LIMA, PERU, June 8 — Massive armed protests by thousands of Indigenous Indians have rocked this country. The fight is over government decrees doling out vast tracts of the farmers’ communal forest lands to corporations for oil and gas drilling, logging, mining, control of water resources and large-scale agriculture. The robbery is being carried out under government decrees directly linked to a Peru-U.S. trade pact that “would bring Peru’s rules for investment in jungle areas into line with the trade agreement.” (NY Times, 6/12) The decrees would enable these capitalists to seize 72% of the country’s rain forest for exploitation of natural resources that threatens the survival of the Indigenous peoples.
But the people are not taking this corporate grab lying down. After sporadically blocking roads, waterways, state-owned oil pipelines and airports since April 9, violent clashes erupted on June 5. Government troops opened fire on unarmed protesters from helicopter gunships, tanks and the tops of buildings killing them while they slept alongside a road. Over 250 protestors were slain, “disappeared,” burned and/or thrown in rivers. Hundreds more were wounded in the massacre. The protesters say there is a cover-up: “The government is trying to clean the blood off its hands by hiding the truth,” declared Andrés Huaynacari Etsam, an Awajun student who said five relatives were killed and three are missing. (NYT, 6/12)
Insurgents Turn the Guns Around
A thousand Indians then killed 25 cops and abducted 38 as hostages. In one battle the insurgents wrestled guns away from the cops. Two hundred Mahiguenga Indians occupied an oil pipeline valve station in the Southeast, where the rebellion had spread from the North. Although the Army re-took it, the Indians said they would try again.
A general strike on June 11 brought thousands out into the streets in Iquitos, the largest Peruvian city in the Amazon, and spread to cities as far away as the capital and Arequipa on the Pacific coast.
The militant struggle forced Peru’s Congress to temporarily suspend the decrees, Said 24-year-old Wagner Musoline Acho, “The government made…[a] condescending depiction of us as gangs of savages in the forest…. They think we can be tricked by a maneuver like suspending a couple of decrees for a few weeks and then reintroducing them, and they are wrong.” (NYT, 6/12)
President Alan Garcia has declared a “state of emergency” and imposed a curfew, but that has only escalated the rebellion which has spread to the strategic South. Garcia has ordered the arrest of one of the leaders, Alberto Pizango, on “sedition” charges and has suspended the constitution in four provinces. The protestors have charged the government with violating both the country’s constitution as well as international law for failing to obtain the Indigenous peoples’ consent before any of their land and resources can be given away.
The Peruvian Jungle Interethnic Development Association which has organized the protests represents over 300,000 people from dozens of Indigenous groups. Their leaders have charged the government with genocide for the killings of their people. Daniel Marzano, an Asháninka leader from Atalaya Province, declared: “We want an immediate halt to every project that was conceived without consulting those of us who live in the forest.” (NY Times, 6/6) They vow that their protests will continue until their demands are met. They have derailed a plan by Brazilian-controlled Electrobras to erect five hydroelectric plants on the Indigenous people’s lands at a cost of $10 billion.
A Duke University scientists’ study reported that, “At least 58 of the 64 areas secured by multi-national companies for oil exploration overlay lands titled to indigenous peoples.” (NYT, 6/5) Contracts for oil and gas exploration cover 72% of Peru’s rain forest.
While the government hands over billions of dollars worth of resources to these corporations, 40% of the country’s population — half of whom are Indigenous — live in poverty. (NYT, )
Meanwhile, Ollanta Humala, a nationalist and a former lieutenant-colonel in Peru’s army who was defeated in the last presidential election, has sided with the insurgents to prime himself for the 2011 election. President Garcia, who also held the position in the 1980s, is the very butcher who suppressed a prison rebellion in 1980 and murdered over 100 inmates as “suspected guerillas.” (NYT, 6/7)
The rebellion exposes the role of the capitalist state. The constitution is not worth the bosses’ paper it’s printed on. If it endangers the multi-nationals’ aim to exploit the workers’ and farmers’ claim to the country’s rich resources, the rulers’ government simply voids it. And when the exploited classes rebel to assert their rights, that same government comes down with the full weight of its state apparatus, army, air force and police, to crush them.
The rebels must not rely on the bosses’ laws or elections of a nationalist ex-army officer like Humala to protect them. A revolutionary communist leadership is needed to combat these attacks and forge a movement for a communist society with an armed struggle for working-class ownership and distribution of the wealth of resources that are being stolen by Peru’s bosses and their international capitalist backers.