On June 1, part-Peruvian US actor and indigenous rights activist Q’orianka Kilcher was arrested for “disorderly conduct” after chaining herself to the White House fence while Peruvian President Alan Garcia met with US President Barack Obama.
Garcia refers to the Amazonian indigenous peoples of his country as barbaric savages. Kilcher had doused her body in black paint, symbolic of the oil killing the Amazon and its people.
Speaking to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now after her release, the 20-year-old actor said, “I chained myself to the White House because I really hope — I really hoped that this message would get out, because Alan Garcia [is] illegally auctioning off land without free, prior and informed consent to its indigenous peoples”.
Kilcher — who played Pocahontas in The New World and Hawaii’s last queen in Princess Ka’iulani — was one of many progressively-minded young people who voted for Obama in the hope of seeing change.
Now she says she is “shocked by Obama’s celebration of a political leader who calls his indigenous peoples second-class citizens and barbaric savages that stand in the way of progress”.
As in the past, the US government continues to lavish support and praise on the most corrupt and abusive regimes of the Western hemisphere.
Anxious over the “loss” of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the mandarins of US foreign policy can at least comfort themselves with the thought that the good old days are not entirely over. The empire still has sycophantic vassals, eager to step into line and follow orders for the sake of their own political survival.
Opposing dispossession has always been a crime in the contested frontiers of empire, and Peru has a long history of silencing the victims of exploitation. On a stretch of highway near Bagua in the Peruvian Amazon, Peruvian security forces attacked a large gathering of indigenous protestors on June 5, 2009, resulting in an undisclosed number of deaths.
Members of the Awajun and Wami communities were protesting the invasion of their lands by foreign multinationals. At least 34 were reported killed near Bagua, with the unofficial death toll rising in the brutal weeks of crackdown that followed. Many indigenous leaders were imprisoned on trumped-up charges of “terrorism” and some, like Alberto Pizango, leader of the Peruvian Amazonian indigenous organisation AIDESEP, were forced into exile.
Surrendering to the depredations of foreign capital and suppressing internal dissent has been the objective of the latest stint in office of Garcia, who was also president from 1985-90. This has earned him the endorsement of the international investment community and the corporate media.
The fact that Garcia — who is known to have personally siphoned off tens of millions of dollars of “development” loans during his first presidency — was accepted as a respectable candidate by the business press attests to the effectiveness of the corporate propaganda machine.
Even more remarkable is the almost total media blackout surrounding Garcia’s undeclared war of conquest in the Peruvian Amazon, a war which has resulted in more than three-quarters of the region in effect sold off to multinational interests without the consent of the indigenous peoples who have lived there for millennia.
As a result, a social and environmental disaster is beginning to unfold.
Garcia justifies it all by pointing to statistics on foreign investment rates and gross national product figures, without acknowledging that wealth disparities in Peru are worse than ever. Neoliberal economic development consists of an entrenched, nepotistic elite enriching itself at the expense of vulnerable groups such as Amazonian indigenous tribes and Peru’s vast highland peasantry, whose markets are being undercut by one-sided free trade deals with global agribusiness.
Imagine if Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez or Bolivian President Evo Morales treated their domestic opponents with even a hint of the severity displayed by Garcia and other US puppets. We would never hear the end of it. The crimes of pro-US governments, however, get buried.
This is why, almost a year to the day after the Bagua massacre, Garcia was in the White House with Obama as a small but determined band of protestors gathered outside. Ignoring the victims of Bagua, Obama praised his vice-ridden puppet in Lima for “an extraordinary economic success story”.
There will never be change while Western governments remain the public relations fronts of capitalist imperial power. Like its predecessors, the Obama administration views the proliferation of truly democratic social movements in the Andes as a threat to its political and economic domination of this resource-rich yet impoverished region.
It is the silence of powerful politicians and media organisations over Peru’s plight that makes the consciousness-raising efforts by Kilcher and other activists so relevant and necessary. The US and other Western governments should be confronted at every turn for the crimes they are aiding and abetting in the rainforests of Peru.
Real policy change is only possible with popular awareness and mobilisation.