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'They're killing us': world's most endangered tribe cries for help

Logging companies keen to exploit Brazil's rainforest have been accused by human rights organisations of using gunmen to wipe out the Awá, a tribe of just 355. Survival International, with backing from Colin Firth, is campaigning to stop what a judge referred to as 'genocide'
Undercover investigators film Link to this video
Trundling along the dirt roads of the Amazon, the giant logging lorry dwarfed the vehicle of the investigators following it. The trunks of nine huge trees were piled high on the back – incontrovertible proof of the continuing destruction of the world's greatest rainforest and its most endangered tribe, the Awá.
Yet as they travelled through the jungle early this year, the small team from Funai – Brazil's National Indian Foundation – did not dare try to stop the loggers; the vehicle was too large and the loggers were almost certainly armed. All they could do was video the lorry and add the film to the growing mountain of evidence showing how the Awá – with only 355 surviving members, more than 100 of whom have had no contact with the outside world – are teetering on the edge of extinction.
It is a scene played out throughout the Amazon as the authorities struggle to tackle the powerful illegal logging industry. But it is not just the loss of the trees that has created a situation so serious that it led a Brazilian judge, José Carlos do Vale Madeira, to describe it as "a real genocide". People are pouring on to the Awá's land, building illegal settlements, running cattle ranches. Hired gunmen – known aspistoleros – are reported to be hunting Awá who have stood in the way of land-grabbers. Members of the tribe describe seeing their families wiped out. Human rights campaigners say the tribe has reached a tipping point and only immediate action by the Brazilian government to prevent logging can save the tribe.
This week Survival International will launch a new campaign to highlight the plight of the Awá, backed by Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth. In a video to be launched on Wednesday, Firth will ask the Brazilian government to take urgent action to protect the tribe. The 51-year-old, who starred in last year's hit movie The King's Speech, and came to prominence playing Mr Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, delivers an appeal to camera calling on Brazil's minister of justice to send in police to drive out the loggers.
The Awá are one of only two nomadic hunter-gathering tribes left in the Amazon. According to Survival, they are now the world's most threatened tribe, assailed by gunmen, loggers and hostile settler farmers.
Their troubles began in earnest in 1982 with the inauguration of a European Economic Community (EEC) and World Bank-funded programme to extract massive iron ore deposits found in the Carajás mountains. The EEC gave Brazil $600m to build a railway from the mines to the coast, on condition that Europe received a third of the output, a minimum of 13.6m tons a year for 15 years. The railway cut directly through the Awá's land and with the railway came settlers. A road-building programme quickly followed, opening up the Awá's jungle home to loggers, who moved in from the east.
It was, according to Survival's research director, Fiona Watson, a recipe for disaster. A third of the rainforest in the Awá territory in Maranhão state in north-east Brazil has since been destroyed and outsiders have exposed the Awá to diseases against which they have no natural immunity.
"The Awá and the uncontacted Awá are really on the brink," she said. "It is an extremely small population and the forces against them are massive. They are being invaded by loggers, settlers and cattle ranchers. They rely entirely on the forest. They have said to me: 'If we have no forest, we can't feed our children and we will die'."
But it appears that the Awá also face a more direct threat. Earlier this year an investigation into reports that an Awá child had been killed by loggers found that their tractors had destroyed the Awá camp.
"It is not just the destruction of the land; it is the violence," said Watson. "I have talked to Awá people who have survived massacres. I have interviewed Awá who have seen their families shot in front of them. There are immensely powerful people against them. The land-grabbers use pistoleros to clear the land. If this is not stopped now, these people could be wiped out. This is extinction taking place before our eyes."
Deforested areas in BrazilDeforested areas in Brazil. Illustration: Giulio Frigeri
What is most striking about the Funai undercover video of the loggers – apart from the sheer size of the trunks – is the absence of jungle in the surrounding landscape. Once the landscape would have been lush rainforest. Now it has been clear-felled, leaving behind just grass and scrub and only a few scattered clumps of trees.
Such is the Awá's affinity with the jungle and its inhabitants that if they find a baby animal during their hunts they take it back and raise it almost like a child, to the extent that the women will sometimes breastfeed the creature. The loss of their jungle has left them in a state of despair. "They are chopping down wood and they are going to destroy everything," said Pire'i Ma'a, a member of the tribe. "Monkeys, peccaries, tapir, they are all running away. I don't know how we are going to eat – everything is being destroyed, the whole area.
"This land is mine, it is ours. They can go away to the city, but we Indians live in the forest. They are going to kill everything. Everything is dying. We are all going to go hungry, the children will be hungry, my daughter will be hungry, and I'll be hungry too."
In an earlier interview with Survival, another member of the tribe, Karapiru, described how most of his family were killed by ranchers. "I hid in the forest and escaped from the white people. They killed my mother, my brothers and sisters and my wife," he said. "When I was shot during the massacre, I suffered a great deal because I couldn't put any medicine on my back. I couldn't see the wound: it was amazing that I escaped – it was through the Tupã [spirit]. I spent a long time in the forest, hungry and being chased by ranchers. I was always running away, on my own. I had no family to help me, to talk to. So I went deeper and deeper into the forest.
"I hope when my daughter grows up she won't face any of the difficulties I've had. I hope everything will be better for her. I hope the same things that happened to me won't happen to her."
The Survival campaign reflects growing international concern over the plight of the world's remaining indigenous tribes. Earlier this year theObserver revealed how police were colluding with tour operators in India's Andaman Islands to run human safaris into the jungle heartland of the protected Jarawa tribe. A video showing half-naked Jarawa women and girls dancing in return for food caused outrage in India and around the world. Further revelations followed, exposing human safaris in Orissa, in India, and in Peru, where tour operators are profiting from the exploitation of Amazon jungle tribes.
Meanwhile, drug traffickers are posing a threat to other Amazon tribes. Last year a previously uncontacted tribe was photographed from the air close to the Peru-Brazil border only to go missing a few months later after a gang of drug traffickers overpowered guards protecting their land.
The Brazilian embassy in London referred requests for a response to the president's Human Rights Secretariat, which did not respond. However, Brazil has recently been able to point to research that shows it has been making progress in tackling illegal logging. The country's National Institute for Space Research estimates that 6,238 sq km of rainforest was lost between 2010 and 2011, down dramatically from the 2004 peak of 27,700 sq km. The same year, Brazil pledged to cutdeforestation by 80% by 2020.
The year-on-year fall last year was 11% and in March Brazil's forestry department raided and closed down 14 illegal sawmills on the borders of the Awá's land. Even so, the figures also show that two states recorded sharp rises in deforestation, and illegal logging is destroying the Awá's jungle at a faster rate than that of any other Amazon tribe.
In a statement, Survival urged the Brazilian government to give more support to Funai and to increase its efforts to shut down illegal activities in the Awá's territories. "Timing is crucial, and the timing of this is now, because while all hope is not lost an entire people are on the verge of being lost, most critically the uncontacted Awá. And we have a moral responsibility to act. EU and World Bank money has helped fund huge projects in Brazil that have exploited the Awá's land resources and made infrastructure ripe for developers."
The Survival International campaign will launch later this week

