By Guest Contributor Ben Powless, originally posted at rabble
(Above: Police arrive with heavy reinforcements to forcefully remove demonstrators PHOTO: Thomas Quirynen)
The rhetoric was sharp enough to cut down Amazonian hardwoods. Yesterday, Sunday June 7th, after a number of ministers had been paraded out Saturday and the day before, Peru’s el Señor Presidente, Alan Garcia decided to make it personal. After a joint police-military operation aimed at stopping an Indigenous protest had gone awry, leaving many dead on both sides, Garcia declared the Indigenous elements to be standing in the way of progress, in the path of national development, wrenches in the gears of modernity, and part of an international conspiracy to keep Peru down. In a troubling statement on the resemblance of the Indigenous protesters to the infamous Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) armed insurrection, Garcia seemed to imply the Natives were a band of terrorists as he stood in front of hundreds of military officers in a nationally televised speech. He continued to decry the Indian barbarity and savagery, and called for all police and military to stand against savagery.
Clearly, the battle lines were being drawn. Garcia demonstrated he is not about to allow anything to get in the way of “our development” of the oil and mineral resources the Amazon has to offer. Especially by a bunch of confused savages (his words) who are pawns to the international market and to Indian elites and therefore have no real reason to be resisting. At this point, it was obvious he thought nothing of the Indigenous cause, and what they actually stood for. There is too much money to be extracted from oil, from minerals, from logging, and from possible agriculture in the Amazon region, the 2nd largest stretch outside of Brazil. All on land with less than 200,000 Indigenous people. All now supposed to be open for business, as a result of a series of laws passed under the auspices of Free Trade Agreements signed with both Canada and the United States.
(Above: Indigenous protestors confront the police on the highway outside Bagua PHOTO: Thomas Quirynen)
All those who lost their lives – certainly more than the 30 or so officially cited – have in the end given their lives for these free trade agreements and their domestic implementation. After wresting a concession from Congress – a la Bush – Garcia was able to push through 99 changes to the law of Peru. A number of these were ruled unconstitutional later, one dealing with property law standing out. Indigenous groups disputed from the beginning that these laws threatened the integrity of the Amazon, its cultural and biological diversity. Since the beginning, they were ignored. Living up to their Amazonian warrior mythology, they decided to take action.
Protests have lasted now over 50 days, only recently erupting into bloodshed when Garcia suspended civil liberties, declared a state of emergency, and decided to send in the military to end the dispute. This was all done in the name of Garcia’s idea of ‘democracy,’ which should be farcical to anyone who has the least idea what democracy means. Indigenous groups have maintained they want to be included in this so-called democracy, meaning they have a say over what happens in their lands, and that their rights be respected. This is clearly within international law now, after the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was approved two years ago.
(Above: Police take away so called Indigenous ‘terrorist’ PHOTO: Thomas Quirynen)