t forget to stick with the wider struggle to halt the expansion of globalized infrastructure and take down the system that brings genocide and devastation to every corner of the globe.
Previous Articles on the Peruvian Amazon:
Week of Action in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples in Peru (June 12, 2009)
Upcoming Peru Solidarity Protests (June 10, 2009)
Peru Update: Take Action! (June 7, 2009)
Action Alert: Stop Peruvian Infrastructure Push! (June 5, 2009)
Peruvian Police Murder Indigenous Protesters: Take Action! (June 5, 2009)
Peru Indigenous Holding Strong in Standoff (June 3, 2009)
Peru Indigenous In Standoff With Government (May 22, 2009)
Perenco to Drill for Oil in Territory of Uncontacted Indigenous (January 7, 2009)
Peru Indigenous Issue Oil Ultimatum (October 22, 2008)
Indigenous Victory in Peru! (August 24, 2008)
Temporary Truce in Indigenous Peru Standoff (August 21, 2008)
Peru Declares Martial Law Over Indigenous Protests (August 18, 2008)
Oil Pipeline Shut Down by Ongoing Peru Protests (August 17, 2008)
Indigenous Peruvians Seize Energy Infrastructure (August 12, 2008)