After worst violence in 10 years, Peru's Congress suspends controversial land decrees

Date of publication: 
11 June 2009

RENO, NV – A violent uprising over the development of oil and mineral reserves in Peru’s Amazon region prompted Peru’s Congress Wednesday to vote to suspend its Forestry and Wildlife law and another law giving Peru’s President Alan Garcia special powers to further open the country to foreign investment.

Garcia has 15 days to either sign the suspension order or send it back to Congress, which can override his veto.

Peru’s President is working to bring the nation’s regulatory environment in compliance with a free-trade agreement with the United States. He had granted nearly 70% of the lands in the Peruvian Amazon for exploitation by multinational companies, according to a study by Duke University.

At least 54 people were killed in the worst violence Peru had seen in a decade as Peruvian riot police tried to remove thousands of indigenous Amazonian protestors from a highway they were blocking. It is believed that 14 police officers were killed and more than 100 protestors still cannot be accounted for.

Peru’s Minister for Women and Social Development resigned to protest the government’s handling of the crisis.

Garcia has issued numerous decrees through special powers granted to him by Congress last year, which made it easier for companies to gain concessions for mining, oil drilling and logging in Peru, including on indigenous lands. The forestry law alone removed 45 million hectares of Peruvian jungle from the government’s list of protected regions.

However, the government says 12 million hectares have been set aside for indigenous people and another 15 million hectares for national reserves. Many critics say the government failed to consult with native communities about the laws which they say impact their ancestral lands.

Meanwhile, Peruvian indigenous leader Alberto Pizango-who is accused of sedition, conspiracy and rebellion-has been granted refuge in the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima.