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The violent face of free trade: Government forces kill indigenous Peruvians defending the Amazon

Peruvian government forces attack indigenous protesters defending their ancestral lands. PHOTO: Thomas Quirynen

As Peru wakes up this morning, many will decide whether to engage in strikes to stand against “free trade” and support indigenous people of the Amazon who were tragically attacked last week by their government. The official death toll from last week’s police attack on indigenous people in Peru is 30 lives lost, though it is estimated that many more have died. They died while protesting the harmful impact of the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement on their forests, their families, and their ancestral lands.

On Friday morning of last week, police descended on encampments near the town of Bagua, where a peaceful blockade was in effect to keep private companies from indigenous forest lands. These ancestral lands had been recently opened up to private companies in unconstitutional, fast-tracked Peruvian laws pushed through as a result of the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect February 1, 2009. Some reports indicate that the government forces had initially given the indigenous people until 10 AM to decide whether to leave or stay, but then descended at about 6 AM, opening fire and tear-gassing while many were still asleep. The indigenous groups mostly appear to have been armed only with spears. At some point government forces also attacked people in the town of Bagua.  Survival International, a UK-based organization supporting tribal peoples, is calling this massacre Peru’s “Tiananmen Square.”
Alan Garcia, president of Peru issued a statement explaining why his government committed these acts. Ben Powless, Mohawk Indian from Ontario and blogger for rabble.ca, describes Garcia’s statement:

Garcia declared the Indigenous elements to be standing in the way of progress, in the path of national development, wrenches in the gears of modernity, and part of an international conspiracy to keep Peru down.

“The president thought we would be docile in accepting plans that could completely change the way we hunt for food and raise crops, and we are not,” Juan Agustín told the New York Times, a Shipibo Indian and a leader of the Peruvian Jungle Interethnic Development Association.

Nelson Manrique, a political analyst with Catholic University in Lima, told the Associated Press that Garcia is trying to “deliver the Amazon to multinationals.”

“We don’t get anything from this huge exploitation, which also poisons us. We’ve never seen any development and my community lives in poverty,” local Aguaruna leader Mateo Inti told the Associated Press in Bagua.This tragic attack yanks the mask off of the true face of “free trade.” These trade agreements are weapons in an all-out war. Corporate interests and governments of well-to-do politicians will use whatever violent means they can to steal resources from people so they can keep the global economic machine oiled and humming along so that they can get richer and richer.
We need local, living economies that work for everyone. Global justice means placing people, planet, and principle before profit. Unregulated trade does not work for the people. The Peru free trade massacre only exposes the true violence of unfair trade law… we mourn for them and struggle to ensure their lives were not lost in vain. Today the world will see that people in Peru are willing to wage strikes to stand behind our basic rights, the right to healthy ecosystems and intact communities, rights that “free trade” policies work against.

- Lacy MacAuley

Photos by Thomas Quirynen

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