LIMA – Amid heavy security measures, organizations representing Indians from the Peruvian Amazon region on Monday resumed their peaceful marches as part of a campaign to defend their rights, the first such action nationwide after the violent confrontations that left 34 people dead last June.
Those organizations, including the umbrella group Aidesep, reject the government report about last year’s incidents and are asking for the return of their leader Alberto Pizango, who fled to Nicaragua after being charged in connection with those events.
The protesters are also demanding that Peru respect an International Labor Organization pact that requires signatory governments to consult the indigenous peoples about decisions related to their ancestral rights to certain tracts of land.
Clashes that erupted last June in the Amazonian town of Bagua left 24 police and 10 Indians dead, although relatives of the victims and human rights groups said dozens of civilians were killed and their bodies were incinerated or dumped in rivers.
The protests ended after Peru’s Congress – acting on a request by President Alan Garcia – voted overwhelmingly on June 18 to repeal the two most contentious laws aimed at opening the Amazon region to development.
Some 4,000 elite police were deployed Monday in Bagua, where the protesters planned to hold a sit-in.
In Lima, about 500 Indians marched through Lima during the afternoon carrying posters and placards on which could be read slogans such as “Long live the Amazon struggle” and “Let’s save our planet.”
In Lima, “apu” (chief) Saul Puerta accused the government of provocation and carrying out “psychological pressure” in remarks to Efe, adding that many Indians did not participate in the marches out of fear that the army troops deployed to prevent the blocking of highways and strategic installations would crack down on them.
The protests of 2009 put on the table the great dichotomy that exists in Peru, where on the one hand the government is aiming to foster investment in the Amazon region, including with big petroleum and lumber interests, and on the other hand, the Indians are demanding that their property rights to the land in the area be respected.
After last year’s violence, Congress overturned two of the laws rejected by the jungle communities and the executive branch set up an investigative commission, following the recommendations of the U.N. special rapporteur for the indigenous peoples, James Anaya.
But when the commission’s report was released in mid-January, after four months of work, the Amazon communities refused to sign it saying that the document was a whitewash of the police role in the confrontation. EFE