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Peru: a year and a Half after the Bagua Massacre: the Strategy of “the Leopard”1

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Peru: A Year and a Half after the Bagua Massacre: the Strategy of “the Leopard”1

By Frederica Barclay

Bagua shocked the nation with its tragic and needless death toll that resulted from the disproportionate and poor handling of a military operation, for which no one has assumed responsibility, and because the government of Alan García attempted to surreptitiously ignore the constitutional rights of the peoples indigenous to the Amazon region in favor of big private interests. After the events, the outrage of the citizens was proportional to the magnitude of the shock. The reaction of various bodies in charge of overseeing compliance with international human rights treaties, of which Peru is a signatory, was also immediate, and the country was subject to very serious criticism.

It was hoped that the government would mend its ways. That seemed to be the case when four roundtables were created with the objective of implementing the proposals that arose therefrom. Nevertheless, a year and a half later, it has become evident that "if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”2: the strategy of the leopard.

Roundtable 1 concluded with an official report of the commission created to investigate the events that occurred in Bagua. Far from explaining the causes of the conflict and establishing accountability, the report attributed the events to some instigators and the ignorance of the indigenous peoples. Although the government could not prevent the change of cabinet at the time, neither policymakers, nor those in charge of the military operation have been sanctioned at all after the "minority" report and at least two congressional reports on the same subject documented in detail the deficiencies of their performance. The government could have closed this chapter, if the nomination of its party's candidate for the presidential elections had not reminded everyone of the blood shed.

Roundtable 2 concluded with the agreement, which was subsequently limited by government officials, to reverse all the laws that had led to the protests in 2008 and 2009, which Congress had not yet repealed. However, several issues are still pending. Furthermore, the regime seems to be interested in preventing, by all means necessary, the new Forestry Act from being consulted. This is not surprising. Not only is Bill 04141/2009-PE in the hands of the Agriculture Committee of Congress, it has yet to offer the full guarantees of respect for the land of the indigenous peoples and does not have the intention of implementing the procedure of prior consultation, on which Roundtable 3 worked diligently and in good faith. The observation made by the government with respect to the consultation bill that Congress approved, the sole objective of which was to block it, does not exempt it from the obligation established in Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), but has served as validation to continue acting arbitrarily time and time again, despite the criticism of the Ombudsman.

"The clumsy attempts to create ghost indigenous organizations at the most critical time of the conflict have given way to the unlimited financing of parallel organizations without representation."
There is no other way to describe the recent oil block bid rounds that granted 13 new concessions in the Amazon region on indigenous territories and the announcement of the intention to grant 11 more through direct negotiations, creating the farce that the informative meetings comply with the fundamental obligation of consultation.

Even worse, proposals have now been made to eliminate the requirement of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) in hydroelectric projects, some of which would be developed on indigenous territories, until final concessions are granted. The list of post-Bagua projects to which the government has shown absolute leniency, including the proposal to allow a pipeline to cross the Megantoni National Sanctuary, is long. No less extensive is the list of issues agreed upon at Roundtable 4 in relation to a development plan for the Amazon region, with which the government has failed to comply.

But the lack of willingness of the government to mend its ways is not only evident from a regulatory and administrative standpoint. "The clumsy attempts to create ghost indigenous organizations at the most critical time of the conflict have given way to the unlimited financing of parallel organizations without representation." It is shameful that they are executed on the land of the Awajún people, a victim of the military operation of Bagua. The government has created an "Awajún Coordinator”, and none other than Admiral Giampietri (see photo) is behind it. His only purpose is to break wills, corrupt leaders and officials so that they accept mining projects and thus weaken the organizations that are determined to defend their land, while opponents are harassed. For the Awajún people, a lot is a stake. In addition to the mining concessions along the border, for which the government led by the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) party approved the reduction of the National Ichigkat Muja - Cordillera del Cóndor National Park, and Oil Block 116 that, with an area of 856,000 hectares, overlaps almost one hundred Awajún and Wampis communities of the Santiago, Cenepa, Nieva and Marañón rivers, it recently gave Block 165 in concession to Emerald Energy, while two more are still pending (172 and 163).

The consequences of this include a serious increase in conflicts that threatens social peace in this region. However, this style of working with government funding, previously implemented by oil companies, is also beginning to be seen in other areas, where projects, which are rejected by the indigenous population and their organizations, are being encouraged. We hope that another Bagua massacre is not around the corner.

Source: Published in the Ideele magazine of the Institute of Legal Defense.

1 The Leopard is a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa that chronicles the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento.

2 Idem

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