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Peru: Yanqui stay home!

8 June 2009

Benjamin Dangle was at the Puno, Peru “Indigenous People’s Summit” which ended this week:

At that gathering we heard from representatives, including Alberto Pizango, elected representative of the Peruvian Amazonian peoples, about the ongoing protests they were waging, and the repression faced as a result, from their opposition to some of the plans the Peruvian government has for ‘developing’ the Amazon region and opening it for oil, mineral, logging, and agricultural exploitation, on the homelands of many Indigenous communities. In response, there have been over 50 days of continuous protest, shutting down parts of the Amazon and the Andes.

The violent confrontation on the fifth of June (the twentieth anniversary of another infamously violent crackdown on citizens by their own government) were NOT — as foreign reports try to make it — either an isolated incident involving purely minor local issues, nor was the state response merely a defensive action.

This morning, the situation took a turn for the worst. The government reacted by sending in police to violently remove the protesters, with different reports claiming as many as 20, 30, or more lives lost in the violent fight that erupted. The protesters had been sleeping at a roadblock maintained over the past few weeks when helicopters arrived and shot at people below, according to witnesses and local journalists. The government has also put out an arrest warrant for Pizango, who spoke today in Lima, for instigating the violence, as if to pretend the intense anger and frustration isn’t coming out of the communities themselves…

The government has recently signed a number of free trade agreements, including with the US and Canada, and has been seeking to change their domestic laws to encourage foreign investment in the Amazonian region, for the benefit of those companies and the central government in Lima. Many of those new laws have been ruled unconstitutional, and have been in violation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, as well as participation in decision making, rights affirmed by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Dangle is correct in analyzing the root causes (and in seeing justice on the side of the protesters), but there may be (and probably are) local issues involved as well, and I wouldn’t be surprised if (as in Oaxaca) competing factions among the protesters use the disturbances to settle scores and compete for support for any number of local caiques.

This uprising is beginning to garner international support, as did the Zapatistas and Oaxaca uprisings here.  Foreign involvement has been counterproductive in both those Mexican disputes.   Not so much that foreigners will end up dead, a la Brad Will (although the outcry for Will justified the Federal Government’s crackdown on the protesters, effectively “winning” the battle for the very people the “Friend of Brad Will” were opposing), but that foreign persons taking an active role in protests are more easily understood to be foreign interference than are foreign entities like corporations or abstract notions like “foreign business interests.”   Foreign activists will be used by opponents to delegitimize the protest movement.

Secondly, as happened with the Zapatistas,  foreign support might aid the cause the foreigner supports, but it also aids the other goals of the movement, which may or may not be a moral imperative.  I’m not sure to this day why Italian socialists and north American Quakers back a movement in Chiapas that also fostered violence against Jehovahs Witnesses and Protestants, encouraged people to boycott elections (and assured a conservative majority in the federal government) and land invasions into national parks and protected ecological zones.  What was good for Chiapas (or, rather, for the Zapatistas) was not necessarily good for Mexico… or Latin America, or the planet.

In short,  we need to think globally and act locally.  Think of the global consequences of “free trade” and multinational corportions on the world, but work on those issues at home.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 8 June 2009 9:36 pm

    I have some different opinions:
    1″ back a movement in Chiapas that also fostered violence against Jehovahs Witnesses and Protestants”
    REligious conflict has occurred in Chiapas but it was fostered mainly by the PRI-caciques against the protestant groups. Actually zap communities have been able to united many communities of different ethnic, religous, geographical background. The accusation you made is made by the goverment which uses some groups to wage its low intensity war against the zaps.

    2. “encouraged people to boycott elections (and assured a conservative majority in the federal government)” This is something the mexican left can’t forgive Marcos, but they don’t analyse the regional politics: PRD is the new PRI in Chiapas, actually the big names just recicle themselves, and there was many PRD paramilitar groups that were attacking the zaps, so he couln’t go against his constituency. But I agree that it was a bad misscalculation.

    3. “land invasions into national parks and protected ecological zones.” It was the other way around, the communities were there before the MOntes Azules was created, actually one big factor in creating the conflict were the land evictions from the Park. Most of the land invasions occurred in Los Altos fincas not in the jungle.
    6. The zaps are the best example of how to have a relatively peaceful revolution, and have teach the left, which in Mexico and all LA is as racists as the other parties a new way to revitalize leftist ideas respecting indigenous culture.
    Just look up Peru they are killing hundreds of indigenous and the city people is indiferent or clapping, in the name of progress and order, in Mexico there were big protests that united the country.

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