Friday, June 12, 2009


Amazonas, Peru
The deadly conflict between the Indigenous Peoples of Amazonas and the Peruvian Government has been coming to a head since 2008. President Alan Garcia issued several decrees allowing foreign companies to look for gas and oil on lands specially reserved for Indigenous Peoples. Although 70% of Peru’s rain forests are already designated for exploration, the President's decrees opened up even the lands reserved for the native peoples.

The Indigenous Peoples considered this as an assault on their rights and a betrayal by the Government of its formal commitment before the United Nations. The Government responded with a law which criminalized protests. Many people have been imprisoned and forcibly removed from their lands, and there have been accusations of torture and the ‘disappearance’ of people (killing people and hiding their bodies).

The government defends its decrees, saying that the lands must be opened to attract investment and stimulate the economy. They accuse those working with the Indigenous Peoples of manipulating them on behalf of external powers, like Venezuela and Bolivia.

Talks with the Government have been requested since August 2008, but the situation finally exploded at the beginning of June 2009. For some time the indigenous peoples had blocked rivers and roads used for transporting heavy machinery, and when finally the police tried to disperse the protesters, 22 are said to have died, and 23 police and 9 civilians, and over 100 people have been injured in a fierce and bloody confrontation.... of spears versus rifles.

As news has leaked out it has rocked the country. Local people were called "savages" by Ministers, but finally the Government has had to take a step back and has temporarily suspended the legislation giving rights to the oil and gas companies, to allow talks with the indigenous peoples to take place.

It is very difficult to get a clear picture of what is happening and the Government has denied access to outside observers to see what is really happening. What the crisis clearly shows is the deep divisions in society and the need of a system which offers to its most vulnerable peoples respect for their basic human rights, and their fair and equal treatment as citizens.

In my opinion government centralised in Lima very often fails to value Peru’s unique ethnic and cultural diversity, to neglect the needs and rights of those who have lived here from time immemorial, and to overlook the decimation of its rain forests, which are central to the survival of the planet. There will be progress and change, but a way has to found for it to go forward, with respect and values, and without trampling down the little ones, the vulnerable, and the beauty of God's creation. There must be new vision and a radical change of heart..... Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.

[Several people asked me for something on this situation in northern Peru.]

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