Feb. 2009: Walking down the road divider, a 5am sunrise, on the way into town. Dust kicking up from the moto-taxis passing by with wide eyed drivers, gawking at the sore thumb caught in the light of the rising sun. Long shadows from the early flight of horned vultures stretch across the wet tire tracks. There is the sound of the world coming alive all about the dead concrete, barreling through the ancient jungles of Peru, in line with Ucayali River gulping cold water from the melting snowcaps of the Andes. Pucallpa, is a dangerous town; stories of hostage taking terrorists and drug smugglers. Peddlers and pushers with calloused knuckles who prefer to dine upon backpackers with big "take me" signs fastened to themselves, weighing them down, bulging from their backs; like a meaty drum stick dancing in front of starved hounds. But in fact it is more dangerous to trust a foreigner in this place, because most come for a reason; one with many prepackaged explanations. The natives are happy and proud, fully aware and accepting of their neighbors and fully accustomed to lending a hand where it is needed. Only from the relatively recent influence of consumer culture have their hands sought the feel of money in exchange for kindness. But there are still many who know virtue in their blood. I was lucky enough to find such kindness, a CT townie with a pocket full of lucky charms and a knife securely fastened to the hip, a walking contradiction in a place where people come to never be found. I wanted this kind of solitude, for it is only in the places where man ceases to be a man that he truly knows himself. Four hours by taxi down a white sand and red clay road, to catch a boat, two hours down river, then one hour walking up and down hills, deeper and deeper into the hot breast of the Amazon. Going to meet a hidden teacher; the student seeks words with a sort of infinite; greater than an echo, an incongruous conversation with the id.

