Alberto Pizango And the Struggle For Indigenous Rights In Peru

Peruvian President Alan Garcia dealt a blow to the indigenous rights movement when he recently refused to sign a law that would give indigenous people more control over oil and mining projects on their traditional lands. But it’s looking increasingly like Garcia is simply trying to hold back a tide that can’t be stopped.

Perhaps the most recognizable face of the indigenous rights movement in Peru is Alberto Pizango, president of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest. Pizango spent the better part of the past year in self-imposed exile in Nicaragua. The Peruvian government had charged him with “advocating revolt and sedition” following a massive protest during which federal troops opened fire and murdered more than 30 protesters in the northern province of Bagua. This was despite the fact that Pizango had specifically called for non-violent protest and was hundreds of miles away at the time of the incident.

Many international organizations have now taken up Pizango’s cause. According to Amnesty International, the charges are an attempt by the government to deflect blame for the brutal slaughter of peaceful protesters:

[Pizango] faces charges in Peru that appear to be based on the government’s interpretation of events rather than on substantive evidence…Amnesty International remains concerned at the Peruvian government’s disregard for the indigenous peoples and fears that Pizango, as an advocate for the indigenous peoples, will not receive a fair trial because of the government’s misinterpretation of events.

You can take action right now by signing Amnesty International’s petition to “Demand a Fair Trial for Alberto Pizango.”

Today, Peru’s government continues to lease oil and gas concessions in the country’s Amazon region despite decades of social, environmental, and human rights violations. These travesties have occurred thanks to substandard technology and careless exploitation by foreign companies. EarthRights International and the Federation of Native Communities of the Corrientes River released a report cataloging those violations in 2007.

The report found, for example, that for 30 years, in one indigenous province, the Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation knowingly undertook destructive practices that “severely contaminated” the ecosystem and have led to human rights, health and environmental abuse. Today, abuses occur unabated through the company’s successor.

But the depressing situation may be looking up, despite President Garcia’s intransigence.

On June 5, 2010, a year after the massacre in Bagua, indigenous peoples turned out across the country to protest two legislative decrees that would have rolled back their rights and opened their lands to even more exploitation by mining, oil, and other fossil fuels interests.

And a few days before the anniversary, Alberto Pizango returned to his family in Peru for the first time since the trumped up charges drove him out. Still, he was arrested immediately upon reentering the country, but has since been released while he awaits trial.

It’s vitally important that we get the word out about Pizango far and wide, so use those social networking tools at the top of this post to share it wherever you can. The Peruvian federal government must know that the world is watching how it handles this case, and that we all expect justice to be done — not just for Alberto Pizango, but for all of the indigenous peoples of Peru. They should have the right to determine how their land is used, and the right to live free of poisonous impacts from drilling and mining.

Photo Credit: Vigil outside police station where Alberto Pizango was detained overnight after his return. May 26, 2010. Courtesy of AmazonWatch.

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