Peru’s Amazonian indigenous people have announced the creation of their own political party and will contest the presidential elections in April 2011.
The indigenous people clashed with Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s government in 2009 to defend their ancestral lands in the largest indigenous uprising in recent history.
The Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP), Peru’s largest and most representative indigenous organisation, announced the formation of the Alliance for an Alternative for Humanity party (Alianza para la Alternativa de la Humanidad — APHU).
The announcement came shortly after the one-year anniversary of Garcia’s violent crackdown on thousands of indigenous protesters near the town of Bagua Grande on June 5, 2009.
Indigenous communities were protesting against a series of government decrees in line with the US-Peru Free Trade-Agreement that opened up their ancestral lands to exploitation by oil, mining, timber and agribusiness companies and undermined constitutionally recognised consultation processes.
The Bagua massacre — as the crackdown became known — left at least 34 dead, including police and protesters, and unknown numbers of indigenous people disappeared. Bagua sparked national and international condemnation.
AIDESEP president Alberto Pizango — despite not being present at the Bagua protests — was charged with “conspiracy, sedition and rebellion” and was forced to flee the country and seek asylum in Nicaragua.
The crisis caused the entire ministerial cabinet to resign and forced the government to repeal some of its most controversial decrees.
But indigenous activists say the government is still illegally auctioning exploration licences in the Amazon, without consultation or agreement from indigenous communities.
Political persecution of indigenous leaders continues. In November 2009, the Ministry of Justice issued a request to dissolve AIDESEP, but promptly backed away when the move sparked a public backlash.
The government has also tried to create alternatives to AIDESEP that agree with its neoliberal agenda, and to promote fake “consultation” processes with indigenous communities to ensure outcomes that favour transnational companies.
Pizango, who returned to Peru on May 26 to fight the government’s trumped up charges and spoke at the August 11 press conference, condemned the government’s attempt to divide the indigenous movement.
The new party was created by indigenous people but it will “attempt to embrace all the citizens of Peru who defend the forests, nature and life on Earth”, he said.
The party’s platform is based on three main points: peace, sovereignty and land rights; education and health for all Peruvians; and the indigenous concept of vivir bien (living well), which Pizango described as harmony between people and nature.
Pizango said the APHU “will be a political tool for defending the Amazon and its resources which belong to all Peruvians, who must be consulted about its fate”.
Pizango said he was willing to stand as APHU’s presidential candidate but said the traditional Apus, or indigenous leaders of the Amazon, would decide.
The party is in the process of collecting the required 160,000 signatures for official registration. So far it has 100,000 registered members.
Some have described Pizango as “Peru’s Evo Morales”. Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous president who came to prominence by leading social struggles in the defence of natural resources and the rights of indigenous peoples.
Pizango said his project, like that of the Bolivian indigenous leader, is based on the “aspirations of peoples”.
“People are coming together today to defend planet Earth, to defend their right to a life of dignity whereby they can recover knowledge that allows them to live in harmony with nature and thereby ensure the survival of future generations.”
Peru has the second-largest indigenous population in South America after Bolivia. About 53% being of Peruvians are indigenous.
The new party is based primarily in rural areas and is made up of the poorest of the poor — Peru’s tribal indigenous communities — and for these reasons faces many challenges in terms of resources.
It is unlikely Pizango will be elected in 2011, but analyst Roger Rumrrill told AFP on August 11 that the creation of APHU is a good strategy “as an exercise in building power for the long term”.
Another candidate on the left is Marco Arana, priest and leader of the Peru Land and Freedom Movement. It describes itself as a “political movement that believes in social transformation via social movements”, and calls for the democratisation of power “in all spaces and at all levels”.
But the most visible face of the opposition in Peru is Ollanta Humala, leftist leader of the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP), who narrowly lost to Garcia in 2006.
All three candidates are fierce critics of neoliberal policies, but face an array of conservative or centrist politicians backed by the US and Peru’s traditional capitalist elites.