Former Peruvian Senator Speaks to Mason: Riots Among Indigenous Amazonians Spark Discussion

by   Posted on November 17th, 2009 in Uncategorized

Amanda Cheek, News Editor

Former Peruvian Senator Javier Diez Canseco traveled to George Mason University to speak to students on the Amazonian struggle, protests and conflict in Peru.

The lecture, titled “Rising Up: The Amazonian Struggle in Peru,” was sponsored by Latin American Studies, Global Interdisciplinary Affairs, and the Center for Global Studies at Mason, and was held Nov. 12 in Student Union Building II.

Diez Canseco, a current human rights activist who works closely with regional organizations and indigenous movements in Peru, discussed the 2008-2009 confrontations between the Amazonian indigenous peoples and the Peruvian state in his lecture, such as the Bagua confrontation, which occurred during late May and early June of 2009.

During this conflict, Peruvian police were sent in to dislodge thousands of indigenous protesters who had taken to the streets in protest of government decreed laws that would give multinational corporations free reign to explore oil in indigenous territories.

“In some of the worst violence seen in Peru in 20 years, the Indians this week warned Latin America what could happen if companies are given free access to the Amazonian forests to exploit an estimated 6bn barrels of oil and take as much timber they like. After months of peaceful protests, the police were ordered to use force to remove a road block near Bagua Grande,” wrote John Vidal in his June article, Struggle of Indigenous Peoples in Peru Illustrates Worldwide Trend, from The Guardian.

“Weeks of tribal protests against government plans to open up communal lands to oil drilling, mining and logging boiled over last week into violent clashes with police that killed more than 60 people,” said another June Reuters article, Peru Amazon Conflict Exposes Rift Over Economic Policy, by Marco Aquino on the riots in Peru.

The riots have caused a social upheaval that made headlines in June.

“For angry subsistence farmers, President Alan Garcia’s efforts to break up the land into parcels of private property to lure foreign investment is the latest slight in a long history of official neglect,” continued the article by Aquino.

“Indian leaders said 40 demonstrators were killed and accused police of opening fire from helicopters, The government said 24 police officers died, some with their throats split. Both sides have accused the other of launching brutal attacks,” wrote Aquino.

Diez Canseco’s focus at Mason remained specifically on the indigenous non-violent protests against the Peruvian state.

He discussed the state’s allowance of oil exploration and MNCs (multinational corporations) in the Amazons – territory belonging to the indigenous communities, said Mary Jo Lopez Duckwitz, an adjunct instructor of Public and International Affairs that was present at the event.

“Moreover, he stated that the government never consulted the indigenous people about the oil and mineral explorations or ‘exploitations,’ which is an unconstitutional action by the state,” said Lopez Duckwitz.

In the article from June, Aquino noted, “The Amazon area is Peru’s most underdeveloped region, where Indians tend to their own crops living in wooden shacks with no access to running water or electricity.”

Diez Canseco expressed that these events are not solely Amazonian or Peruvian, but that these issues are transnational in nature, said Lopez Duckwitz.

“[He said that] the indigenous communities have gained some assistance from international NGOs while multinational corporations continually influence the Peruvian state,” said Lopez Duckwitz.

Although the topic has not remained in the headlines of American media, Mason students seem concerned with the on-going conflict and upheaval in Peru and the Amazon territory.

“Overall, many students at the event were concerned about the future of the Amazon and its inhabitants and if there were strides toward reconciliation,” said Lopez Duckwitz.

She noted that the discussion both started and ended positively with a strong applause.

For more information on the event contact Mary Jo Lopez Duckwitz, at
Or for more information on the conflict, visit

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