Amazon Indians have been protesting for two months against a series of laws that would open up their communal rainforests to oil and gas companies, in what has become the worst political violence since the Shining Path insurgency in the 1980s.
Over the past few years, more than 70 percent of the Amazon has been parceled out to oil and gas companies for exploration, and a series of large-scale finds now threaten much of the remaining virgin forests. Similar schemes in neighboring Ecuador have had a devastating effect on the rainforest, and led to chronic pollution and ill-health amongst the Indians who live there.
The companies involved include Anglo-French Perenco (a major gas supplier to the UK), Argentina’s PlusPetrol, Canada’s Petrolifera, Spain’s Repsol, Brazil’s Petrobras and many others.
The most violent clashes occurred last Friday between Amazon Indians blockading roads and rivers, and police and army units and have left dozens of Indians, and at least 23 policemen, dead, bringing the total number of victims of the long dispute to around 150.
Last week’s protests took place in an area of northern Peru known as Curva del Diablo or “Devil’s Curve.” Indigenous leaders say police shot at them from helicopters, but authorities say the police were attacked.
Amnesty International has stated they are deeply concerned about the situation in the Peruvian Amazon following these events. ‘The situation in the Amazon remains critical,’ said Nuria Garcia, Amnesty’s researcher on Peru. ‘It is vital that the authorities take decisive measures to prevent human rights violations being committed or that their actions lead to an escalation of violence.’
President Garcia has labeled the protests ‘a conspiracy’ and the protesters ‘ignorant’. Peruvian Indian leader Alberto Pizango, speaking before he went into hiding in Nicaragua, said: ‘We feel that the government has always treated us as second-class citizens’.