Rallying to Save the Amazon, Indigenous Peoples are Attacked and Murdered in Peru


Rallying to Save the Amazon, Indigenous Peoples are Attacked and Murdered in Peru

June 15, 2009

In Peru, numerous “mega-projects” threaten the very existence of the Amazon rainforest’s rich flora and fauna—and the well-being of the indigenous peoples who have lived there for hundreds of years. But, as demonstrated in recent attacks, those who stand up for the rainforest are finding their very own survival at stake.

On June 5-6th, 2009, indigenous peoples’ groups, organized by AJWS grantee AIDESEP, organized a peaceful protest near Bagua, an area in the northern Peruvian Amazon. During the protest, indigenous groups blockaded roads to show their opposition to recent legislation that will open up 70% of the Amazon to mega-projects.

Mega-projects are massive infrastructure projects; they can include pipelines, power lines, roads and dams. Mega-projects in Peru are designed to open the resource-rich Amazon to large-scale industrial development, so that industries can extract and export materials such as oil, timber and gold to global markets.

The Amazon is home to numerous indigenous peoples, who have historical roots with the land and have lived on it since pre-colonial days. However, mega-projects and their associated development often operate with complete disregard for the safety and livelihood of these peoples—and threaten to destroy of millions of acres of wilderness and wildlife.

The government of Peru, which is all-too-frequently hostile to the nation’s indigenous peoples, supports these mega-projects with little regard for the impact they have on the environment or the human rights of its inhabitants. Indigenous peoples have been forcibly and violently removed from their lands, while the rainforest’s fragile ecosystems are degraded by the plunder of transnational corporations.

During the Bagua protest, retaliation from the Peruvian police came swiftly—and brutally. Over 600 police opened fired on the protestors. Amazon Watch, an AJWS grantee, reports that “over 600 police attacked several thousand unarmed indigenous peoples, including many women and children, and forcibly dispersed them using tear gas and live ammunition.”

The reported numbers of dead vary, but indigenous organizations place the number of protesters killed at least at 40, while government officials claim only 25 casualties. At least 150 people were detained and have not yet been released.

Since then, numerous eyewitnesses are reporting that the special forces of the Peruvian police are disposing of the bodies of indigenous protestors. Amazon Watch has received detailed reports of protestors’ bodies burned beyond recognition; others have been found in deep crevices in remote hills.

AJWS is deeply concerned with the treatment of the Bagua protestors, among them many AJWS grantees and beneficiaries. Despite the violence, indigenous groups, environmental organizations and their advocates are committed to continuing the fight. AIDESEP has organized a nation-wide strike; and on June 11th, more than 10,000 people protested in Lima against the violent and repressive response of the government.

AJWS is working with Amazon Watch to raise awareness locally and internationally. To stay abreast of developments in this struggle, please visit www.lapress.org, where AJWS grantee Comunicaciones Aliadas provides English-language news. To contribute to letter-writing and petition campaigns, visit Amazon Watch’s website at www.amazonwatch.org.