[News] PERU: Police Are Throwing Bodies in the River

Anti-Imperialist News 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 Peru’s Amazon jungle region 
in which both police officers and indigenous protesters were killed.

The authorities, who describe last Friday’s 
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 
country’s 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 Peru’s 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 humanity’s heritage," Walter 
Kategari, a member of the AIDESEP board of directors, told IPS.

Kategari forms part of AIDESEP’s new leadership, 
which was formed when the group’s 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 I’ve spoken to 
are very upset about that equally
they’re 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 that’s understandable, but, 
as the leaders I’ve 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 ombudsperson’s 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 ombudsperson’s 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 
García’s 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.

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