Peru: Views Towards the Indigenous Protests

On Friday 22nd, Peruvian Congress revoked both controversial legislative decrees 1015 and 1073, that brought about the country’s native communities demonstrations, mainly those at the Northern rainforest. (See previous posts about this: (1,2) Nevertheless, the joy in these communities didn’t last too long after they learned that the government won’t enact this new regulation. Meanwhile, it was also announced that the ruling party would introduce a new bill replacing the revoked ones.

Blogs have written interesting opinions and perspectives about the matter, trying to explain it to the Limean public, because generally they are not aware of the reasons why the indigenous communities protest and they have been exposed to some sort of misinformation campaign from the government. For instance, anthropologist Alberto Chirif, as a guest at the blog Diario de IQT [es] posts a article titled:Indigenous protests: struggle against deception and arrogance, where he dismantles some of the lousy arguments given by some government members in order to justify the decrees motivating the protest:

Nunca he conocido a un indígena que se niegue al progreso, a tener más dinero y poder comprar con éste nuevos bienes. La historia de las relaciones entre las sociedades indígenas y la colonización da cuenta clara de esto desde los primeros tiempos del contacto. Las herramientas de metal, por ejemplo, no fueron una imposición externa, sino una innovación tecnológica aceptada de buen ánimo y buscada por los propios indígenas. De hecho, su interés en mantener comunicación con los europeos no fue motivado por la religión ni otro tipo de enseñanzas de origen foráneo, sino por tener acceso a las herramientas de metal que facilitaban su trabajo y lo hacían más efectivo. En este sentido, los defensores de los decretos no deben buscar argumentos absurdos para mantener su decisión y cuestionar a los indígenas y a quienes no piensan como ellos. Los indígenas no se oponen a la innovación ni a las mejoras de sus condiciones de vida, sino al despojo y a este tipo de desarrollo que en realidad los hunde porque enajena sus recursos y su capacidad de decidir libremente sobre su futuro.

I have never met a native who refuses progress, having more money and being able to buy new goods with it. The history of relationships between indigenous societies and colonization account this clearly from the earliest moments of the contact. Take for instance metal tools, which weren’t an external imposition, but a technological innovation which was willingly accepted and searched by natives themselves. Actually, their interest in keeping communication with Europeans wasn’t motivated by religion nor other kind of foreign origined teachings, but for having access to metal tools, that made their work easier and more effective. So, the defenders of the decrees must not look for absurd arguments to maintain their decision and question the natives and those who think differently. The natives aren’t opposed to innovation nor improvements to their life quality, but to dispossessing and that kind of development that, in fact, makes them collapse because it transfers their resources and their ability to freely decide about their future.

He quotes racism too, and some contempt and complaisance towards natives that seems to prevail in Limean political class:

nunca se admite que los propios indígenas son capaces de expresar su opinión a procesos que son contrarios a sus intereses. ¿Por qué? Porque son indígenas, es decir, por racismo. La actitud no es nueva y me hace recordar un pasaje de las investigaciones judiciales realizadas durante el proceso del Putumayo, a inicios del siglo XX, mediante el cual se abrió juicio a los caucheros acusados de las masacres de los indígenas. Rey de Castro, cónsul peruano en Manaos, fue encargado por el gobierno peruano de informar sobre los hechos, pero en realidad asumió la defensa a rajatabla de los caucheros. Él trató de desacreditar las declaraciones de los indígenas que habían sufrido castigos y vejaciones, con el argumento de que, por ser indígenas, no tenían capacidad de afirmar una cosa así. Esto a pesar de que lo que decían se refería a maltratos sufridos en carne propia. En consecuencia, si afirmaban eso, era porque eran manipulados. En el tiempo que llevo trabajando con pueblos indígenas, nunca he sabido que ninguno de estos actos de protesta u otros menos visibles, para oponerse a decisiones del Estado o de empresas, haya sido manipulado por algún agente externo.

It is never admitted that the natives are able to express their opinion about processes that may have conflicts with their interests. Why? Because they are natives, I mean, out of racism. The attitude isn’t new and it makes me think about an excerpt from judicial reseraches made during the Putumayo process, at the early XX century, when some rubber tycoons were accused of the massacre of natives. Rey de Castro, Peruvian consul in Manaos, was commissioned by the Peruvian government to inform about the events, but instead he actually assumed a to-the-letter defense on behalf of the tycoons. He tried to bring into discredit the declarations from the natives who had suffered punishments and humiliations, under the claim that, because they were natives, they weren’t able to state such thing. All this in spite they were referring to mistreatments in their own flesh. As a result, if the stated that, it was beacuse they were being manipulated. In the time I’ve been working with native communities, I’ve never heard anything about any of these protests or others less visible, to object decisions from the state or corporations, being manipulated by some external agent.

