José Calderón/ Perú
La llamada de Kelly Hear, periodista del The Washington Times, National Geographic News, World Politics Rewiew fue para mi toda una sorpresa. Estaba al tanto del trabajo conservacionisma que habíamos emprendido en la jungla peruana. Kelly viaja mucho. Estuvo antes cubriendo guerras en la ex Yugoeslavia, Georgia, China, y a lo mejor -me dijo- se iba a Iran. Llegó al Perú unos días antes en medio de su investigación de largo aliento que hacía con una beca de la fundación Pulitzer. Me presentó a Duncan McLean, un productor de Los Angeles muy bien ranqueado. Todos estábamos en lo mismo, en difundir PERIODISTICAMENTE el estado de las cosas en la Amazonía. Arreglamos un encuentro en Quillabamba, al nor este de Cusco, en la selva peruana. En la entrevista entendí que era para un documental acerca de la esencialidad misma de los nativos. También hablamos del tema coyuntural: la rebelión de los nativos en el norte y sur peruano, debido a que Kelly se encontró dos días antes de la matanza de los nativos Awajún-Wampis, en Bagua -selva norte del Perú- del 5 de junio de este año con Albeto Pizango, lider de la Asociación Interetnica Para el Desarrollo de la Amazonía Peruana (AIDESEP). Esto fue lo que escribió.
In Peru, Rainforest
Natives Block Land Decrees
30 Jun 2009 World Politics Review
QUILLABAMBA, Peru -- Carved into the dense Amazonian slopes of Peru's southern Andes, the sleepy Machiguenga Indian village of Andioshiari is a knot of dilapidated shacks where smoke rises off cooking fires as women go about their chores.
But on June 10, some 30 men, their faces streaked red with war paint, stood clutching bows and arrows. "President Garcia is a thief and a murderer who only cares about making money by selling our land and water," said one of them, Mario Silva.
The week before, on June 5, Silva and his neighbors dug up a natural gas pipeline and threatened to explode it, to protest land laws that make it easier for companies to develop rainforest lands.
The "social action," like dozens of others that have occurred in Peru since April 9, is meant to force Peru's Congress to roll back a set of land reforms, instituted through executive order by Peruvian President Alan Garcia. Issued in 2007 and 2008 but only coming into force in February, the laws loosen restrictions on developers and bring Peru into conformity with the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement.
President Garcia has stated publically several times that his government would not reconsider the reforms. But on June 5, the crisis turned deadly when police tried to break up a roadblock by natives in Bagua, the oil-rich section of Peru's northern Amazon. A violent melee left dozens of police and protestors dead. It also hardened native resolve to keep up the pressure.
In the aftermath of the violence, the government reversed its stance, throwing out two of the decrees on June 18. In response, native groups in northern Peru called off their strikes.
But other natives, drawn from Peru's 71 ethnic groups, have kept at it. In recent days, media reports cite protests in the central Andean city of Andahuaylas, the Inca citadel city of Cuzco, and a mining area called La Oroya in central Peru.
"Our people have suffered injustice for 500 years," said Plenio Katigari, an indigenous political activist who traverses the rivers and oil roads of southeastern Peru to rally the inhabitants of remote villagers to the cause. "We will not stop this strike until the government throws out all of these decrees. We will be peaceful, but if the government pushes us, we will respond."
Meanwhile, in Lima, where opposition groups blame Mr. Garcia's government for orchestrating the massacre in Bagua, lawmakers want answers. Congress is planning to censure Prime Minister Yehude Simon, who has promised he will resign from office in the coming weeks, once calm has been restored.
But that didn't keep Simon from issuing a message to native groups last week, via comments made to the press. "Don't threaten too much," he said, while negotiating with still-striking native groups in central Peru. "Don't think that the state or the government is weak."
The Laws in Question
In the jungle town of Quillabama, Alejandro Angulo, a mixed-blood Machiguenga Indian, stood in the central square near a flaming effigy of Peruvian President Alan Garcia.
"Garcia is a murderer and a thief. We are barely able to eat and he is selling our land and water to foreigners," he said, explaining his anger. "He will have problems if he doesn't throw out those decrees."
The most controversial measure, Decree 1090, dealt with forestry management, and is known in Spanish as the "law of the jungle." According to Jose Calderón Torres, editor of the agricultural trade magazine, Agro Negocios Peru, the decree opened up millions of acres of tierras eriazas (or rain forest land) already compromised by small-scale, slash-and-burn farming to developers.
"This law made land available for development for the first time," Torres said, adding that his investigations show that international biofuel companies were pushing the measure.
From the beginning, indigenous groups say legislators passed the land laws without consulting native organizations -- a procedural right embedded in the International Labor Organization's Convention 169, to which Peru is a signatory.
What's more, many still fear that laws which remain on the books will lead, for example, to unregulated biofuel plantations. These, they suspect, will sprawl beyond the already compromised lands and into the untouched, surrounding rain forests. And natives -- including Katigari, the activist -- say they remain on red alert. They recall that Decree 1090 was declared unconstitutional by a congressional committee in 2008 -- a ruling that the full Congress subsequently voted down.
The natives felt tricked. "If Congress does not live up to their promises, we will go back to the streets," Katigari said.
Meanwhile, supporters of the natives talk about how free-trade principals run counter to native ways. Lelis Riveras, head of a Lima-based native rights group known as CEDIA, says that the entire package of land reforms, taken together, make it easier to claim rainforest parcels as private property -- a notion at odds with native traditions of communal life.
"To begin with, indigenous people do not operate under the notion of private property," Riveras said.
What's more, native crop-farming practices consist of very small plots where manioc is planted. "Natives certainly are not going to have more than 20 acres," he added.
Riveras said that, while extremely remote native communities are allotted land on government maps, they often lack formal land titles to defend their claims when confronted by developers.
Kelly Hearn is a foreign correspondent to The Washington Times. His work has been funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, The Nation Institute and the North American Congress on Latin America.
Photo: A Peruvian policeman at a protest of rainforest natives, Bagua, Peru, June 7, 2009 (Flickr user powless, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License).