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Partial victory in Peru, laws to be repealed

Some 350,000 Amazon Natives finally got Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s government to make good on a year-old promise to sit down for talks while the government party in Congress works to repeal a set of laws threatening Native lands.

Natives had asked that the laws be repealed since they were enacted last year when Garcia used special powers for a U.S.-Peru free-trade deal.

Natives have long complained that if those laws weren’t changed, they would allow Lima authorities to sell their lands to oil, gas, agriculture, lumber and gold investors. Natives claim the laws are illegal because they violate accords between Peru and the U.N. concerning Native rights.

As of June 16, fighting related to the laws had left at least 35 dead including Natives, police and local residents, as well as an undetermined number of missing and injured. There were also less than 10 people still under arrest.

In a June 17 statement, AIDESEP – the national organization of the Amazon indigenous people of Peru that led the efforts to repeal the laws – asked its member communities to put an end to all traffic blockades in place since April 8.

The organization’s leader, Alberto Pizango, who has been described by Garcia as “a criminal” and forced to seek refuge in the embassy of Nicaragua to escape charges of homicide, asked Peruvian officials to put an end to all political persecution against himself and others.

The organization also asked authorities to “stop harassing the (Native) populations both through incursions by army into communities as well as through overflying.”

The long-sought accord that brings protests to an end came after much difficulty. Just a week earlier the main groups in Congress got into arguments that resulted in the suspension of seven legislators while the government remained adamantly opposed to changing any law.

Natives demand investigation

“We want clarification of the events of the days June 5, 6 and 7 by the setting up of a Truth Commission of high credibility that could gather evidence and testimony of causes and consequences,” AIDESEP said in its statement.

There is much uncertainty related to early June fighting. Natives accuse police of trying to end a highway blockade by shooting at their leaders from a helicopter and the police accuse Natives of firing at police who were throwing tear gas from a helicopter.

The government figure indicates no more than 10 civilians, including Natives, were killed. Natives have claimed many more died though they have not turned in any bodies or provided names.

At least one human rights organization is collecting testimony about possible victims not included in the official toll. German actress, Q’Orianka Kilcher, who is of Peruvian Native descent, came to Peru in mid-June and gave 50 video cameras to Natives for documenting information.

The Peruvian Congress has moved to investigate the killing on its own by setting up a special investigative commission to be made up of all groups.

Garcia backs down as criticism mounts

“Time will show how those that today reject something will be the first ones to come asking for it because they will need development and investment,” Garcia said.

Javier Uribe, chief of the Amazonas region police, told reporters in Lima that so many police died because of a single individual – a police major named Felipe Bazan.

Bazan, now presumed dead, was blamed for causing many of the deaths by separating himself and his group of 10 police from the bulk of the police force that was attempting to control a hill that dominated an Amazon highway area, allowing himself and those under him to be overpowered by Natives who took their rifles.

“Natives are very fast, they can run fast in the jungle,” Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas said, explaining how a handful of Awajun and Wampis managed to steal the rifles which were then, she claimed, used to fire against a police tank and other police forces.

The reports of the missing major were also released for the first time June 16 by Cabanillas, at the same time Bazan’s family offered reward money to find him.

Felipe Bazan, father of the missing police major, announced in local media that night that the family will make available some $350 for information that leads to finding him.

“We just want the body of my son to bury him. We know nothing and assume he is dead. If he is alive it would be a miracle.”