On June 5, protesters across Peru commemorated the anniversary of the government’s massacre last year of peaceful indigenous protesters who had blockaded a road in opposition to laws opening the Amazon up for large-scale resource exploitation. The official death toll was 33 (10 indigenous people plus 23 police officers later killed in retaliation), but local reports have contested this figure, alleging as many as 84 killed. One protester, Major Felipe Bazán Caballero, remains missing to this day. Following widespread social unrest in response to the massacre, the government eventually repealed four of the contested laws.
Early this summer, it appeared that the Peruvian government might be getting ready to soften its position on Amazon resource exploitation. A parliamentary commission on the Bagua conflict concluded that the indigenous people had been in the right, and on May 19, the Peruvian parliament approved the Consultation Law, requiring that locals be consulted as part of the approval process for any resource-exploiting projects. The law was hailed as a victory by indigenous social movements.
In the same week, however, the government announced a rash of new oil concessions across the Amazon. Representatives of the oil and gas ministry have begun touring European capitals, announcing 10.6 million ha (26 million acres) in new concessions.
“The Garcia administration does not seem to have learned the harsh lessons of Bagua,” said Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch. “The government [has] intensified its assault on indigenous rights by offering yet more indigenous territory to foreign oil corporations so that half of all indigenous lands in the Peruvian Amazon now fall within oil concessions.”
Only days later, indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, who fled to Nicaragua during the Bagua uprising, returned to Peru in defiance of an outstanding warrant on sedition charges. He was immediately arrested, but was released on bail later that day. Pizango promptly issued a public statement condemning the government’s new oil push, especially condemning oil company Perenco for denying the existence of “uncontacted” indigenous nations in areas it has slated for a new oil pipeline.
According to an article published on GroundReport:
“Perenco recently revealed it has transported, by helicopter, ‘more than 50,000 tons of material and consumables, the equivalent of seven Eiffel Towers’ into the region. The company denies the tribes’ existence, although, in a ‘contingency plan’ presented to Peru’s Energy Ministry earlier this year, it recommended that its workers, in certain instances, ‘scare and repel’ the Indians if contact is made.”
On June 1, while Peruvian President Alan García was meeting with U.S. president Barack Obama, two women chained themselves to the White House fence, while protesters rallied across the street in support of their call for an end to resource extraction without indigenous consent.
Then on June 19, Argentinian company Pluspetrol spilled hundreds of barrels of oil into the Maranon river in the Peruvian Amazon, marking the company’s 78th spill in the region in the last four years.
Two days later, García announced his refusal to sign the Consultation Law, returning it to Congress with his objections. García is demanding that the law be modified to allow the government to override indigenous peoples’ objections to development projects. He also wishes to exclude Andean indigenous peoples from the consultation requirement.
“President García has missed a huge opportunity to show Peruvians and the world that his government is willing to respect indigenous peoples rights and willing to bring Peru closer in line with international norms,” Soltani said. “García has taken another step backwards in repairing relations with indigenous peoples and demonstrated yet again his administration’s deeply troubling policies towards the country’s original inhabitants.”
Congress can override García’s de facto veto by a majority vote. Indigenous, environmental, and civil society groups are encouraging it to do so.
The assault on the Amazon continues. On June 22, Garcia and Brazilian President “Lula” da Silva signed an agreement for the construction of six hydroelectric dams in the Peruvian Amazon to supply more than 6000 MW of electricity to Brazil.
According to International Rivers:
“One of the first projects to be built under the accord would be the Paquitzapango Dam on the Ene River, which would impact close to 17,000 Ashaninka indigenous people and threaten the Ashaninka Communal Reserve, as well as the Otishi National Park, both of which are legally protected areas. …
“The Inambari Dam on the Madre de Dios River is also likely to constructed under the bilateral accord signed yesterday… . Inambari would flood more than 46,000 hectares of land, which would leave more than 15,000 people without agricultural lands.”
The dams are likely to face legal as well as on-the-ground challenges in Peru.
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)