Oct. 2005: It was my second year in art college. I'm at Borders looking through the art section for books that might fit under my shirt or in my bag. I come upon a book, "The Cosmic Serpent," by Jeremy Narby, shelved incorrectly, wedged between Lucian Freud and Art Through the Ages. I would buy this book and it would lead me to ask questions, to shrug off the predictable, and embrace the implausible. A confection of curiosity and wonder would take over my cerebellum and cause me to finger through every article I could find about Peruvian mythology and cultural heritage. It became a hobby to be anthropologic, a hidden love shared only in passing fancy with those of an elite knowing. First priorities: painting, graduating, finding a job, besting my friends and their summer and after school plans. All else eclipsed by the need to learn the things that are not taught in common institutional circles.

Sept. 2006: An isolated tribe, never previously contacted, is discovered in the Eastern Peruvian Amazon by a helicopter crew surveying a newly purchased area of rainforest, now under the ownership of Peruanco Oil (French owned, Peruvian sounding). No permission, nor discussion of sale took place between the indigenous peoples of the area and the oil company, which was trying its damnedest to hide the news of the uncontacted tribe from the global public. Claiming that the tribe was nomadic and often went back and forth between Brazil and Peru, this was a cunning attempt to avoid governmental interference, and to skirt the issue of the tribes presence and importance. However, due to national exposure the issue went global. Peruanco, along with several other oil companies discovered oil in the Amazon; it is the biggest discovery in the region in the past 30 years. Still untapped, no one can be sure exactly what is under the soil. It should be common knowledge, that in the presence of any major commodity (diamonds, gold, oil, etc.) cultural preservation, the preservation of life, all of morality itself falls in the wake of progress.
There are many examples of this but my favorite comes from Lima, Peru itself, in the early 20th century when the president of Peru, searching for hidden treasures to boost the national economy, dynamited the temple of Pachacamac, the great temple of the earthquake god, (the biggest temple nearest to Lima). Nothing was found and, once he stepped down, the government spent millions of dollars repairing the damage. This is an example of cultural pluralism, which occurs when one culture adopts some of the traits of another culture because they see benefit in their inclusion. Unfortunately the insidious trait absorbed by Peru through years of suffering, betrayal and genocide, was that of greed.

Oct. 2006: I am convinced that the indigenous population of the Eastern Peruvian Amazon will meet with an unfortunate demise at the hands of an obese oil-consuming culture. Fear for the livelihood of the shimmering virtuous cultures I had come to love gripped me in a moment of clear moral choice. No one I knew, cared enough, knew enough, nor had the determination or grit to explore this road. I would make my plans through restless nights, trying to tongue the borders of the path ahead.
More details came in, the uncontacted tribe is perhaps 100 souls or fewer. The oil company had settled with the Peruvian government on buying a 2 million dollar plane to scan for heat signatures in the jungle tracking the tribes movement. The sole responsibility of monitoring the tribe is set upon the oil company and the lobbyists breeding in the local bureaucracy. It seemed inevitable that the tribe would be lost. I would seek only to learn more about tribes like these so that I could somehow preserve some fragment of their cultural heritage before the double tailed coin toss that would decide their future for them.

March 2008: Made contact with an advertising agency in Lima which will help me build my living from the $1000 I have left in my bank account. For the next 6 months I will learn Spanish from nothing but a knowledge of the pronunciation of numerals. I will lend a fraction of my soul to the Devil so that my better nature can keep track of what we ad men feed the public; I would rather it be me than someone who values money over what exactly goes into baby formula. I do the job well but after Christmas I leave to pursue a deeper understanding of my fate. I travel one hour north by plane to the only accessible landing strip on the border of the Amazon, then three days by boat. With my Spanish I speak to many wise men, tribal leaders that have grown weary of the outside world's encroaching duality and corruption. In me they seem to find a renewed confidence in the good nature of the human spirit, even though I am not the first idealist gringo to cross their paths, a 23 year old six foot american is certainly something new.

