4 Aug 2009

Resisting the rainforest oil speculators

This is from my monthly column in the Morning Star, solidarity meeting with the indigenous coming up in London on 27th August....watch this space for more details.
There is a man lying in a hospital bed, put there by the eight bullets fired into his body. His government is keen to imprison him. He lacks the funds to pay his medical bills.

Can you imagine being shot not once but eight times and pulling through?

The man's name is Santiago Manuin. In June he and many other indigenous Amazonians were attacked by Peru's paramilitary police.

The indigenous people had blocked roads and river traffic in protest at new laws from President Alan Garcia, which would have allowed corporations to take their rainforest land for oil.

Amazonians took part in similar protests last year to stop identical laws. On that occasion they succeeded, but the threat to their land has returned.

On June 5 Garcia sent in heavily armed police to attack the indigenous people again. Two days of violence ensued, resulting in 34 deaths and over 200 injuries.

Manuin argued that the laws to take indigenous land threatened his people with extinction.

"We felt that the laws annulled our existence. That's why we rose up."

People across Peru seem to agree with him. The country has been convulsed with protest and trade unionists have gone on strike in solidarity.

Manuin was targeted because he inspired people right across a diverse nation. He is pacifist, a well-known environmentalist and has received a special award from Queen Sofia of Spain for his work to protect nature.

There are strong suspicions that leading politicians in Peru have been bribed by oil corporations.

The government has condemned - in often racist terms - the indigenous people for standing in the way of development.

However, Manuin has argued: "Look at history, what's happened to indigenous peoples, the deforestation, contaminated rivers... This is development?

"We don't want this kind of development. Peru shouldn't want this kind of development. But we are never consulted.

"They never tell us how they will ensure that our children can continue to live in the forest, how they will protect the forest. We need a kind of development that starts from the forest and is for the forest. It will also be the best for Peru."

Ecology is a complex science. Environmental problems sometimes create real dilemmas in physical and social terms. Cutting one form of pollution may lead to growth in another. Cleaning up the environment may create jobs, but sometimes it threatens them.

Yet in most cases the source of pattern of ecological damage is straightforward - local people are displaced, their land stolen and their human rights ridden over in the search for quick profit.

There are thousands of cases across the globe of corporations seeking to extract oil, use land for biofuels or mine for gold and other metals - all at the expense of indigenous peoples.

Environmental damage results from a process in which resources are be taken from the poor and given to the rich.

If you try to override environmental concern to gain power or profit, you will be rewarded. Those who work to protect the biosphere are likely to beaten, harassed or, like Manuin, pumped full of bullets and left to die.

But Peruvian indigenous people are fighting back. Their campaign network Aidesep organises among 50 different ethnic groups. Each area participates to create a strong grass-roots voice from the forests.

The protests in June, as with those last year, produced some important gains. These include the repeal of the law to seize their land, a meeting with President Garcia and the establishment of a truth commission to look into the massacre.

The wave of strikes across Peru has led to the repeal of an astonishing 99 laws that were part of a package linked to a free-trade agreement with the US.

However, Manuin and other indigenous leaders still face prosecution from Garcia's government simply for taking part in protest.

The bravery of people like him should be applauded, but it is too often forgotten.

During the 1960s the Peruvian government wanted to execute the socialist leader Hugo Blanco. He wrote to me recently saying that it was only because of international protest that his life was saved. Today he works for the indigenous people, visiting the wounded, seeking justice for men like Manuin.

Blanco believes that if people across the globe protest Manuin can be spared jail.

I would urge all Morning Star readers to write to President Garcia and the Peruvian ambassador in Britain to demand justice for Manuin.

President Garcia must stop police and military actions against indigenous leaders and communities. The indigenous of Peru provide an inspiring example to all of us working for ecology and social justice and they demand our support.

Visit www.aidesep.org.pe for daily updates of indigenous peoples' struggles

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jesus, why do your write for neo-Stalinist rag like the Morning Star who were singing praises of production-for-productions sake in the country that gave us Chernobyl for 80 years and haven't learned a thing since?

Derek Wall said...

So you don't care about Santiago Manuin?

Are you John Gormley?

Stalin was a monster but the Morning Star is generally a very good newspaper, I am very pleased it has given me the space today to flag up the story of a man who has been shot eight times in the defence of the rainforests....

Any way feel free to have a go at me on this but do your bit for Santiago, please!

The Morning Star have already...

James Pliny said...

This poem has been published to mark the recent conflict in Bagua, northern Peru. It condemns the failure of people, principally in the West, to speak out against the crimes committed against indigenous peoples over the last 500 years. It is a reworking of a poem attributed to a German pastor called Martin Niemoller. Please forward to anyone who would be inspired to read it.

'They came'

First they came for the tribes' land,
said it was empty and stole it,
but we did not speak up because we were not tribesmen,
and our laws encouraged it.

Then they came for what was under the tribes' land,
said it was rich and dug it up,
but we did not speak up because we were not tribesmen,
and our economy needed it.

Then they came for the tribes' culture,
said it was primitive and destroyed it,
but we did not speak up because we were not tribesmen,
and our own culture confirmed it.

Finally, they came for the tribes themselves,
said they weren’t real people and killed them,
but still we did not speak up because we were not tribesmen,
and our science proved it.

There was no need to come for us
because we were on their side.

No longer!
Now we will speak up!

James Pliny 2009

Derek Wall said...

cheers James, pasted it above ...oh I am also writing about Bagua for Socialist Resistance who are to the fourth international what Morning Star is to the Communist Party, the Green Party over here have been very supportive to the indigenous in Peru as well...good to see so much support from diverse political groups in the UK for the lucha indigena.

its vital