[News] PERU: Police Are Throwing Bodies in the River
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 9 17:13:14 EDT 2009
PERU: Police Are Throwing Bodies in the River, Say Native Protesters
Written by Milagros Salazar
Tuesday, 09 June 2009
(IPS) - There are conflicting reports on a
violent incident in Perus Amazon jungle region
in which both police officers and indigenous protesters were killed.
The authorities, who describe last Fridays
incident as a "clash" between the police and
protesters manning a roadblock, say 22 policemen
and nine civilians were killed.
But leaders of the two-month roadblock say at
least 40 indigenous people, including three
children, were killed and that the authorities
are covering up the massacre by throwing bodies in the river.
And foreign activists on the scene in the town of
Bagua, in the northern province of Amazonas,
report that the police opened fire early in the
morning on the unarmed protesters, some of whom
were still sleeping, and deliberately mowed them
down as they held up their arms or attempted to flee.
In response, the activists quote eyewitnesses as
saying, another group of indigenous people who
were farther up the hill seized and killed a
number of police officers, apparently in "self-defence."
National ombudswoman Beatriz Merino reported
Sunday night that at least 24 police and 10
civilians had been killed, and that 89 indigenous
people had been wounded and 79 arrested. But the figures continue to grow.
"We have killed each other, Peruvians against
Peruvians," lamented indigenous leader Shapion
Noningo, the new spokesman for the Peruvian
Rainforest Inter-Ethnic Development Association
(AIDESEP) - which groups 28 federations of
indigenous peoples - said Sunday night.
AIDESEP has led the protests that began two
months ago, which have included blockades of
traffic along roads and rivers and occupations of
oil industry installations in various provinces.
A few hours earlier, President Alán García had
said there was "a conspiracy afoot to try to keep
us from making use of our natural wealth." He was
referring to the fierce opposition by the
countrys native peoples to 10 decrees issued by
his government that open up indigenous land to
private investment by oil, mining and logging
companies and to agribusiness, including biofuel plantations.
The decrees, which were passed by the government
under special powers received from Congress to
facilitate implementation of Perus free trade
agreement with the United States, are considered
unconstitutional by the indigenous protesters. A
legislative committee also recommended last December that they be overturned.
On Thursday, Jun. 4, governing party lawmakers
suspended a debate on one of the decrees, the
"forestry and wildlife law", fuelling the demonstrators anger.
"In whose interest is it for Peru not to use its
natural gas; in whose interest is it for Peru not
to find more oil; in whose interest is it for
Peru not to exploit its minerals more effectively
and on a larger-scale? We know whose interests
this serves," said García. "The important thing
is to identify the ties between these
international networks that are emerging to foment unrest."
The president blamed the conflict on
"international competitors," but without naming names.
Two neighbouring countries that are major
producers of natural gas and oil, Venezuela and
Bolivia, are governed by left-wing
administrations that have been vociferous critics
of "neoliberal" free trade economic policies like
those followed by the García administration.
"We will not give in to violence or blackmail,"
said the president, who maintained that Peru "is
suffering from subversive aggression" fed by
opponents who "have taken the side of extreme savagery."
A large number of the traffic blockades on roads
and rivers are in the northern and northeastern
provinces of Loreto, San Martín and Amazonas,
which have large natural gas reserves.
According to the 1993 census, indigenous people
made up one-third of the Peruvian population. But
more recent estimates put the proportion at 45
percent, with most of the rest of the population
of 28 million being of mixed-race heritage.
In Loreto, indigenous protesters reportedly
attempted to occupy installations belonging to
the Argentine oil company Pluspetrol. The company
said it had closed down activity on its 1AB lot, to avoid violent clashes.
Business associations estimate the losses caused
by the protests at more than 186 million dollars.
The government is broadcasting a television spot
showing images of dead policemen, along with
messages like: "This is how extremism is acting
against Peru"; "extremists encouraged from abroad
want to block progress in Peru"; and "we must
unite against crime, to keep the fatherland from
backsliding from the progress made."
Leaders of the indigenous protests say the
government is manipulating information and
blaming them for incidents that could have been
avoided if Congress had repealed the decrees that
sparked the first native "uprising" in August
2008, which flared up again in April this year.
"The government is underreporting the number of
indigenous people killed and missing. It is
insulting us and treating us like criminals, when
all we are doing is defending ourselves and our
territory, which is humanitys heritage," Walter
Kategari, a member of the AIDESEP board of directors, told IPS.
Kategari forms part of AIDESEPs new leadership,
which was formed when the groups top leader,
Alberto Pizango, went into hiding after a warrant
for his arrest was put out on Saturday. Pizango said he fears for his life.
The leaders of the indigenous movement are
demanding that the curfew prohibiting people from
leaving their homes in Bagua between 3:00 PM and
6:00 AM be lifted. According to Kategari, the
curfew is being used to conceal the bodies of the Indians who were killed.
