Peru: Indigenous people defend their land

March 5, 2011

In a joint statement on February 25, indigenous communities that make up the Native Federation of Madre de Dios River and Tributaries in south-eastern Peru rejected a military crackdown on illegal mining on their lands.

The statement said it was a “false solution to a problem that has social and economic roots”.

Environment minister Antonio Bracks authorised the operation in mid February —involving about 1000 police and infantrymen — to destroy illegal mining equipment including bombing of dredges.

At least four miners have been killed and 15 others injured in clashes with police, Correo Peru said on March 1.

Indigenous groups say they welcome formalisation of the illegal mining, but reject the military actions. The statement said these actions are “incompatible with democracy” and “violate our rights under international standards”.

The statement said that, due to the government’s failure to provide work opportunities, many impoverished indigenous communities make a living from small-scale illegal mining.

Since his election in 2006, Peruvian President Alan Garcia has vigorously pursued a neoliberal policy aimed at opening up vast swathes of indigenous people’s land in the Amazon to oil, mining, timber and agribusiness companies.

In April 2009, indigenous people in the Amazonian town of Bagua began an uprising to demand the repeal of more than a dozen decrees that aimed to open their lands to privatisation.

On June 5, the government ordered police and Special Forces to crack down on the protests. At least 30 people died and scores of indigenous people were disappeared.

A nationwide backlash forced the government to repeal some of the most controversial decrees.

However, indigenous activists say the government is still illegally auctioning exploration licences in the Amazon to big transnational companies — without consultation or agreement from indigenous communities.

In a press conference on February 22 the Interethnic Association of Development of the Peruvian Jungle, which unites more than 1350 communities from 60 different indigenous groups across the Peruvian Amazon — declared they are on a “permanent war footing” in defence of their ancestral lands.

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