Latinamerica Press | 9/24/2008
Indigenous seek more land rights
Congress repeals decrees easing restrictions on sale of indigenous lands, but battle still not complete.
Peru’s Congress on Sept. 20 signed a law repealing two presidential decrees that lowered the requirements for the sale of indigenous lands a month after large mobilizations by indigenous Amazon groups in demand that the laws be knocked down.
President Alan García had signed the decrees earlier this year to promote investment in the country’s highlands and jungle, as part of a series of norms to implement a free trade agreement with the United States, scheduled for Jan. 1, 2009.
García has special powers to legislate by decree for issues pertaining to the trade pact.
García had until Sept. 19 to sign the law overriding his own decrees - Congress has voted to repeal them in August on the heels of an 11-day protest by Amazon indigenous groups who had clamored for the two decrees to be thrown out.
García refused to follow the lawmakers’ vote and sign the law himself, but Congress has the ability to override the president in this case.
The decrees had lowered the requirement for community approval of projects on indigenous lands from two-thirds to a simple majority in a community assembly vote.
But indigenous groups and human rights activists say the new law repealing García’s decree was not enough to solve the problem.
Amazon indigenous group AIDESEP and other regional groups have said they will hold new protests if similar norms that they say fail to protect indigenous lands and their communities’ way of life are not repealed as well.
Lima-based human rights organization Aprodeh cheered Congress’ historic decision but said that other legislative decrees threaten indigenous rights, such as the right to be previously consulted for mining projects, a right included in the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169.
“This is the first time in Peru’s history that Congress approves a law that reflects the interests of the Amazonian people,” said Wilfredo Ardito, chief of Aprodeh’s social, economic and cultural rights department.
But he also noted that Congress voted to repeal the decrees after large, crippling protests.
“These norms weren’t passed to benefit the indigenous peoples, but rather oil and timber companies,” Ardito said. “If it wasn’t the massive movilization of Amazon indigenous last month, these decrees would still be in effect.”