April 2009- Road blocks have been set up by some of the locals to hinder the transportation of drill equipment into the jungle. Although it hardly makes much difference to a road battered and broken by the summer storms. Whole cliff faces ride the landslide damming rivers that provide water to smaller villages miles away. Juan Flores (A Tribal Leader of the Shipibo)-"But what else can we do? Those bastards never even asked us if they could use our land. They never came to any of us to tell us what they found and they sure as Hell weren't going to share the profits with poorer residents. They just came and found the oil and immediately, production of the rig and drills began. It isn't just the oil companies, it is our own government that is stepping on its people, turning their backs on the very thing that makes this country great. They are taking away that last untouched piece of wonder. One of the last places where anything is sure to happen." As I observed Flores, the rain poured down the sides of the thatched hut. The sound of the overflowing hot water spring running down the mountain. The flames of the oil lamps describing the shape of a man from a different world, peering out through the dark night into my eyes and feeling a deep respect from my colloquial silence. He brushes the brightly colored feathers of the Macaw laid out on the floor to one side to get within personal distance. He extends his leathery hands out into the lamp light requesting my hands in response. I give over both and feel the surprising softness and gentle nature of the man. "Do you have any questions for me?" And although I wanted to ask him about how he came to be in this place far from the sound of people; of how he came to be. I simply said, "I have nothing to ask for nothing is owed me. I have only my thanks to give along with an apology, reserved for whomever may wrong you or cause wrong without giving reason or cause. I give this to you so that you may more easily forgive. A wise man (Ghandi) once said, 'the seeker of truth must be humbler than the dust.'"
Juan folded my hands together and slipped his right hand between mine and with as much honor as can be shared between men, he firmly shook my hand. I would not say goodbye to him when I would leave for town in the morning. I would only be told by the man driving the boat up river that Juan had requested that I return whenever I felt that I had to, an invitation only given to those of the most amiable quality.

May 2009- There are now three oil companies moving to occupy sections of the Amazon where their rigs will drink the blood of the land. When one takes a stone from the ground, there is a whole that remains; a cavity that can be filled with dirt, fashioned so as to make believe that there was nothing absent. But the fact remains that once there was a rock that need not be disturbed, where our eyes can forget but our mind remembers. I think to myself, when this is done the value of that culture that stands in the way of progress may be quantified in mathematical terms. Suffice to say that I will feel an emptiness when they are gone. I will have wished to recognize to another the great value found within the meek.

June 2009- Returning home to Connecticut, where my stomach cries patriotic tears of joy as I enjoy two bottles of Cottrell while wolfing down my first hamburger in more than a year. News of Peru has hit the global circuit: The road blocks that have persisted in the northern territories of Peru have provoked the local government to violence. Twenty five civilians are shot and killed by the local police, 10 policemen are taken hostage by the angered mob. Unconfirmed reports of the several tribal leaders under attack. Juan's name is among the list. The President of Peru has issued a statement calling the people that are preventing the transportation of supplies to the oil rigs, "terrorists," and has called for immediate action to resolve the now public issue regarding indigenous land rights. Days later, the government of Peru, under international duress changed its rhetoric and for now has checked its action.

Late June 2009: I have recollected my routine in the world of the clock that divides my life into quarters and halves. Walking down the still streets of New London catching stray glances at the bar rabble let out from the dry saloons. Following the rain run off down the hill to a two hour parking spot wedged between the alley and a tilted building. I look over at the train platform and see four people under the cover of a canopy speaking familiar Spanish. They see me and quiet themselves, giving worried glances. I yell, "habla pe!" Shocked for a moment they then return to comfort. I ask them where they are from and they say that they are from Leoncio Prado and Campo Serio. Two relatively remote villages in the Amazon near the areas where the riots have occurred. One man does not respond. He hangs his head and shakes his wet coat up from his shoulders. There is a shared look then the group all adopt the man's posture. It seems the memory of that once better place disrupted the momentary pleasure of reconnecting to a bit of home. I say goodnight, turn and leave. I pass them on route to the highway once more and nod goodbye. I catch the on ramp to 95N and wonder if my life in Peru was all fiction, and then I think that maybe someday it will be easier to think that it was.
I am only an artist. But I believe that the purpose of art has changed many times throughout history as art has become more commoditized. Originally art was our first language, it was our first and greatest tool for teaching and guiding our culture. Its inherent value has followed us through our entire evolution. We must not forget this function. Artists must take responsibility again and guide our culture by questioning the foundation of those systems that have governed us so far in the direction of greed, and self destruction. And we must preserve our sources of inspiration as much as we seek to inspire.
-written by Harrison Love

