Thousands of indigenous people have protested in Peru's Amazon for much of the past 40 days, hoping to pressure President Garcia to modify or strike down a series of laws he passed last year that encourage oil, mining and agricultural companies to invest billions of dollars in the mostly pristine region.
Indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon are protesting investment laws passed under a free-trade pact with the United States and against concessions granted to foreign energy companies. Some 30,000 indigenous people have blockaded roads, rivers and railways to demand repeal of new laws that allow oil, mining and logging companies to enter indigenous territories without seeking consent or even any consultation. Indigenous communities complain that some 70% of Peruvian Amazon territory is now leased for oil and gas exploration, putting at risk their own lives and the biodiversity of the Amazon.
Peruvian state-run producer PetroPeru said earlier that protesters impeded work at pumping stations on the government-run North Peruvian oil pipeline, cutting shipments of crude oil.
The indigenous groups started the demonstrations in April, asking that Congress revoke a series of decrees they say will open their land to mining, logging and oil drilling without consent.
Officials in Peru are quick to point out that this was one of the first Latin American countries to establish local government strategies to curb the loss of biological diversity. "We made it possible in 1999, even before Brazil," María Luisa del Río, the Environment Ministry’s director for biodiversity, told Tierramérica. (www.tierramerica.info)
But experts and critics assure that the biggest problem is implementing those plans in Peru, considered one of the world’s leaders in natural wealth of ecosystems, species, genetic resources and indigenous cultures.
Scientists estimate that Peru is home to some 25,000 plant species, that is, 10 percent of the world total, and to 1,816 bird species. But this great natural heritage has been threatened in recent decades by the extraction of natural resources, and hundreds of species are in danger of extinction.
Between 2002 and 2007, mining concessions grew more than 70 percent due to incentives for foreign investment and high international prices for metals. Meanwhile, protests by indigenous and peasant communities about mining-based pollution also increased.
Indigenous leaders saying President Garcia has disregarded a U.N. declaration that protects their rights to control land and natural resources.
The protests, which have already shut Peru's pipeline that carries oil from the Amazon to the Pacific Ocean, underscore the risks of investing in a country with a poverty rate of 40 percent and a history of discord between wealthy elites in Lima and poor indigenous groups in the countryside. Despite this reality, the President declared that:
"The lands of the Amazon belong ... to all Peruvians and not just a small group that lives there," Garcia said over the weekend. "The riches of Peru belong to all Peruvians."
Garcia decreed most of the laws in question last year using special powers Congress gave him to bring Peru's regulations into line with the requirements of its free-trade pact with the United States.
Garcia, a former leftist who now fervently supports foreign investment, has sold dozens of concessions to foreign energy and mining companies since taking office in 2006. More auctions are planned in a country where mineral exports drive economic growth and the government is working to become self-sufficient in oil production.
(May 31) Truckers burned a weigh station and an official vehicle in northern Peru on Friday to demand government action against Amazon Indians who have been blocking highways in a protest against laws they say threaten their control of ancestral lands, CPN Radio reported.
The reality is that indigenous people will lose their natural heritage to the President, foreign investors, the business elite, but they will end up with nothing!
The Indians have refused to end their protests, despite the initiation of talks with the government on resolving the dispute.
Please add your voice in solidarity with the tens of thousands of indigenous people and their international supporters mobilizing to protect the Peruvian Amazon.
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