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Deadly Conflicts in Peru’s Amazon

Published: June 6, 2009, Author: MHirch

Indigenous groups do not want to accept plans that could completely change the way they hunt for food and raise crops. Development of the Amazon is a matter of life and death to the indigenous groups who have land titles to most of the areas coveted by companies for oil exploration. The cultural survival of about 30 thousand Indians in six Amazon provinces is at stake.

Therefore lowland Indians are now threatening to blunt President Alan García’s efforts to lure foreign investment to the region, demanding that Mr. García repeal decrees that have made it easier for companies to to enter the Amazon Basin and carry out major energy and logging projects in the Peruvian Amazon.
Indigenous groups have focused on thwarting larger projects like the building of five hydroelectric plants in Peru conceived without consulting those most directly impacted, indigenous groups who live in the forest.

For months now there has been heightening tension over intensifying protests by indigenous groups over plans to open vast tracts of rain forest to oil drilling, logging and hydroelectric dams. Protests have focused on interrupting petroleum production and transportation, blocking routes on important highways and rivers in the province of San Martin since April. The protests led by Alberto Pizango, a Shawi Indian are part of an increasingly well-orchestrated movement by indigenous groups similar to movements in Bolivia and Ecuador. It is the coordinated focus of the protests on energy installations, hitting the country where it hurts.

In San Martin province people are being hit with fuel shortages and are preparing for blackouts as the protests have disrupted oil production and pipelines, blocked commerce on roads and waterways, and halted flights at remote airports. While shortages of fuel and food have been reported in some jungle areas, the real concern is that the protests will succeed in cutting energy supplies to major coastal cities.

This weekend the situation escalated in Bagua leading to bloodshed after congress blocked an effort Thursday to allow debate on one of Mr. García’s most polemical decrees, which would open as much as 60 percent of Peru’s jungles to oil exploration and other extractive investments.
Initial accounts of the clashes varied within the country. Both sides are blaming the other to have started the open and deadly conflict, described as “genocide“ by indigenous groups. At least 11 policemen and 9 members of indigenous groups had been killed, 155 wounded in Friday’s clashes in Bagua threatening to deplete the legitimacy of Peru’s president Mr. García who already is hounded by former claims of human rights violations.

Interviews the last two days with people in Lima and Tarapoto showed their expressed support of resurgence movements. People are fed up with foreign companies making most of the profit while the majority of Peru’s inhabitants live in debasing conditions. Pepe, a taxi driver born in northern Peru close to the border to Ecuador comments, “The government does not care. They just talk. We do not get a proper education. How can we live? We survive. There is no responsibility.” Despite the country being very rich in natural resources, these resources are not managed by local groups in the best interest of the population as a whole. Society is deeply split with a high amount of foreign investors inhabiting secluded and protected areas while people coming from the sierra to the city to find employment live in abject poverty without water and electricity and extremely poor health conditions. Exposed to violence which is rampant. Making the country in many parts a very unsafe place to live. People feel threatened. Even taking a taxi involves unforseeable risks with brutal attacks by false taxi drivers and robbing if not killing of passengers. No cycliysts, no people walking or kids playing, no laughter on the streets of Lima. The feeling of fear is tangible.

How could anyone be surprized that in such a lived reality now there is a government resorting to using military force to spearhead development of the Amazon. Where is the general uproar in the population about the perceived injustice? Pepe explains, „We are all too busy with our own poor lives“.

However as the protests show there is a different vision of how Peru should develop. What is crucial is that not weapons talk but all different interest groups join in an open and honest discussion.

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