Amazon becoming increasingly less habitable due to cultural overlap

New Developments in the ongoing Oil Crisis

Racewire Blog


Oil crisis: uprisings from Nigeria to Peru

In the past few days, the wars over the world’s natural resources have been rekindled from the Amazon to the Niger Delta.
This week, a landmark legal settlement brought a decisive, though partial, end to a bloody chapter in the history of Nigeria’s Ogoni people.
Shell agreed to a $15.5 million settlement in a lawsuit, brought in US federal court, accusing the company of massive human rights abuses. The case stemmed from the government executions of activists, including groundbreaking environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who resisted the company’s decades-long plunder of Nigeria’s natural resources. Although Shell did not officially acknowledge its complicity, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which helped litigate the suit, called the settlement a victory in the broader movement to hold corporations accountable on human rights.
Oil and gas development in the Niger Delta has devastated the region’s fragile ecosystem and left indigenous peoples in deep poverty.
About one third of the settlement award will go toward a development fund for the Ogoni people. But some,reports the Daily Independent of Lagos, were dismayed that the legal maneuver seems to have spared the company—with its deep history of imperialism and exploitation—from being fully brought to justice. One Ogoni activist expressed worry that the payout will not be primarily used to restore and provide closure to the Ogoni as a whole: “We are still waiting to see how events unfold. It is not only the Ogoni Nine that died in the struggle, and it will be a disaster if anybody thinks otherwise.”
There are already opportunities to test whether Wiwa v. Shell marks a real turning point in environmental and human rights struggles.
In Peru's Bagua Province, a popular uprising has led to bloodshed and political chaos. Indigenous groups have protested against investment laws that threaten to carve up more of the Amazon rainforest for drilling and logging operations. After thousands tried to blockade an oil pipeline and highway last week, a deadly clash with riot police led to the deaths of 30 protesters and 24 police officers, according to the BBC.
Some activists say police have stolen and dumped bodies in the Marañón river in a cover-up attempt,reports IPS News. The government, meanwhile, continues its military clampdown, and publicly blames the violence on the Peruvian Rainforest Inter-Ethnic Development Association (AIDESEP), a broad federation of indigenous groups. AIDISEP leader Alberto Pizango has sought refuge with the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima.
The protesters were reportedly armed with spears, against the guns of the police. Edwin Montenegro, an activist representing the Amazon district of Condorcanqui, told IPS:
"After we draw up a list of our brothers and sisters who were killed, we will continue our protes... The government thinks that we have chickened out, but that will never happen. The blood of their brothers and sisters is an incentive to the Awajun people. The state has provoked us.”
With domestic politics taking center stage in Washington, the strife in Bagua may seem distant. But the investment policies, some of which have been suspended in the wake of the protests, are part of Peru's effort to facilitate a lucrative business deal with the United Statesthe Peru Free Trade Agreement.

Will the future of indigenous struggles be channeled into legal battlegrounds, as with the Shell lawsuit—or will the failure of government to provide real redress inspire more direct action in defense of basic rights? A federal courtroom rendered one kind of victory for some of the most disenfranchised people in the Niger Delta. Would Congress go a step further in opening a space for human rights in the Amazon?
Image: Amazon Watch

