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Home | Friday 12th June 2009 | Issue 679

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Last month SchNEWS reported on mass protests in the Amazonian region of Peru as thousands of people from indigenous communities blockaded waterways and roads, and staged marches, pickets and occupations in opposition to legislation that will allow the plundering of the region’s natural resources (See SchNEWS 675). The protests have continued ever since and last week erupted into violence when Peruvian special forces attacked protesters blockading a bridge.

At 2am last Friday (5th), police approached sleeping protesters, who were into the 56th day of a previously peaceful protest. When they refused to disperse, the police opened fire - first with tear gas, then with live ammunition - firing from both sides of the bridge and from helicopters. In recordings made during the attack police were heard to shout “Shoot the dogs in the head” as protesters fled. A number fought back, wrestling weapons from the police and turning them on their attackers.

The raid left at least 22 police and between 30 and 100 protesters dead. It has been impossible to ascertain exactly how many were killed as an aggressively enforced curfew in the area has prevented the community from searching for missing people. There have also been reports of police burning corpses and dumping bodies into the river to conceal the extent of the crime. At least 150 people are still being detained following the attack while local hospital workers have claimed that police forcibly removed some of the hundreds of wounded and took them to an unknown location.

So far the mainstream Peruvian media have toed the government line and have only reported on the deaths of the police officers. President Alan Garcia has responded to the situation with a torrent of racial abuse and paranoid ravings. After denouncing the indigenous protesters as “savage and barbaric” and intent on leading “Peru into irrationality and a backward primitive state” he then suggested they were being manipulated by “foreign forces” - a thinly veiled broadside at Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales in Venezuela and Bolivia.

Following the attack Peruvian authorities ordered the arrest of Alberto Pizango Chota, a leader in AIDESEP - the indigenous organisation which has been coordinating the movement - on charges of sedition and inciting violence. Pizango Chota took refuge in the Nicaraguan embassy where he was granted asylum this Tuesday (9th) when the Nicaraguan ambassador, Tomas Borge, declared him to be “a victim of political persecution”.

Despite the violence, the indigenous communities have vowed to stand their ground and the protest has now spread to the districts of Trompeteros and Andoas where protesters have seized control of two oil installations, shutting down the Northern Peruvian oil pipeline run by Argentine company Pluspetrol. The authorities meanwhile look set to continue the clampdown and have declared their intention to remove a blockade on the motorway between the cities of Yurimaguas and Tarapoto. 

* See

Keywords: alberto pizango chota, amazon river, indigenous people, peru


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