Indian leader forced into exile as President calls protesters ‘savages’
|Police break up road blockade near Bagua, Peru, June 5th |
© Thomas Quirynen
The President of Peru’s Amazon Indian organisation AIDESEP has been forced into exile. Alberto Pizango sought refuge in the Nicaraguan embassy in Peru’s capital Lima after a warrant was issued for his arrest. Nicaragua has granted him asylum.
Pizango was charged with ‘sedition, conspiracy and rebellion’ following the violent confrontation between hundreds of indigenous protesters blockading a road near the town of Bagua in northern Peru, and riot police intent on breaking up the protest.
The violent tactics used by the police, firing automatic weapons at Indians who were peacefully protesting, resulted in many deaths on both sides.
At least 30 Indians are thought to have been killed, but indigenous organisations believe the real figure is significantly higher, and have accused the police of throwing large numbers of bodies into the Marañon river. More than 20 police officers are also believed to have died.
Peru’s President Alan Garcia has labelled the indigenous protesters ‘savages’, ‘barbaric’, ‘ignorant’ and ‘second-class citizens’.
The Indians’ protests started two months ago in response to a series of government decrees promoting the opening up of their lands to oil and gas companies. In recent years more than 70% of Peru’s Amazon has been auctioned off to oil companies, with the Indians rarely being consulted.
Frustrated by the refusal of the authorities to negotiate with them, AIDESEP called for a series of peaceful protests. Indian communities throughout central and northern Peru have been blockading rivers and roads in a successful attempt to halt the oil industry traffic.
Survival has called for oil and gas companies in the Amazon to suspend their operations until the government agrees to peaceful negotiations with the Indians’ representatives; for an independent and impartial inquiry into the tragic events near Bagua; and for the lifting of all charges against Sr. Pizango.