"Our brothers and sisters in Bagua say the police
have been collecting the bodies, putting them in
black bags and throwing them in the river from a
helicopter," Kategari told IPS. "The government
cannot make our dead disappear."
There is great insecurity and fear in the jungle,
he added. "People are calling us on the
telephone, desperate." He said he is preparing a
list of victims based on the names he has been
given by people in Bagua, to counteract the official reports.
Gregor MacLennan, programme coordinator for the
international organisation Amazon Watch, said
"All eyewitness testimonies say that Special
Forces opened fire on peaceful and unarmed
demonstrators, including from helicopters,
killing and wounding dozens in an orchestrated
attempt to open the roads. "It seems that the
police had come with orders to shoot. This was
not a clash, but a coordinated police raid with
police firing on protesters from both sides of
their blockade," added the activist, speaking
from the town of Bagua. "Today I spoke to many
eyewitnesses in Bagua reporting that they saw
police throw the bodies of the dead into the
Marañon river from a helicopter in an apparent
attempt by the government to underreport the
number of indigenous people killed by police,"
said MacLennan, in an Amazon Watch statement.
"Hospital workers in Bagua Chica and Bagua Grande
corroborated that the police took bodies of the
dead from their premises to an undisclosed location," he added.
According to MacLennan, shortly before the
killings in Bagua, the police chief and mayors
met with the indigenous leaders, and the police
chief said he had orders to dismantle the roadblock.
Early Friday morning, the activist told Amy
Goodman in an interview on the Democracy Now
radio programme, an estimated 500 police bore
down on the protesters at the roadblock, some of
whom were still sleeping, and opened fire.
MacLennan said a local leader told him that
demonstrators kneeling down with their hands up
were directly shot by the police. After that, he
said, the police continued firing as the demonstrators attempted to flee.
With respect to the deaths of the policemen, he
said "All the indigenous people Ive spoken to
are very upset about that equally
theyre all Peruvians, and they all have
families. It appears that as the police were
attacking this huge group of indigenous
some people came down from the mountains,
who were sleeping up there, and jumped on the
police and killed some of the police in
self-defence, an act thats understandable, but,
as the leaders Ive spoken to say, not excusable."
He said the indigenous leaders want a
"transparent" investigation and for all of those
responsible for the killings to be brought to justice.
Unconstitutional government decrees
AIDESEP spokesman Noningo said "the political
system has fomented this confrontation." He
pointed out that a multi-party legislative
commission recommended in December that the decrees be repealed.
The congressional constitution committee also
said the "forestry and wildlife law", which
according to critics endangers the rainforest
that is home to the indigenous groups, is unconstitutional.
On Thursday Jun. 4, the ombudspersons office
filed a lawsuit against the law, alleging that it
is unconstitutional and that it undermines
indigenous peoples rights to cultural identity,
collective ownership of their land, and prior consultation.
Under the Peruvian constitution and International
Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169,
indigenous groups must be previously consulted
with respect to any investment projects in their territory.
The "forestry and wildlife law", whose stated aim
is to "create the necessary conditions for
private sector investment in agriculture,"
violates the property rights of indigenous
communities, according to the ombudspersons office.
But the president of Congress, Javier Velásquez
Quesquén, said the legislators will not give in
to "blackmail" by indigenous people.
Sociologist Nelson Manrique at the Pontificia
Universidad Católica, a private university in
Lima, said "the indigenous protesters are being
accused of asking for too much because they are
demanding compliance with the constitution, when
it is the government that is breaking the law by
refusing to revoke the decrees."
The analyst told IPS that the arguments set forth
by the authorities are like those of the ruling
elites, who "use two stereotypes in their
depictions of indigenous people: the manipulated
savage who cannot argue anything in legal terms
because he is incapable of thinking, or the
bloody, irrational savage who is a threat to the country.
"With this discourse, the government feeds into
old racist prejudices that have deep roots in
Peruvian society: that of the uncivilised,
inferior native. And democracy is impossible with
a view like this," said Manrique.
He said the controversial decrees form part of
Garcías free trade political agenda based on promoting foreign investment.
Manrique supports the indigenous groups demand
for an independent commission to investigate what
happened in Bagua, saying it was hard to believe
that police armed with AKM assault rifles simply
fell prey to indigenous people armed with bows
and arrows and homemade weapons.
Wilfredo Ardito, lawyer for the Asociación Pro
Derechos Humanos human rights association, told
IPS that international bodies should intervene,
because "there is a climate of total distrust and
fear that evidence of the massacre will be hidden."
Ardito said that since García took office in July
2006, there have been 84 reports of deaths of
protesters or extrajudicial killings by the
security forces. "This is a regime that
undermines human rights and that is doing nothing
to redress its errors," said the legal expert.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the News