Earlier this spring, an anti-mining Indigenous movement in Peru successfully ousted a Canadian mining company from their territory. “In spite of government repression, if the people decide to bring the fight to the bitter end, it is possible to resist the pressure of mining and oil companies,” Peruvian activist and journalist Yasser Gómez told The Dominion.
The David and Goliath scenario of this anti-mining uprising highlights the vast economic inequality that has beset Peru. The country’s economy has been booming for the past decade, with a seven per cent growth expected this year—one of the highest growth rates internationally. Sixty-five per cent of the country’s export income comes from the mining industry, and investors are expected to spend over $40 billion in the next 10 years on mining operations.
Yet this growth has not benefited a large percentage of the population. The poverty rate in Peru is just over 31 per cent; in the countryside, two in three people live under the poverty line. Today, there are over 200 communities organized against mining across Peru.
Cocaine, the drug fueling the trade that’s left thousands dead in Mexico and Central America since 2007 and which 1.4 million Americans are addicted to, originates with two species of the coca plant grown in the South American Andes. Ninety percent of the U.S. market for cocaine is fed by Colombia, with the rest largely provided by Peru and Bolivia.
An estimated 310 to 350 tons of refined cocaine were trafficked out of Colombia last year, enough to make a rail of nose candy that would encircle the earth twice. Along with exporting cocaine northward, Colombia has become a laboratory for failed drug war policies that are finding their way to Central America and Mexico.
In July 2000 President Bill Clinton signed Plan Colombia (see note following article for more information) into law, initiating the anti-drug-producing and trafficking operation that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $7.3 billion to date. U.S. military bases have been established in Colombia under the plan, as have extensive air patrols, pesticide spraying and surveillance. Because of the violence, some 2.5 million Colombians have been displaced.
“The lessons of Colombia are being ignored in many ways. You’ll have mainstream analysts saying Colombia is the model to win the drug war. If Colombia is winning then what are the Colombians trafficking?” drug war expert Sanho Tree, a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., told The Indypendent.
Digging up an issue I have watched for some time, the IPS reported yesterday that justice is still elusive for the indigenous of the Peruvian Amazon. In June of last year, tribal opposition to the government’s trade liberalization policies erupted in rioting. Sixty people were killed in what has been described as the worst fighting Peru had seen in a decade and a revolution that should inspire the world.
While the Peruvian government was forced to hold off on FTA-mandated plans to open large swaths of tribal land to oil, mineral, and timber extraction, it has not been a total victory.
From the IPS report:
Although the technical investigations cleared two of the indigenous demonstrators accused in the murders of 12 policemen during a bloody June 2009 clash between native protesters and the security forces near the northern Amazon jungle town of Bagua, they are still behind bars.
Feliciano Cahuasa and Danny López have been in prison for over eight months, despite the fact that technical crime scene investigations showed that neither of them fired a single shot, and that they are thus innocent of the Jun. 5 killings of the police officers.
On the other hand, no police are in prison for the Jun. 5 shooting deaths of at least 10 indigenous protesters, which occurred when the police were ordered to clear their roadblock on the main highway near Bagua.
This comes on the heels of another report from Indian Country Today concerning the corruption of the official investigation into the riots.
So while the elusive “official story” is likely to pin quite a bit of blame on “foreign provocateurs” and shrug off the actions of law enforcement, we can at least remember Danny and Feliciano.
“The uprising in the Amazon is more urgent than Iran’s”, writes Johann Hari of The Independent – “it will determine the future of the planet.” Hyperboles aside, this is truly an excellent piece of journalism. The silence and lack of solidarity from the ‘left’ in the West for the heroic struggles for survival of indigenous peoples throughout Latin America in the face of brutal political and economic repression is “shaming” indeed. “These people had nothing” writes Hari “but they stood up to the oil companies. We have everything, yet too many of us sit limp and passive, filling up our tanks with stolen oil without a thought for tomorrow. The people of the Amazon have shown they are up for the fight to save our ecosystem. Are we?” Let’s see how things shape up during this week’s G8 summit in Italy but the prospects for a revival of the faltering alter-globalisation movement seem rather bleak, according to Ben Trott. (Also, have a look at Belen’s excellent piece on recent events in Peru, if you haven’t already.)
While the world nervously watches the uprising in Iran, an even more important uprising has been passing unnoticed – yet its outcome will shape your fate, and mine.
In the depths of the Amazon rainforest, the poorest people in the world have taken on the richest people in the world to defend a part of the ecosystem none of us can live without. They had nothing but wooden spears and moral force to defeat the oil companies – and, for today, they have won.
On a slightly different note, Ángel Páez of IPS reports about the shocking state of water distribution in Peru. Not only do 8 million people (out of a population of 28 million) lack access to piped water but the inhabitants of the capital’s slums pay almost 8 times more than Lima’s super-rich elite for access to clean water.
In Lomas de Manchay, an area of slum-covered hills outside of the Peruvian capital that is home to 50,000 people, mainly poor indigenous migrants from the highlands, clean water is worth gold – almost literally.
Local residents of the shantytown pay 3.22 dollars per cubic metre of water, compared to just 45 cents of a dollar that is paid a few blocks away, across the main avenue, in Rinconada del Lago, one of Lima’s most exclusive neighbourhoods.