Sunday, June 14, 2009

Peaceful Indigenous Protesters Shot in Peru

Awajun indigenous protesters in Bagua, northern Peru, where many were wounded and taken to hospitals on May 10, 2009 after armed police attacked their non-violent blockade of the Corral Quemado Bridge (photo courtesy of Global Response and Thomas Quirynen)

Indigenous persons the world over are fighting to defend their lands from the mining and oil firms who want to drill/mine/deforest their land to capture the remainder of the earth’s resources. Unfortunately, many of them have been killed in this attempt. We have robbed the earth of so many of her resources, that now most of what remains lies either in or on tribal lands.

This battle is becoming so brutal, it has become known as the world’s second “oil war”. Nowhere is this battle being more bravely fought than in the Peruvian Amazonian rainforest. However, the battle is anything but fair. On one side are the police armed with automatic weapons, teargas, helicopter gunships and armoured cars. On the other side are several thousand Awajun and Wambis Indians (many in war paint) armed only with traditional weapons: bows and arrows; and, spears.
Photo courtesy Survival International.

In some of the worst violence seen in Peru in 20 years, at least 50 Indians and 9 police officers were killed with hundreds more wounded or arrested in the Bagua Grande incident alone. The indigenous rights group Survival International described it as “Peru’s Tiananmen Square”.

This past week, indigenous people gave testimony to Latin America regarding the consequences of allowing corporate companies free access the Amazonian forest to exploit an estimated 6 bn barrels of oil and untold millions in timber. After months of peaceful protests on the bridge at Bagua Grande, the police were ordered to forcibly remove the road block erected by the natives.

"For thousands of years, we've run the Amazon forests," said Servando Puerta, one of the protest leaders. "This is genocide. They're killing us for defending our lives, our sovereignty, human dignity."

The Peruvian rainforest is the biggest stretch of Amazon outside Brazil. As the Earth's largest tropical rainforest, the Amazon plays a critical role in safeguarding global climate. Scientists estimate Peru is home to some 25,000 plant species (10 % of the world total) and to 1,816 bird species. But this crucial global ecosystem has been threatened in recent decades by the industrial extraction of natural resources. More than 70% of the Peruvian Amazon is now under some sort of foreign resource concession. Between 2002 and 2007, mining grew more than 70 percent.

Peru is just one of many countries now in open conflict with its indigenous people over natural resources. Barely reported in the international press, there have been major protests around mines, oil, logging and mineral exploitation in Africa, Latin America, Asia and North America. Hydro electric dams, biofuel plantations as well as coal, copper, gold and bauxite mines are all at the centre of major land rights disputes.

"An aggressive drive is taking place to extract the last remaining resources from indigenous territories," says Victoria Tauli-Corpus, an indigenous Filipino and chair of the UN permanent forum on indigenous issues. "There is a crisis of human rights. There are more and more arrests, killings and abuses. This is happening in Russia, Canada, the Philippines, Cambodia, Mongolia, Nigeria, the Amazon, all over Latin America, Papua New Guinea and Africa. It is global. We are seeing a human rights emergency. A battle is taking place for natural resources everywhere. Much of the world's natural capital – oil, gas, timber, minerals – lies on or beneath lands occupied by indigenous people."

Davi Yanomami, a shaman of the Yanomami peoples, one of the largest; but, most isolated Brazilian indigenous groups, came to London last week to warn of the effects of the deforestation and to ask for help to prevent his tribe from becoming extinct.

"History is repeating itself", he told the MPs. "Twenty years ago many thousand gold miners flooded into Yanomami land and one in five of us died from the diseases and violence they brought. We were in danger of being exterminated then, but people in Europe persuaded the Brazilian government to act and they were removed.

"But now 3,000 more miners and ranchers have come back. More are coming. They are bringing in guns, rafts, machines, and destroying and polluting rivers. People are being killed. They are opening up and expanding old airstrips. They are flooding into Yanomami land. We need your help.

"Governments must treat us with respect. This creates great suffering. We kill nothing, we live on the land, we never rob nature. Yet governments always want more. We are warning the world that our people will die."

Victor Menotti, director of the California-based International Forum on Globalisation says this: "This is a paradigm war taking place from the arctic to tropical forests. Wherever you find indigenous peoples you will find resource conflicts. It is a battle between the industrial and indigenous world views."

A video by Greenpeace talking about the deforestation of the Amazon.

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