Laureano del Castillo, from his homonym blog, gives us a legal vision of things (he is a lawyer) and in his post Don’t stir up, don’t lie eitherrefutes officialist propaganda about the decrees in question:

Hace mal el presidente García cuando dice “me parece un gravísimo error histórico derogar el Decreto Legislativo 1015 bajo la amenaza de huelgas y toma de carreteras” (aunque podamos coincidir en que las tomas de carreteras es una medida que afecta los intereses de inocentes); al Congreso le toca corregir un error que la soberbia impidió anticipar. Hace, sin embargo, peor cuando en una campaña de desinformación, que pagamos todos los peruanos, para defender el Decreto 1015 afirma que en los sindicatos las decisiones se toman con la mitad más uno de los trabajadores. La disposición de activos es un tema muy delicado y se ha recordado cómo para que en una sociedad anónima se tomen decisiones que implican la disposición de activos se requiere el voto de por lo menos 2/3 de las acciones pagadas. Siendo la tierra el principal activo de las comunidades lo menos que puede esperarse es que ese porcentaje se respete (como hiciera la Constitución de 1979).

President García is wrong when he says “I consider it a very grave historical mistake to revoke Legislative Decree 1015 under threats of strikes and road seizing” (even though we can agree that road seizing is a measure that affects interests of innocent people); it is up to the Congress to correct a mistake that arrogance made any anticipation impossible. He does even worse when in a misinformation campaign, paid by all of us Peruvians, in order to defend Decree 1015 states that, in unions, decisions are made with 50% plus one votes of the workers. Asset disposal is a very delicate matter and it has been remembered that in a company decisions that concern asset disposal at least vote from two thirds of the paid shares is required. Being the soil the main asset of the communities the least that we can expect is that percentage to be respected (just as the 1979 Constitution did).

Daniel Salas from Gran Combo Club [es]makes a historic parallel(I’m using that word since Alan García used it to refute the decrees opponents) with another well-known failure of the ruling party government, from their previous administration: the banking nationalization bill in 1987:

Ha habido muchos comentarios a favor de este resultado pero me extraña que nadie haya notado la coincidencia con el movimiento contra la estatización de la banca. Los personajes y las motivaciones son muy similares. Sólo espero que los resultados a la larga sean mejores ahora. En ambos casos, Alan García quiso socializar la propiedad privada de un grupo de ciudadanos. Se trataba de convertir en un bien público lo que era, es y debe ser un bien particular. También en ambos momentos se trató de un grupo reducido de personas afectadas. En 1987 se decía que no había que preocuparse de lo que les pasara a “cuatro banqueros”. En el 2008 se convertía a los ciudadanos de la selva en “unos pobladores pobres azuzados por los agitadores”.

En ambos casos, no lo olvidemos, se trató de imponer medidas antiliberales, de afectar los bienes de grupos privados. En ambos casos, también, estas agresiones gubernamentales abrieron viejos resentimientos sociales latentes: en un caso, se fomentó el odio a los ricos y se los culpabilizó de los males del Perú; en otro, se incentivó el desprecio a los “indígenas” y se culpó a su cultura del atraso de nuestro país. Son versiones de la misma teoría de los chivos expiatorios.

There have been lots of comments for this result, but I’m surprised that no one has noticed the coincidence with the movement against the banking nationalization. The characters and the motivations are very similar. I only hope that. in the long term, the results may be better. In both cases, Alan García wanted to socialize private property from a group of citizens. This was about turning into a public asset something that was, is and has to be a particular asset. Also, in both moments it was about a reduced group of affected ones. In 1987 it was said that there was nothing to worry about what could happen to “four bankers”. In 2008 the rainforest citizens were turned into “some poor settlers egged on by agitators”.

 

Let’s not forget, in both moments antiliberal measures were imposed, and would affect the interests of private groups interests. In both moments, these agressiones from the government opened old latent social resentments: on one hand, hatred for the rich ones was encouraged and the were blamed for all evils in Perú; on the other hand, contempt towards the “natives” was promoted, and their culture was blamed for our country’s backwardness. There are versions of the same theory of scapegoats.

As for Roberto Bustamante from El Blog del Morsa [es] in his post On natives and conspiracies, he also tries to refute other explanations given to motives that supposedly would be behind de natives’ protest:

cierto sector de periodistas (algunos con altos índices de credibilidad) afirman que es imposible que un grupo de nativos protesten contra algo que ni siquiera conocen bien y que debe haber más de un cerebro urbano y rojo detrás. En ciertos casos se trata de una patinada (*), en otros casos de una serie de opiniones ya sistemáticas, que ven detrás de todas las olas de protesta del país una suerte de conspiración comunista. Apelar a la teoría de la conspiración para explicar lo sucedido en la selva peruana es, a mi gusto, irresponsable, porque alimenta una seria de sentidos comunes y clichés que terminan en la justificación de actitudes persecutorias dentro del gobierno.

