Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Peru: Scores dead in battle for the Amazon

The leader of Peru's Amazon Indians will be flown to exile in Nicaragua after seeking asylum following violent demonstrations that killed scores of police and protesters...

Human rights lawyers have since accused the President Alan Garcia's regime of an orchestrated cover-up. Official figures put the death toll at just 32, including 23 policemen. News reports say the number of deaths is closer to 60, and vast numbers of missing people have yet to be accounted for.

Police open fire on Amazon Indians blocking the road in Bagua Grande in Peru's northern province of Utcubamba on Friday. (AP)
Trade unions are organising a strike across the country today, hoping to fan public outrage over the incident, which began when police fired tear gas and automatic weapons into noisy crowds of protesters...

The crisis follows months of escalating controversy over Mr Garcia's attempts to implement a free trade agreement with the US. New laws, brought in to increase the number of oil and logging concessions in the country's 67 million hectares of rainforest, appear to allow for the sale of tribespeople's ancestral territories.

In April, Aidesep supporters began blocking roads and rivers in rural areas of the country. A crucial oil pipeline across northern Peru has been shut down since the end of the month, costing the state oil company an estimated US $ 120,000 (£75,000) a day.

Indigenous people, who account for almost half of Peru's 28 million inhabitants, have for years had a tense relationship with the ruling class, who are largely descended from Europeans. Mr Garcia's has attempted to dismiss his Amazonian opponents as brutal savages, accusing them of "elemental ignorance".
"They just don't know their place. Can't they just learn that they lost, we won and their elemental culture has no place in the modern world".

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