The Peruvian Congress unanimously approved a law August 23 described by Amazon Native leaders as one rare, significant advance for the protection of Natives and their territories.
“(It is) an important step in the recognition of the knowledge, conditions, needs and protections that Native Populations require as they have in the past just been run over for centuries by the Peruvian State,” the National Organization of the Amazon Indigenous People of Peru (AIDESEP) said in a statement.
On Wednesday the Natives organization issued another statement where Native Chief Alberto Pizango, who leads all diverse Native groups in the country organized through the AIDESEP, Peru’s main Native organization and numbering some 350,000, said the bill approval was “a great advance and shows a willingness to change” by the Peruvian government.
According to information from Congress, a bill mandating that Native populations must first be consulted was approved Tuesday night in Lima by 113 legislators with no votes against it. It was the first law approved by this legislative period inaugurated July 28 after April general elections that were won by a left-oriented group led by President Ollanta Humala, who also took over July 28.
“The law seeks to reach an accord or consent between the state and Native populations under principles of opportunity, cultural exchange, good faith, flexibility, absence of manipulation and on timely information becoming available,” Congress said in a statement after the vote.
“Any accords to be reached with Natives will be binding to all sides but in cases where there isn’t an accord it will be up to the state to take necessary measures to guarantee collective rights but without affecting rights to life, integrity and development” congress added in its statement.
President Humala is expected to sign the bill into law within days. Previous attempts to pass similar laws had been derailed in the past five years either in congress or at the president level. In recent months former President Alan Garcia refused to approve a similar law warning it would have negative economic consequences.
Aurelio Ochoa, head of the Peruvian state oil licensing and royalty collection agency Perupetro, also appointed after the July 28 inauguration of Humala, said that he expected an approval of the law and rather than discourage investors it will be positive as it would lead to reduced conflict.
Peruvian Native groups have in recent years frequently entered into confrontations with police. Those confrontations have resulted from protests that were aimed precisely at getting congress to finally approve a law requiring state officials to consult with Natives.
In August 2008 Natives led by Pizango started a series of protests and road or waterway blockades so that Peru will begin to comply with international accords it had subscribed under which it must respect Natives rights to live undisturbed in their ancient territories.
Former President Alan Garcia (1985-1990 and then in 2006-2011) had maintained that an Amazon forest land about the size of Texas located within Peru was not the sole property of just 350,000 Natives but instead it belonged to 29 million Peruvians, most of them badly in need of resources.
On June 5, 2009 Garcia’s government ordered assault rifle-armed police to clear a road blocked for weeks by thousands of Natives unleashing fighting that resulted in 34 deaths and 200 injured, nearly half of them by bullet, Natives said at the time.