La segunda posición, sostiene que el problema de fondo no es ni la supuesta manipulación de las ONG’s, ni la participación de cerebros refinados en las jornadas de protesta, sino simplemente reclaman inclusión (¿no fue ese el discurso de uno de los últimos CADEs? ya no me acuerdo bien), e inclusión entendida como una educación y salud públicas dignas, acceso a justicia (frente al abuso de los colonos y extractores informales), etc. Carlos Iván Degregori va en el mismo sentido en su artículo “¡Piruanos! ¡Carajo!”, publicado en Perú21. Todo lo demás, que si la territorialidad, que si las comunidades fueron invento de Velasco es secundario, y más bien expresa un conjunto de estrategias de estos grupos subalternos por conseguir ciertos derechos, históricamente negados. En otras palabras, ni tontos que fueran, los pueblos nativos de la Amazonía van a aprovechar lo que esté a su alcance para exigir lo que consideran justo. Visto de ese modo, salimos de la teorías conspiratorias, que en el contexto actual, son francamente irresponsables.

Some sectors of journalists (some of them with very high credibility rates) state that it is impossible for a group of natives to protest against something they are not even aware of, and that there must be more than an urban or red (communist) brain behind it. In some cases this is a huge mistake (*), in other cases it’s a series of systematic opinions, that see behind each protest wave in the country some sort of communist conspiracy. To appeal to the conspiracy theory in order to explain what has happened in the Peruvian Amazonic region is, for me, irresponsible, because it fuels some series of common senses and clichés thant end up in the justification of persecution attitudes within the government.

 

The second position states that the in-depth problem is not the alleged manipulation from the NGOs, nor the participation of refined minds in the protests, but they are simply claiming to be included (wasn’t that one of the last CADE speeches? I don’t remember very well), and inclusion understood as decent public education and health services, access to justice (in face of the abuses from tenant farmers and informal extractors), etc. Carlos Iván Degregori takes the same road in his piece “Piruvians! What the heck!”, published at Perú21. Everything else, territoriality here, and there that it is secondary wheteher communities were an invention from Velasco, and expresses a set of strategies from these subordinate groups in order to get some rights, historically denied. In other words, they are not fools, the native people from the Amazonic region will take advantage of whatever they have within their means to demand what they consider fair. From that point of view, we get out from the conspiracy theories, which in the current context, are frankly irresponable.

Finally, Gerardo, a commenter from the post above, from his near experience with the natives an the way they think says:

Lo que los indígenas hacen es intentar que el Estado reconozca en la práctica lo que reconoce en la ley, que el Perú es un Estado pluricultural y que por tanto requiere políticas multiculturales y/o interculturales y si bien en eduación y salud algo se hizo antes y ahora se retrocede, en el tema más álgido de cómo se gobierna un país, la política, hay desconocimiento y poca experiencia sobre cómo tratar con la diferencia.

La idea de que desarrollo se logra mágicamente con la privatización es una idea plana, hay que repasarla, profundizarla. El temor de que los indígenas pretenden separarse, independizarse, unirse a Ecuador, tambien muestra desconocimiento, confunde la idea de nación con la de estado. Me imagino sale de la lectura de unos pocos documentos, de algunas declaraciones aisladas, es una afirmación poco rigurosa. Se origina en miedos coloniales, es etnocéntrica. Eso es comprensible, el etnocentrismo es comprensible, es universal, se combate con el diálogo y una condición para el diálogo es la igualdad, pero quienes gobiernan el país y tienen la voz en los medios de comunicación, en su mayoría tienen una procedencia étnica que los coloca desde ya en una jerarquía distinta, creen además tener la verdad pues, entre otras cosas el conocimiento moderno, científico los respalda. No reparan que la ciencia es hija soberbia del conocimiento tradicional. Si hicieron un gran esfuerzo para llegar a los puestos que tienen, ahora tienen que hacer otro gran esfuerzo para comprender lo indígena y sus diferencias.

What the natives do is trying so that the state recognizes in practice what iy recognizes in the law, that Peru is a pluricultural state and, therefore, requires multicultural and intercultural policies, and although in education and health something was made before and now they back down in the most culminating matter of how a country is ruled, politics, there is ignorance and very few experience about dealing with the difference.

 

The idea that development can be magically achieved with privatization is a plain idea, it has to be checked, studied in depth. The fear that the natives may try to separate, become independent, join Ecuador, shows ignorance as well, mixes up the idea of nation with that of state. I guess this gets out from a few documents, from some isolated statements, is a not so thorough assert. It is originated in colonial fears, it is ethnocentered. That is understandable, the ethnocentrism is understandable, it is universal, it may be fought back with dialogue and one condition for dialogue is equality, but those who rule the country and have the voice in the media, mostly have an ethnic origin which puts them in a different hierarchy. They also believe they have the truth, because modern scientific knowledgment backs them. They don’t consider that science is the haughty daughter of traditional knowledgement. If they did make a big effort to get to the positions they have, now they have to do another great effort to understand the indigenous and their differences.

Obviously, there ir more written about this, but this story isn’t finished yet. In a few days runs out the term for the enacting of the revoking bill and, we suppose, a new bill will be introduced, as it has been announced. Then it will be possible for the protests to be back. And we’ll keep on posting about the matter.

Translation by: Gabriela García Calderon