Friday, June 12, 2009
LOS ANGELES--Crowds of curious onlookers surrounded a group of indigenous rights activists, members of the Peruvian community, and environmentalists as they demonstrated in front of the Peruvian consulate today through dance, procession, chant, and speech.
At this latest in a series of demonstrations in front of the large building on the Koreatown stretch of Wilshire that houses the consulate, protestors angered by President Alan García's use of military force against indigenous rights activists decried the massacre of an unknown number of people. They also lashed out against the "free trade" policies the victims gave their lives fighting against.
While Perú has never had an easy political life, things became particularly confrontational since the legislature passed Decree 1090, which opens up resource-rich lands in the Amazon basin to the genocidal environmental devastation capitalists call "progress." Decree 1090, which has since been repealed in a diversionary tactic disguised as an act of reconciliation, set the stage for Perú to enter a "free trade" agreement with the United States. Other FTAs introduced in Latin America have been met with strong resistance when proposed, and have resulted in economic pillaging and impoverishment when ultimately imposed.
Indigenous political consciousness, fueled in part by radio communication, is currently at a high point. The government, however, has taken increasingly harsh stances toward the movement, imposing curfews and suppressing journalism. It has also used criminal charges to squelch dissent. Alberto Pizango, a leader elected through AIDESEP, an indigenous organization, was sought on charges of sedition before being granted asylum in Nicaragua, but now other leaders are wanted on the same charges. Furthermore, the government launched a racist media offensive1, supposedly in defense of the police and military whose lives the APRista government sacrificed in their assault on the roadblock maintained in the city of Bagua.
It is unclear how many people died in the assault, which was a collaboration between police and the army. The official report says thirty-three: 24 police and nine protesters. But other media reports estimate between 30 and 40 indigenous fatalities with many more still missing in the chaos. Accusations have been raised that the government agency Diroes (Dirección de Operaciones Especiales) is burning the bodies of victims2, while human rights organizations have denounced the dragging of corpses into rivers.3
News of the massacre prompted large demonstrations by labor and other sympathetic movements in Lima and other large cities in Peru, where police attacked them with tear gas4, as well as solidarity actions at Peruvian consulates in New York5, Washington DC, Calgary, and Los Angeles.
The largest of these local demonstrations6 attracted about 50 people, while about half that number were present for today's action.
In a show of indigenous solidarity, Danza Cuauhtémoc began with a ceremony. In between dances, they called out Alan García for his murderous actions. Chants included "La selva no se vende, la selva se defiende!" "¡Alan genocida, el pueblo te repudia!" "Stop the killing of indigenous people!" and "Stop the free trade agreement!"
Many people on the street stopped to ask us what was going on. Most were very sympathetic, and many had no idea about what was going on.
One man, who was probably an employee of the consulate, yelled at us angrily. "I don't see any of those signs mourning the loss of those police officers!" Some people calmly explained that all feeling people hate to see families suffer tragedies, regardless of what side of the barricades they may be on. After he became even more furious, the human rights defenders refused to engage him further, and he stormed away.
A round of speeches urging attendees to put pressure on the Peruvian and their own government to rectify the abuses and to stop pursuing failed global financial policies that provoke them rounded out the event.
To paraphrase one of the day's slogans, the blood of the martyrs in this struggle against neoliberal globalism that was spilled will never be forgotten by those who participated in or were touched by today's fierce demonstration.
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