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PERU
The Amazon stands up
5/6/2009
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Amazonian indigenous peoples fight for land rights.

Fuel and other supplies destined for extractive industry companies in Peru´s jungle interior were cut off after thousands of the country´s Amazonian indigenous peoples launched an indefinite strike on April 9 to demand the government overturn a series of decrees that seek to facilitate investment here.

The decrees, passed last year by President Alan Garcia as a requirement to implement the free trade agreement with the United States, seek to open up the Amazon to large land concessions for mining, oil and forestry companies. Some of these coincide with indigenous lands and natural reserves, and even Peru´s own borders. Peruvian law prohibits foreign investment within border zones.

Different Amazonian peoples have blocked the main rivers in the jungle, including the Napo, Amazon and Putumayo Rivers, blocking riverboats from oil companies. They also occupied an airport in the Ucayali department, near the border with Brazil, and took over two posts of state-run oil company Petroperu near the border with Ecuador.

“These protests are a response to the government´s policies that indigenous peoples consider discriminatory and a threat to their communal lands,” said the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Amazon, the country´s largest umbrella Amazonian indigenous organization.

The indigenous groups are demanding constitutional reform that establishes the inalienability of their lands and legislation that requires their previous consultation before their lands are sold or used, a key aspect of the International Labor Organization´s Convention 169 on indigenous rights.

Historian Antonio Zapata wrote in La República daily that the most “extreme” example of the violation of indigenous lands is logging. “It turns out that between the trees to be chopped down live people, animals, and a complex and fragile ecosystem.”

In his column, he said that if these forests are chopped down “the natural and human life that has lived here since before we can remember, will end.”

Following similar demonstrations last August, the government agreed to overturn two of these legislative decrees that relaxed the indigenous communities´ approval percentage required for their lands to be concessioned off and eased the requirements for the sale of indigenous lands.

Lawmakers then said they would review the other decrees, but this has not yet happened, and early this year, they passed a controversial “Forest Law” that promotes natural resource extraction in the Amazon.
—Latinamerica Press.


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