In April, Amazonian indigenous peoples in Peru began an uprising to demand the repeal of more than a dozen neoliberal decrees by President Alan Garcia. The decrees opened up vast swathes of indigenous peoples' lands to exploitation by transnational oil, mining and logging companies.
On June 5, the government unleashed a brutal crackdown on protesters in the Amazonian town of Bagua. At least 60 indigenous people were massacred.
A nation-wide backlash forced the government to repeal three of the most controversial decrees.
Tito Prado, head of the international commission of the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP) and PNP Congresswoman Yanet Cajahuanca spoke to Green Left Weekly about the situation in the country after the Bagua massacre and the political program of the PNP, led by Ollanta Humala.
"The political situation of the country has changed in many ways" since the Bagua massacre, said Prado, who also edits La Lucha Continua. He is a member of the PNP's Governmental Plan and Political Program Advisory Council.
"It was a political defeat for a government that dared to suppress the indigenous protests, but in the end had to repeal the neoliberal decrees."
Cajahuanca was one of seven indigenous parliamentarians suspended for supporting the indigenous struggle and protesting against the decrees. She told GLW that the PNP opposed the decrees, which were apart of implementing the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States.
"These legislative decrees are totally detrimental to the interests of indigenous and rural areas", she said. "Why? Because, the neoliberal model clashes with the property rights of indigenous communities.
"These legislative decrees aimed to expropriate the land of indigenous and peasant communities, as well as giving the state the freedom to grant concessions without having to inform, to consult or hold dialogue with and involve those communities in whose subsoil the resources are located."
Cajahuanca said the issue of indigenous land rights "has historically generated considerable unease in our country. Today indigenous and farming communities say that the large corporations that come to settle in their territories, worsen rather than improve the quality of life.
"They don't want them to come into their territories at all.
"The 12 legislative decrees are prejudicial to the sovereignty and the rights of peasant communities, and are against their way of life. They do not respect the environment."
Indigenous peoples have been calling for dialogue over the decrees for a year and a half, but "there has been no willingness for dialogue by the central government".
The intransigent position of the government "has generated considerable social conflict … created a confrontation, a climate of instability. The response by the executive has been the spilling of blood: 64 Peruvians dead and many more missing."
The PNP parliamentarians, Cajahuanca said, "have had the opportunity to visit the indigenous communities in their place of origin, where they live, after three days of travel from the capital to these sites.
"All they are asking is that the water is not contaminated and that the forests are looked after, because that's where they live. I don't think that's much to ask.
"All we are asking for is the right to life, something that this economic model and Mr Alan Garcia do not want to understand."
However, the fact that the government was forced to repeal three decrees represents "a major defeat for the government", Prado said. As the struggle occurred on a national level, it was "a triumph not only of indigenous people, but all the Peruvian people".
"It was a national struggle that drew a dividing line across the country: on one hand you have the government, rightist parties, armed forces, the US. And on the other hand, the indigenous peoples and the settlers, farmers, workers, students came out en masse to support them.
"It is a struggle that divided and polarised the country."
As a result, "the government was isolated … because even sectors of their allies had to condemn the fact that they had not used consultation and avoided this political crisis.
"Not only were the decrees defeated, but the cabinet fell. All the ministers had to resign, for the second time."
Prado said this has left the government badly weakened and "the popular movement with more confidence that, through struggle and unity, important victories can be achieved — albeit partial".
However, Cajahuanca said: "The government of Alan Garcia is still persecuting the leaders who have been leading the indigenous and peasant struggle. Many have been jailed, others are seeking asylum.
"And not only does Garcia not respect the leaders, but he also even managed to attack us in Congress. He suspended seven parliamentarians whose crime was to defend our people, because ultimately, we come from them, we were elected simply because we offered to defend their rights."
Prado said the Garcia government had not learned the lesson of the Bagua confrontation, and continued to insist on implementing the same neoliberal policies as part of its agreement with the US.
The cabinet has been reconstituted with people even farther to the right, he said. And, rather than seeking to engage in genuine dialogue with indigenous communities, the government is pushing for more confrontation.
It is attempting to divert attention from its role in the Bagua massacre by blaming the indigenous protests on a supposed "international conspiracy" headed by the left-wing governments in Bolivia and Venezuela.
Prado said Peru is "heading towards major confrontations. The Indigenous people have only suspended their demonstrations ... and several other sectors are moving."
He pointed to recent strikes and protests in the southern cities of Ica, Pisco and Chincha, where two years after a massive 7.9 Richter earthquake devastated the region thousands remain living in tents and the cities look like they have been bombed.
"They have opened up a process of social confrontation, increased political polarisation. This will continue through to the electoral process of 2011.
"The Peruvian people will have to choose between the continuity offered by the neoliberal right or a big change that only the PNP is able to express, because it has managed to cohere a large majority of the population."
Cajahuanca said: "Our project is a project of change that wants win government."
Cajahuanca said in the social sphere, the PNP aims to promote social inclusion "that respects the differences of all our indigenous peoples" and "improves the quality of life" of all Peruvians.
In the economic sphere, Cajahuanca said a key platform of the PNP is for the state "to be more involved in strategic activities, I refer to sectors that are related to natural resources, mining, gas, oil", and for resources to be directed "towards the development of our country".
"We want to improve education, provide support in agrarian affairs, because it is this sector that is the poorest, and begin to industrialise our country."
Cajahuanca said it was necessary to implement policies "to stimulate the national market", and introduce tax reform to force large multi-national mining companies to pay taxes and royalties.
"We also want to provide opportunities to our Peruvian entrepreneurs to upgrade their activities, in order to give greater opportunities for them to go forward faster."
Prado said one of the central proposals of the PNP "is the convening of a constituent assembly, to dismantle the constitution we inherited from the dictatorship of [former president Alberto] Fujimori, which locked-in the neoliberal model.
"We cannot make the changes we want as long as this constitution persists. Therefore we propose a democratic constitution where the people can introduce fundamental changes against this model, against state corruption ... to recover and use energy resources for the benefit of the whole country.
"Right now, the Fujimori constitution prevents the state from taking an active role in economic life."
Prado said the PNP program is "an essentially anti-imperialist and democratic program. The project, however, opens up a dynamic that can place tasks of a much greater magnitude on the agenda, such as is happening in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.
"In that sense, part of our program is integration with Latin America, particularly with countries that have opted for change. We want to participate in ALBA [Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas anti-imperialist bloc of nations led by Venezuela and Cuba].
"And, therefore we reject FTAs as absolutely colonialist, including with the US, Europe, China and Chile.
"So we are facing a historic opportunity, because if successful, we would encourage the process of change that exists all over Latin America. It would signify a better balance of forces across the continent."