5 June 2009 - Source - New York Times

Fatal Clashes Erupt in Peru at Roadblock

Published: June 5, 2009
LIMA, Peru — Clashes between indigenous protesters and security forces on a remote jungle highway in northern Peru left more than a dozen dead on Friday, including 11 police officers, heightening tension over intensifying protests by indigenous groups over plans to open vast tracts of rain forest to oil drilling, logging and hydroelectric dams.
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Associated Press
Indigenous protesters fighting logging and drilling blocked a road in northern Peru on Friday as police tear gas hung in the air.
Initial accounts of the clashes varied. Indigenous leaders here said the killings unfolded early on Friday after the police fired from helicopters on hundreds of protesters who had blocked the highway in the northern Bagua Province, with at least 22 civilians killed. The Chachapoyas Medical Association, in the region where the killings took place, put the number of dead Indians at 25.
Peru’s interior minister, Mercedes Cabanillas, said the police did not initiate the bloodshed but were “victims of the frenzy.” Prime Minister Yehude Simon said Friday night that 11 police officers and 3 Indians had been killed, and that 38 police officers and a civilian engineer were abducted by the protesters.
The protests are part of an increasingly well-orchestrated campaign by indigenous groups that have been inspired in part by similar movements in Bolivia and Ecuador.
Angered by the government’s failure to involve them in the plans, the indigenous groups in Peru have surprised the authorities with their sudden strength and organization and are now threatening to blunt President Alan García’s efforts to lure foreign investment to the region.
“The president thought we would be docile in accepting plans that could completely change the way we hunt for food and raise crops, and we are not,” said Juan Agustín, 41, a Shipibo Indian and a leader of the Peruvian Jungle Interethnic Development Association, an umbrella group here representing more than 300,000 people from dozens of indigenous groups.
The protests have disrupted oil production and pipelines, blocked commerce on roads and waterways, and halted flights at remote airports. While shortages of fuel and food have been reported in some jungle areas, the real concern is that the protests will succeed in cutting energy supplies to major coastal cities.
The killings in Friday’s clashes in Bagua, near an oil pipeline that was a target of the protesters, present a robust challenge to Mr. García, with indigenous leaders here describing them as “genocide.” Officials imposed a curfew in the region as they tried to prevent further violence.
Mr. García had already declared a 60-day state of emergency on May 9 in areas affected by the protests, which began in April. But the move seems only to have escalated tensions, with protests spreading from northern Peru to strategically important locations in the country’s south.
Last weekend about 200 Machiguenga Indians occupied valve stations on the pipeline that moves natural gas from the huge Camisea project in the southeast. Soldiers regained control of the sites, the energy ministry reported. But indigenous leaders said they would try again.
The protesters demand that Mr. García repeal decrees that have made it easier for companies to enter the Amazon Basin, and they have focused on thwarting larger projects.
For instance, leaders from the Asháninka indigenous group are trying to derail a plan by Eletrobrás, a company controlled by Brazil’s government, to spend more than $10 billion to build five hydroelectric plants in Peru.
“We want an immediate halt to every project that was conceived without consulting those of us who live in the forest,” said Daniel Marzano, 39, an Asháninka leader from Atalaya Province.
But it is the coordinated focus of the protests on energy installations that has most alarmed analysts and Peru’s business and political classes, who overwhelmingly live in coastal cities.
“The leaders have a strategic vision of hitting the country where it hurts,” said Alberto Bolívar, a security expert, who pointed out the potential for the protesters in some remote jungle areas to combine forces with a resurgent faction of the Shining Path, the Maoist group feeding off Peru’s cocaine trade.
On Friday, the guerrillas fired on a helicopter carrying troops in southern Peru, killing one soldier and wounding four others.
Aldo Mariátegui, editor of the daily newspaper Correo, speculated that the protests were being supported by the governments in Venezuela and Bolivia to oust Mr. García. It is a view held by some among Peru’s political and business elite.
Indigenous leaders interviewed here rejected the notion, however. Instead, they said conflict arose because the government had opened the rain forest to new investments without thoroughly consulting or involving the people who live there.
In the case of oil, for instance, at least 58 of the 64 areas secured by multinational companies for oil exploration overlay lands titled to indigenous peoples, according to a study last year by scientists from Duke University.
Explaining the government’s position last month, Mr. García said, “We have to understand when there are resources like oil, gas and timber, they don’t belong only to the people who had the fortune to be born there, because that would mean more than half of Peru’s territory belongs to a few thousand people.”
Such views resonate in a country of nearly 30 million people where almost three-quarters of them live in urban areas. But the protests, which show few signs of abating, offer a different vision of how Peru should develop.
Even before the clashes in Bagua, the government used the navy this week to break through blockades on the Napo River in the north to allow barges for Perenco, an oil company planning to invest $2 billion, to move deeper into the rain forest.
“Now we have a government resorting to using military force to spearhead development of the Amazon,” said Paul McAuley, an environmental activist in the Amazonian city of Iquitos with Christian Brothers, a Roman Catholic lay order. “This cannot be a strategy that is sustainable.”

