Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Peru Suspends Decree That Fueled Amazon Violence

compiled from reports by Agence France Presse, Indymedia, and Democracy Now!
Peruvian lawmakers suspended one of several controversial laws that eased restrictions on lumber harvesting in the Amazon rain forest, days after it sparked clashes between police and indigenous protesters, killing dozens of people.

The legislature agreed by a 59 to 49 vote to suspend Decree 1090 -- dubbed the "Law of the Jungle" -- that covers forestry and fauna in Peru's northeastern Amazon rain forest, said Javier Velasquez, the head of Peru's single-chamber Congress.

Ten decrees opening indigenous lands to resource extraction are vehemently opposed by the approximately half-million Indians of 65 ethnic groups who live there. They see the development of the jungle as an assault on their way of life and have been holding protests since April across the region. The decrees were issued in 2007 and 2008 by Peruvian president Alan Garcia to bring Peruvian regulations in synch with conditions imposed by the US-Peruvian Free Trade Act.

The Amazon protest peaked Friday and Saturday when some 400 police officers moved in to clear protesters blocking a highway near the northern city of Bagua. Protesters fought back. According to Indymedia, a raid by police to free 38 police hostages taken by protesters resulted in the deaths of nine of the hostages. (AFP reports that the hostages were killed by the protestors). Subsequent reports on Indymedia say that as many as 84 protesters have been killed, with another 150 arrested.

The decrees were originally to be suspended for 90 days, but in the final vote legislators agreed on an indefinite suspension "to negotiate without pressure," said Aurelio Pastor, a legislator with
President Alan Garcia's APRA party.

Angry legislators with the opposition Nationalist Party (PNP) called for the decrees to be overturned, and waved signs as they held a protest in the chamber after the vote.

"No to transnational (corporations) in the Amazon," read one sign. "The land and water are not for sale," read another.

The vote suspending the decree is seen as a compromise allowing the government to resume talks with the protesting indigenous groups who have been blocking key regional highways, said spokesmen for legislators that voted for the measure.

The vote also comes on the eve of a strike called by the country's powerful leftist labor umbrella group, the General Confederation of Workers of Peru (CGTP). Other protest marches, including those held by indigenous protesters in Amazon cities and towns, are planned in Peru's main cities.

Internationally, groups supporting the protesters are calling for solidarity protests at Peruvian consulates and embassies and revocation of the Peru FTA. Amazon Watch asks individuals to send protest emails to key people in the Peruvian government through this link:

Meanwhile some 3,000 Indians from 25 ethnic groups continue to block a key Amazon highway linking the cities of Tarapoto and Yurimaguas, some 700 kilometers (435 miles) north of Lima.

"We want an immediate derogation of those laws," said Segundo Pizango, an apu -- indigenous leader -- at a roadblock near Yurimaguas.

The repercussions of the violence have rocked the government, with Women's Affairs Minister Carmen Vildoso resigning Monday in protest over the government's crackdown, and Prime Minister Yehude Simon planning to resign at a future date when protests ease.

The crisis even extended its reach to foreign affairs after Nicaragua granted political asylum to Alberto Pizango, the main indigenous protest leader, who earlier took refuge in Managua's
embassy in Lima. The Garcia administration has issued an arrest warrant for Pizango on charges of sedition, conspiracy and rebellion.

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