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Peru’s Congress suspends land laws, but is it enough to calm Amazon conflict?
Peru’s Congress hopes to calm protests over President Alan Garcia’s plans to open up the country’s Amazon region to oil and logging by multinational companies but the conflict is far from being resolved.
Peruvian lawmakers temporarily suspended two decrees that triggered deadly protests by indigenous groups opposed to the move.
At least 60 people died last week in clashes between security forces and Indian protesters and the government hopes the suspension will ease tensions.
A wide divide remains. Indian groups say they want the government to repeal those decrees and roll back on other laws giving energy and mining firms access to jungle areas.
The government, meanwhile, is hoping to make up for what analysts say was a critical misstep in its push to develop the Amazon: failure to consult Indian groups living in the region.
The clashes have sparked vitriol from both sides with Garcia referring to the Indians as “terrorists” and indigenous leaders calling him a “murderer.”
Also complicating any agreement is that circumstances surrounding the clashes and the death toll remain murky.
Indigenous groups say police opened fire on demonstrators blocking a highway in protest at the laws, and the government charge protesters wielding homemade spears attacked police, taking some hostage and stabbing others to death.
Some Indian leaders have said they will no longer talk with certain members of Garcia’s government, which they feel has lost the “moral authority” to negotiate a deal.
Garcia, who has played up the police death toll in public, has so far resisted opposition calls for him to fire several of his top aides, including Prime Minister Yehude Simon, for the government’s response to the protests.
Any solution will have to overcome Garcia’s fear of appearing weak among Peru’s political class, long dominated by a European elite focused on governing for the country’s costal urban centers, where more than half of the population lives.
(Photograph by Reuters/Enrique Castro-Mendivil, taken during a protest at the entrance to Yurimaguas city, in the Amazon region of northern Peru, June 11, 2009)