6 June 2009 - Source - New York Times

9 Hostage Officers Killed at Peruvian Oil Facility

Published: June 6, 2009
LIMA, Peru — Nine police officers were killed Saturday as security forces regained control of a petroleum facility from indigenous protesters in a remote jungle region, raising the death toll related to protests by indigenous activists since Friday above 30, Peruvian government officials here said.
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Mariana Bazo/Reuters
Relatives of a police officer killed in clashes between the military and protesters attended a mourning service in Lima, Peru.


Times Topics: Peru

Prime Minister Yehude Simon said the officers were killed in the events surrounding a push to retake a pumping station belonging to Petroperú, the national oil company, in the northern Bagua Province, where indigenous protesters had kidnapped 38 police officers. Twenty-two of the abducted officers were freed, but seven were still missing, officials said.
The killings came amid reports by indigenous groups that security forces killed as many as 25 protesters Friday in clashes at a different location in Bagua, where Indians had blocked a highway. Mr. Simon confirmed that at least 9 Indians had been killed and 155 wounded, and that a total of 22 police officers had been killed, intensifying the most acute crisis faced by President Alan García since he took office in 2006.
The bloodshed comes after two months of slow-burning protests, which spread from rain forests in Peru’s north to the country’s south, and have focused on interrupting petroleum production and transportation. In an increasingly well-coordinated movement, the lowland Indians are demanding that Mr. García withdraw decrees that ease the way for companies to carry out major energy and logging projects in the Peruvian Amazon.
After the operation at the Petroperú facility, officials said they were planning to re-establish the supply of oil to remote provinces that had been hit with fuel shortages and blackouts. Still, it was unclear how successful they would be when protesters were still blocking routes on important highways and rivers.
Officials also said Saturday that they were seeking to enforce an arrest warrant on charges of sedition for Alberto Pizango, a Shawi Indian and the leader of Aidesep, an umbrella organization of indigenous groups that had organized many of the protests. But Mr. Pizango apparently went into hiding and was replaced by another leader, Champion Nonimgo.
“Our protests will go on until our demands are met,” Mr. Nonimgo said.
A maneuver here in Congress sparked the clashes between protesters and the police, after lawmakers blocked an effort Thursday to allow debate on one of Mr. García’s most polemical decrees, which would open as much as 60 percent of Peru’s jungles to oil exploration and other extractive investments.
Ollanta Humala, a nationalist political leader and a former lieutenant colonel in Peru’s army who was defeated by Mr. García in the most recent presidential elections, has sided with the protesters, lambasting the use of use of force against the Indians and raising his profile ahead of the next elections in 2011.
Meanwhile, the climbing body count in the rain forest, along with unconfirmed reports that the number of Indians killed could be higher, threatens to deplete the legitimacy of Mr. García’s government. Mr. García, 60, is still hounded by claims of human rights violations from his first term as president in the 1980s, when soldiers suppressed a prison rebellion in 1986, killing more than 100 inmates suspected of being Maoist guerrillas.

