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Questions arise as calm returns
Leslie Josephs
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Government cedes to some protesters’ demands, but fears of curbed liberties surface.

It took dozens of dead to persuade Peru´s government to budge on a series of investment decrees that Amazon indigenous groups argued threatened their native lands, opening them up to oil, logging, mining and farming development without their consent.

On June 15, 10 days after the bloody clashes in Peru´s northern jungle of June 5, President Alan García´s government announced it would ask Congress to revoke two of the most controversial decrees that sparked the protests.

The protests began more than two months before García´s government agreed to take a conciliatory measure with the indigenous population.

García´s Cabinet chief Yehude Simon announced he will resign, once “calm” is restored over the conflict, likely in the coming weeks, sealing the biggest political scandal in the three-year-old administration, led by García, whose hard line against the protests inflamed anger even more against his government.

Indigenous groups and rights groups applauded the decision, but lamented the loss of life in the June 5 clashes.

Following the government decision to ask lawmakers to repeal the two decrees, the Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Amazon, or Aidesep, an umbrella group of Amazon indigenous organizations, called for an immediate end to any road blockades still ongoing in the country.

“Aidesep salutes the executive branch´s new attitude and its proclaimed political will to finally resolve our demands,” the organization said in a statement.

The government has created a multi-sector commission, including indigenous representatives to debate the decrees, but these long-disenfranchised peoples insist that their culture and values are taken into consideration.

“We indigenous people have to be part of the country´s development [and] not be excluded,” Lidia Rengifo, president of the Regional Association of Indigenous Peoples from the Central Jungle, told Radioprogramas in an interview. “It´s very clear that the indigenous peoples have different ways of seeing development.”

But despite these advances, civil and human rights organizations have pointed out that García´s government is “clamping down” on certain liberties.

On June 14, prominent human rights lawyer Carlos Rivera Paz was detained on charges that he presented falsified signatures to the state-run elections board. Although Rivera Paz, who led the civil suit against jailed ex-President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), and is investigating García´s role in the 1986 massacre at El Fronton prison during his 1985-90 government, was released the following day, the election board said it never filed any complaint against him.

Some groups have complained that press freedoms are also now at risk, after the government revoked the license of Radio La Voz de Utcubamba in the northern jungle.

“It´s strange because it´s not about a medium that is working illegally,” said Adriana León Cantella of the press freedom department in the Press and Society Institute. “The station is following the law.”

She said that during the clashes, the station had given microphones to people who were looking for loved ones, and that the station acted impartially.

Peru´s government is also cracking down on nongovernmental organizations, and is about to pass a bill that would cut off funding for certain groups that it says cause unrest.

Stephen Corry, director of pro-indigenous organization Survival International, said in a statement: “Rather than worrying about the activities of NGOs, the Peruvian authorities and Congressmen ought to be seriously worried about what the events of the last 11 days have done to Peru´s international reputation, which lies in tatters.”
—Latinamerica Press.

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