Lima (AFP) May 15, 2009
Indigenous groups declared an "insurgency against the government" of President Alan Garcia Friday, escalating a tense five week old struggle with Lima over land, oil and mineral rights in Peru's Amazon rainforest.
Protests have erupted in response to government moves to open the region to oil exploration and development by foreign companies under a set of liberalizing decrees that Garcia signed in 2007 and 2008.
The French oil company Perenco last month announced plans to invest more than two billion dollars to develop a field in the Maranon River basin in northeastern Peru, a measure of the stakes involved for the Garcia government.
Alberto Pizango, the leader of a movement of 65 indigenous groups, said they had agreed "to declare our peoples in insurgency against the government of President Alan Garcia in the indigenous Amazon territories."
"This means our ancestral laws will become obligatory laws, and we will regard as aggression any force that tries to enter our territory," he said.
His statement followed the government's May 8 declaration of a 60-day state of emergency in areas of the Amazon, suspending constitutional guarantees in an attempt to suppress protests, which have targeted airports, bridges and river traffic.
Talks between protest leaders and Prime Minister Yehude Simon in Lima Wednesday failed to defuse the conflict.
"The solution is to revoke those decrees," said Pizango. The decrees eased restrictions on oil and other forms development in territories claimed by indigenous groups.
"This is not a mere whim. The government has not consulted us. We are not against development even though we are portrayed as being against the system. What we want is development from our perspective," he said.
"The government wants to take our territory to give it to the big multinational companies. There are riches there like oil, wood, gold -- riches that arouse the ambitions of the world's rich," he said.
The indigenous groups on Tuesday gained the backing of the International Federation of Human Rights, which groups 155 human rights organizations from around the world. It called on Peru to rescind the decrees because of the government's failure to consult indigenous peoples.
Government officials acknowledge that the country's indigenous groups have historically been marginalized, but insist that Peru's constitution makes the state the owner of the country's mineral wealth.
"The subsurface does not belong to the indigenous people but to all Peruvians," Environment Minister Antonio Brack told reporters on Tuesday.
"In that subsurface there is gas and oil, and for that reason it has to be developed but in an environmentally responsible manner," he said.
"The government is not going to change its energy policy on the exploitation of oil and gas because that could compromise the energy security of the country," he said.
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