11 June, 2009 - Source - New York Times

Protesters Gird for Long Fight Over Opening Peru’s Amazon

Tomas Munita for The New York Times
Members of an indigenous group opposed to Peru’s plans to open large parts of the Amazon to drilling and logging demonstrated Thursday in Iquitos, Peru.
Published: June 11, 2009
IQUITOS, Peru — Faced with a simmering crisis over dozens of deaths in the quelling of indigenous protests last week, Peru’s Congress this week suspended the decrees that had set off the protests over plans to open large parts of the Peruvian Amazon to investment. Senior officials said they hoped this would calm nerves and ease the way for oil drillers and loggers to pursue their projects.
But instead, indigenous groups are digging in for a protracted fight, revealing an increasingly well-organized movement that could be a tinderbox for President Alan García. The movement appears to be fueled by a deep popular resistance to the government’s policies, which focused on luring foreign investment, while parts of the Peruvian Amazon have been left behind.
The broadening influence of the indigenous movement was on display Thursday in a general strike that drew thousands of protesters here to the streets of Iquitos, the largest Peruvian city in the Amazon, and to cities and towns elsewhere in jungle areas. Protests over Mr. García’s handling of the violence in the northern Bagua Province last Friday also took place in highland regions like Puno, near the Bolivian border, and in Lima and Arequipa on the Pacific coast.
“The government made the situation worse with its condescending depiction of us as gangs of savages in the forest,” said Wagner Musoline Acho, 24, an Awajún Indian and an indigenous leader. “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.”
The protesters’ immediate threat — to cut the supply of oil and natural gas to Lima, the capital — seems to have subsided, with protesters partly withdrawing from their occupation of oil installations in the jungle. But as anger festers, indigenous leaders here said they could easily try to shut down energy installations again to exert pressure on Mr. García.
Another wave of protests appears likely because indigenous groups are demanding that the decrees be repealed and not just suspended. The decrees would open large jungle areas to investment and allow companies to bypass indigenous groups to obtain permits for petroleum exploration, logging and building hydroelectric dams. A stopgap attempt to halt earlier indigenous protests in the Amazon last August failed to prevent them from being reinitiated more forcefully in April.
The authorities said that nine civilians were killed in the clashes that took place last Friday on a remote highway in Bagua. But witnesses and relatives of missing protesters contend that the authorities are covering up details of the episode, and that more Indians died. Twenty-four police officers were killed on the highway and at an oil installation.
Indigenous representatives say at least 25 civilians, and perhaps more, may have been killed, and some witnesses say that security forces dumped the bodies of protesters into a nearby river. At least three Indians who were wounded said they had been shot by police officers as they waited to talk with the authorities.
“The government is trying to clean the blood off its hands by hiding the truth,” said Andrés Huaynacari Etsam, 21, an Awajún student here who said that five of his relatives had been killed on June 5 and that three were missing.
Senior government officials repudiate such claims. “There is a game of political interests taking place in which some are trying to exaggerate the losses of life for their own gain,” said Foreign Minister José García Belaunde.
He said the ultimate aim of the protesters was to prevent Peru from carrying out a trade agreement with the United States, because one of the most contentious of the decrees that were suspended on Thursday would bring Peru’s rules for investment in jungle areas into line with the trade agreement.
“But,” Mr. García Belaunde insisted, “the agreement is not in danger.”
Still, the government’s initial response to the violence seems to have heightened resentment. A television commercial by the Interior Ministrycontained graphic images of the bodies of some police officers who were killed while being held hostage by protesters. The commercial said that the killings were proof of the “ferocity and savagery” of indigenous activists, but an uproar over that depiction forced the government to try to withdraw the commercial.
The authorities are struggling to understand a movement that is crystallizing in the Peruvian Amazon among more than 50 indigenous groups. They include about 300,000 people, accounting for only about 1 percent of Peru’s population, but they live in strategically important and resource-rich locations, which are scattered throughout jungle areas that account for nearly two-thirds of Peru’s territory.
So far, alliances have proved elusive between Indians in the Amazon and indigenous groups in highland areas, ruling out, for now, the kind of broad indigenous protest movements that helped oust governments in neighboring Ecuador and Bolivia earlier in the decade.
In contrast to some earlier efforts to organize indigenous groups, the leaders of this new movement are themselves indigenous, and not white or mestizo urban intellectuals. They are well organized and use a web of radio stations to exchange information across the jungle. After one prominent leader, Alberto Pizango, was granted asylum in Nicaragua this week, others quickly emerged to articulate demands.
“There has been nothing comparable in all my years here in terms of the growth of political consciousness among indigenous groups,” said the Rev. Joaquín García, 70, a priest from Spain who arrived in Iquitos 41 years ago and directs the Center of Theological Studies of the Amazon, which focuses on indigenous issues.
“At issue now,” he said, “is what they decide to do with the newfound bargaining power in their hands.”
Andrea Zarate contributed reporting from Lima, Peru.