Thursday, May 14, 2009

Peru Declares State of Emergency, Deploys Special Forces to Break Up Indigenous Protests

/PRNewswire / -- In Peru, indigenous protests against recent government decrees affecting their land and resource rights continue to spread throughout the country. Amazon Watch has received several alarming reports of violent crackdowns against peaceful demonstrators by Special Forces after President Alan Garcia declared a state of emergency in the Cusco, Ucayali, Loreto and Amazonas regions over the weekend.

For the past month, indigenous peoples have blockaded roads and rivers throughout the Amazon to protest new decrees which make it easier to transfer indigenous peoples' land and resource rights to oil, mining, logging and agricultural companies to the detriment of local inhabitants. The decrees have also set the stage for the privatization of water resources.

In the town of Bagua in the Amazonas region near the border with Ecuador, there have been reports that on Sunday armed forces cracked down on peaceful Awajun and Huambis demonstrators on the Corral Quemado Bridge resulting in several serious injuries. Two people are reported missing.

Elsewhere, several thousand Shawi and Cocama Cocamillas have blockaded the road between Yurimaguas and Tarapoto, a major transport route.

Yesterday in Lima, Peru's Prime Minister, Yehude Simon met with leaders of AIDESEP, Peru's leading indigenous rights organization.

Last Friday 42 indigenous leaders staged a hunger strike in the Peruvian Congress to demand that the full legislature debate the repeal of the decrees and eight Peruvian Catholic bishops issued a statement saying the decrees were a "twisted concept of development" that "threaten to increase regional poverty" in the Amazon.

The Peruvian government has auctioned off huge swaths of indigenous lands to mining and energy concessions. During the month-long protest, the Garcia administration has signed contracts for another 15 oil concessions - the majority of them in the Amazon.

"The government has not defended us against the oil, mining and logging companies that continue to pollute our communities after they illegally entered our lands," said Alberto Pizango, the president of AIDESEP. "The government is not abiding by international treaties signed by Peru as well as our own Constitution."

"We urge the Garcia administration to refrain from using force and instead enter into meaningful talks with indigenous peoples to resolve their legitimate concerns," said Atossa Soltani, Executive Director of Amazon Watch.

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