LIMA – Peru’s Congress voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to repeal two laws that sparked two months of protests by Amazon Indians in which as many as 85 people may have lost their lives.
Only a dozen lawmakers opposed the motion to repeal, which was put forward by the governing APRA party after President Alan Garcia’s administration decided to abandon the controversial measures.
The laws gave Lima the power to grant mining, logging and drilling concessions on Indian lands without consulting residents.
Starting April 9, indigenous people opposed to the legislation disrupted transport links and seized control of oil-industry installations, effectively shutting down a pipeline that carries crude oil from the Amazon interior to Peru’s northern coast.
The dispute became violent on June 5, when police used force to evict the protesters from a key highway near Bagua.
Garcia’s government says 24 police and nine Indians died. Aidesep, the indigenous peoples’ association that organized the protests, puts the death toll among the protesters at between 30 and 40, and a leading Peruvian human rights organization says that 61 people remain missing in the wake of the violence.
While Aidesep raised objections to eight laws, two in particular raised the ire of the Indians: Decrees 1090 and 1064.
Decree 1090 would have created an office within Peru’s Agriculture Ministry to oversee use of forest resources in the Amazon.
Garcia’s administration said the office was needed to satisfy the conditions of Peru’s trade accord with the United States, as Washington insisted on the need for an entity that could certify Peruvian wood exports are not the products of illegal logging.
The other law the Indians found objectionable, Decree 1064, mandated that Amazonian agricultural land was subject to eminent domain if needed to accomodate pipelines or other infrastructure associated with mining and energy projects.
Indians said the government’s failure to consult with indigenous people before imposing the decrees was a violation of International Labor Organization conventions signed and ratified by Peru.
“A brave rectification is better than obstinance,” Garcia said Wednesday night in a nationally broadcast address. “Hence, I publicly ask parliament to support” repeal of the decrees.
The president acknowledged that he failed to consult with leaders of the Amazon Indians before promulgating the laws and described the omission as the beginning of a “succession of mistakes and exaggerations” that led to the conflict.
Garcia’s Cabinet chief, Yehude Simon, announced earlier this week that he plans to step down within the next few weeks, once calm has been restored, but he still faces the prospect of a grilling by lawmakers over his handling of the confrontation with the Indians.
In a parallel development, Aidesep leader Alberto Pizango arrived Wednesday in Nicaragua, whose government granted him political asylum after Peruvian prosecutors charged him with sedition. EFE