Revolutionary Indigenous Peru
Indigenous people from the Amazonian region of Peru are the heart of a movement battling with President Alan García over the country's direction. In early April, 30,000 Indigenous people began a blockade of roads, waterways, airports, and a state oil pipeline, shutting down the oil flow and stranding 41 oil and gas company ships. The protests started last year against laws decreed by García to implement Peru's free trade pact with the U.S., which would make it easier for foreign companies to take over Indigenous land. Communal lands and water are under threat of privatization for oil drilling, logging, mining, and plantations.
In May García declared a state of emergency, prompting a declaration of insurgency from the AIDESEP (Interethnic Peruvian Forest Development Association). This was followed May 27 by a national day of protest called by unions and social movement groups.
On June 5, the government pulled out all the stops in an effort to destroy the movement. Riot police and helicopters started shooting at 2,500 protesters non-violently blocking a highway near Bagua.
AT LEAST 40 INDIANS, including three children, were killed and many bodies were thrown into the Utcubamba River to cover up the killings, according to movement leaders.
Security forces then rampaged through nearby towns, including Bagua, where police snipers on rooftops shot into street crowds. In reprisal, buildings of the government and the ruling APRA party were destroyed. The government also imposed curfews in Amazonian towns and raided AIDESEP's office in Lima, 400 miles away. A few days later, the state shut down Radio Voz de la Selva (Voice of the Forest), a voice of Amazonian peoples.
In the aftermath of the state-sponsored violence, more than 250 people were missing, possibly dead. Children as young as four were shot. Hospital workers and other witnesses reported that police took many civilian wounded and dead from the hospitals, burning bodies to cover up the extent of the killings. Meanwhile, the President ran a campaign including paid television ads using anti-Indian racist code words like "ferocity and savagery" and accusing the Indigenous of starting the violence. Warning of "terrorist acts" and an "international Communist conspiracy," he compared the Indians to the Shining Path, Maoist guerrillas who committed many atrocities in the 1980s and 1990s, including against Indigenous communities. AIDESEP leader Alberto Pizango was forced to seek asylum in the Nicaraguan embassy to avoid sedition charges.
FOR MONTHS GARCIA HAS been accusing the Indigenous of opposing "development." In reality they want development, but have raised the question: what kind of development? What they do not want is "progress" that destroys their entire way of life, dispossesses them and undermines their cultural autonomy. The killings at García's initiative are an acute outbreak of the violence inherent in the capitalist type of "development" pushed by Peru's ruling class, centering on driving Indigenous and poor people off communal lands and small farms to open them up to intensive, eco-destructive exploitation by transnational corporations.
Faced with this vicious attempt to destroy their movement, thousands of native people armed with spears vowed to maintain highway blockades to defend their ancestral lands. Hundreds of thousands demonstrated across Peru on June 11, in conjunction with a general strike. Solidarity protests were held that day in Quito, Ecuador; Washington, D.C.; and several cities in Europe and Canada. In Lima 20,000 marched, chanting, "The forest is not for sale."
Thousands of Indigenous communities have built this movement, led from the local level in their own decision-making structures. They have raised the banner of another kind of development as against global capitalism's push to commodify all resources and reduce the population, aside from a small elite, to landless wage-workers or slum-dwellers without formal employment. An ever-growing number of other sectors of society have stirred in revolt alongside them, from highland peasants and Indians to labor unions and students. In his drive to open up the Amazonian areas to globally integrated capitalist exploitation, García has forced a showdown. If he fails to crush the movement, the door will be opened to a transformation far greater than his possible fall from power.
Published by News and Letters Committees