Indigenous Protests in the Amazon

There has been an overwhelming amount of important news coming out of the Peruvian Amazon recently. We have tried to take all the information from a variety of sources and explain the situation here: Indigenous communities in the Amazon began to protest on April 9th and continue to the present. The protests have been widespread, taking place in every major department in the Amazon region. Generally, the protests have been directed at blocking major transportation routes (highways, railroads, and especially rivers and tributaries). In one case it was reported that the Anglo French company Perenco managed to break through the blockade, and they allegedly fired shots at indigenous protesters who followed them. Much of the protests have been directed at oil and gas companies. Reuters recently reported that the protests had forced Petroperu to shut down its oil pipeline, which usually pumps 40,000 barrels/day. Protesters have taken over the number six pumping station at the Bayovar Terminal Station on the North Peruvian oil pipeline and are threatening to take over the number 5 station as well. What are the protests about? Most specifically these protests are about a set of legislative decrees that the government passed in order to facilitate the free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States (US). (The Legislative Decrees are 994, 1020, 1060, 1064, 1080, 1089, 1090; and a newly passes forestry law and a water law, 29317). The decrees are problematic for several reasons: 1) Many specialists and lawyers argue that they are unconstitutional because many of them (there are 99 in all) are not directly related to the FTA with the US. Under the Peruvian Constitution, the Executive branch is given the power to make legislative decrees in order to facilitate the implementation of the FTA. It is unconstitutional because some of these decrees in no way affect the FTA. In other words, the FTA does not require them. This, for many, is evidence that the president is interested in fundamentally changing the development model and not just simply conducting free trade with the US. 2) These decrees are also unconstitutional because indigenous peoples were never consulted, which is a violation of ILO 169, to which Peru is a party. 3) In terms of content, the decrees are part of the president’s attempt to open up natural resources (oil and gas, forests, water, minerals, etc.) for exploitation. Garcia believes fundamentally that the solution for Peru lies in using big business and big capital to develop the region. These decrees, therefore, are generally designed to make it easier for large capital investments to come in and development resources. Here are some of the specifics: 994, 1064, and 1089 promote the adjudication of land to third parties. This is especially true for communities that do not have their land titled and those that want to extend their land. They promote the division of community land and the disappearance of community properties. (Legislative Decrees 1015 and 1073, repealed last August, did just that). 1020 encourages small land holders (i.e. Indigenous communities) to sell to large land holders, favoring the consolidation of land into large landholders. 1064, somewhat unclear, seems to impose on the owners of farm land the legal obligation to establish servitude (easement) to the benefit of mining, petroleum, and other extractive industries. 1089 put the job of titling indigenous communities in the hands of COFOPRI for four years (most say they don’t have the capacity to do this), which could potentially reduce indigenous landholdings. 1090 and 1064 allow forest areas that have been deforested to become agrarian land or fallow land that can, then, be used for activities that are not forest related. In general, many of the decrees expand the very definition of agriculture, including forests as “idle or fallow” land. 1064 removes the obligation for extractive companies to reach an agreement with the owner of the land. This is a violation of ILO 169. This is the key part concerning the FTA with the US. According to some, the “environmental provisions” that were promoted by the Democratic representatives of the US Congress are weak, or have been substantially weaken by these decrees. The Garcia administration is, according to one specialist, “taking advantage of the implementation of the FTA,” to carry out a profound political, legal, and institutional reform, which has facilitated the access to natural resources without considering environmental and social standards. The objective of US congressional members was to improve environmental protection mechanisms in trade agreements. 1064, 1081, 1083, 1090 and probably others all weaken the environmental provision in the FTA agreement. State of emergency. On May 9, 2009 the government declared as state of emergency in diverse districts in the departments of Loreto, Ucayali, Amazonas, and Cusco. This was, according to El Comerico, “to reestablish public order before acts of violence that place in jeopardy the production, transportation, and distribution of natural gas and hydrocarbons.” This means that the government would suspend constitutional rights in reference to liberty and personal security, the inviolability of home, freedom of assembly and transit. For what it is worth, the state of emergency was made in direct reference to petroleum and gas development. State of insurgency. Indigenous peoples (led by AIDESEP) responded with what they are calling a “state of insurgency.” This basically means that indigenous peoples will not recognize the authority of the current government. This is a quote from Pizango, “Declaramos a nuestros pueblos indígenas amazónicas en insurgencia contra el gobierno del presidente Garcia. Nuestras leyes ancestrales pasarán a ser obligatorias en nuestros territorios y consideraciones una agresión cualquier fuerza externa que quiera ingresar.” This decision is based on their constitutional right to not recognize a government that is violating the Peruvian constitution. The state of emergency and the subsequent state of insurgency provoked or has led to military presence in the areas of protest. The state of emergency provoked military intervention and the state of insurgency intensifies the prospects for a violent confrontation. There have been quite a few declarations from state official (Minister Brack, El Premier Yehude Simon, and Garcia), even declaring that a call to a state of insurgency is an act of insurrection. May 19, 2009. Legislative decree 1090 (known as the Forestry Law) has been declared as unconstitutional. This is good news for the indigenous communities who knew it would have negatively affected the “sustainability of the Amazon, led to deforestation of the forest for petroleum development, and put indigenous peoples in danger” according to a press release from AIDESEP. One thing that Americans can do is call their congresspeople and let them know about what is happening in Peru as a direct result of the Free Trade Agreement between Peru and the United States. You can use the points listed above as talking points when calling your representatives. The more of us that call the more likely it will be that congress can put some pressure on the Garcia government to stop these unconstitutional legislative decrees in the name of complying with the Peru-US FTA. To get the contact information for your local congresspeople, click here.