Friday, June 19, 2009

Mass Action Can Work - Some Background on Peru

A significant protest movement of indigenous groups in the Peruvian Amazon has ended in some marked social protections.

The New York Times notes the political retreat of the government in Peru, without much explanation:
Peru’s Congress on Thursday overturned two decrees by President Alan GarcĂ­a that were aimed at opening large areas of the Peruvian Amazon to logging, dams and oil drilling but set off protests by indigenous groups this month in which dozens died.

The two most controversial decrees were called 1090 and 1064. Decree 1090 would have increased the amount of land available for privatization in the Amazon region. This privatization would have benefited capital rich energy companies who are looking to buy land, and develop and profit from its resources. This land grab would have come at the direct expense of the largely communally oriented people in the area. Decree 1064 would have overridden indigenous representation on land use issues.

There has been a media focus on the deaths caused by confrontations with the Peruvian state. This violence has been completely disproportionate, with mostly unarmed poor people confronting a heavily armed military apparatus. As reported by the New Zealand Herald:
First, the cops fire tear gas, then rubber bullets. As protesters flee, they move on to live rounds.

One man, wearing only a pair of shorts, stops to raise his hands in surrender. He is knocked to the ground and given an extended beating by eight energetic policemen in black body armour and helmets.

There are many anecdotes about the attitude of disrespect among South America's largely European-oriented elite:
...once I did visit Lima and the wife of my host, a beautiful lady of Spanish extraction, told me the Indians were still a bit of a nuisance and stood in the way of the Europeans getting rich.

She was openly and honestly racial about it. Not only were the barbed-wire fences around the house reminiscent of South Africa, so too were the racial attitudes.

The improvements in the lives and political representation of the poor in South America has come about only through radical mass action. These actions have included street protests, strikes and physically taking over and disrupting the apparatus of the established elite. This is how mass action can work, by presenting a new alternative, or a new pillar of social leadership.


Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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