Peruvian National Indigenous Movement and Policy

Bagua and Criminalization

Bagua: One Year After Violent Clashes in Peru, Situation for Indigenous Rights Little Improved

June 5th, 2010 marked the one-year anniversary of the violent clashes in Bagua and Oil Pumping Station 6, which resulted in 34 deaths and dozens suffering serious wounds over the 5th and 6th of June 2009. The incident was sparked when the Peruvian government sent military police to suppress peaceful indigenous protesters who were blocking a road near the Amazonian town of Bagua. Even though the protesters had already reached an agreement with police to disperse later that morning, the police attacked. Indigenous communities had been protesting across the Peruvian Amazon for almost two months in response to Peruvian President Alan Garcia's announcement of a series of legislative decrees designed to roll back indigenous land rights and open up the last vestiges of the Peruvian Amazon to destructive oil and gas drilling. Government officials had claimed the new decrees were required for the implementation of the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement.

Many Peruvians came together to commemorate the anniversary of this tragic event and to assess the current state of indigenous rights in Peru. Amazon Watch was on the ground immediately following the 2009 clashes, and again in 2010 to help bring indigenous voices to the international media.

Criminalization of Indigenous Leaders and Social Protest

Another major concern is the government's pursuit of baseless criminal charges against numerous indigenous leaders. Alberto Pizango, the President of AIDESEP who returned to Peru following almost a year in exile in Nicaragua. While Pizango was released within 24 hours of his immediate detention, the serious charges against him have not been dropped. Over 200 criminal cases are still pending against indigenous leaders across the country, most arising out of the events of Bagua. According to Peruvian human rights experts, the criminal cases are based on unfounded, politically motivated charges and appear to represent a government strategy to weaken the indigenous movement by criminalizing indigenous leaders and legitimate social protest.

Amazon Watch is working to support indigenous leaders in fighting these baseless charges. Trials are expected to begin in September 2010, and those accused need support in order to prevail in Peru's biased, and often compromised, judicial system.

Legislative Reforms

Indigenous peoples have faced numerous challenges in recent years as the Peruvian government continues a policy that marginalizes and discriminates against them while aggressively promoting the extraction of natural resources in the Amazon. The tragic clashes in Bagua in 2009 occurred as a result of protests over new laws unilaterally passed by President Alan Garcia in 2008 that instituted major changes to land rights and forestry, in the name of ensuring compliance with the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement. Following the clashes, the government responded to international pressure by establishing four discussion roundtables to investigate what happened, analyze the problematic legislation, develop a consultation law and prepare an indigenous development policy.

Unfortunately, while some important advances were made, the government reacted by criminalizing indigenous leaders and their supporters and denying responsibility for what happened in Bagua. Nor has the Peruvian government implemented the legislative reforms recommended by the post-Bagua roundtables. In Spring 2010, the Peruvian Congress approved a bill mandating consultation by the government with indigenous peoples on any proposed projects that would affect their territories. The law represented months of hard work to achieve consensus between indigenous groups and government officials, but President Garcia sent the law back and refused to sign it. The Garcia government has come under increasing fire within the United Nations for failing to fulfill its obligations under international law and implement a legal process to consult with indigenous peoples.

Amazon Watch will continue to work with AIDESEP, the national Amazonian indigenous federation, in the long-term struggle for justice on behalf of indigenous peoples. We will help to build capacity within AIDESEP and the regional indigenous federations in communications and advocacy. This will include providing advocacy training and information about new threats; channeling small grants to their organizations; supporting national and international advocacy efforts, as well as legal action when appropriate; hosting indigenous delegations to the U.S. and disseminating their stories and images to the international press to build support for their claims.

Hydrocarbon Expansion in the Peruvian Amazon

In the last seven years, Peru has established more than 100,000 square miles of new oil and gas concessions, an area almost two-thirds the size of California. All of the new concessions overlap indigenous lands and over half of all indigenous territories across the Amazon now lie within an oil or gas concession, despite widespread indigenous opposition to oil drilling in their territories.

In February 2010, Perupetro confirmed plans to auction another 19 hydrocarbon concessions in the Amazon. The addition of these new concessions means that two-thirds of the Peruvian Amazon was targeted for oil and gas drilling. These plans were met with significant resistance, however, and prompted the International Labor Organization of the United Nations to request that the Peruvian government "suspend the exploration and exploitation of natural resources which are affecting [indigenous peoples]" until the government has developed and implemented consultation and participation mechanisms in compliance with the ILO Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples.

The Peruvian government blatantly ignored this request, despite numerous indigenous communities directly condemning the government's consultation efforts as inadequate and rejecting the new bid round. In May 2010, Perupetro elaborated on its plans, revealing that far more of the Amazon was at risk than had originally been stated. Though Perupetro had previously announced that it would open 19 hydrocarbon concessions, the new bid round eventually included 25 concessions for oil drilling and exploration, which means that a total of three quarters of the Peruvian Amazon is now covered by oil and gas concessions.

In its rush to sell off the Amazon, the Peruvian government has failed to address the underlying causes of the Amazon-wide protests in 2009. Amazon Watch, along with other national and international human rights groups, fear that this new oil bidding round will serve to provoke further conflict as Peru continues to flout its international obligation to consult with indigenous peoples.

Amazon Watch supports Peruvian indigenous organizations challenging oil and gas development projects imposed on their communities and territories without their prior consent in violation of their internationally recognized rights to defend their lands, determine their own development and live according to their own cultures.

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