Peru president defends Indian land law

By Andrew Whalen
Lima, Peru (AP) 8-08

President Alan Garcia on Aug. 20 warned lawmakers against repealing a law that makes it easier for Indian lands to be sold, saying it would be a historic mistake.

The law, which Garcia decreed earlier this year, allows an Indigenous community to approve the sale of tribal lands by simple majority vote – eliminating a provision that had made it nearly impossible to develop communal property.

In a televised speech, the president said a repeal would condemn Peru’s Indian and rural communities to “another century of backwardness and misery.”

Sixty-five tribes have mobilized against the law, which they say will speed the loss of their land. Protesters are threatening to stop the flow of natural gas and oil at two key pipelines in the Amazon jungle, and on Aug. 20, thousands clashed with police in the jungle city of Bagua. Hospital officials said nine civilians were being treated for injuries.

Peru’s Congress has agreed to vote on the law’s possible repeal – on the condition that protesters unblock highways and suspend demonstrations.

Garcia decreed the law using special legislative powers he was granted to implement U.S. requirements for a free trade pact between the two nations.

The government declared a state of emergency amid protests in three jungle provinces, suspending constitutional guarantees such as the right to public assembly and free transit.