The Rainforest’s Cry: Amazon Uprising and Opposing Perspectives of Development in Peru

The indefinite strike called on April 9 by the Amazon’s indigenous people has become a central concern for Peru’s principal state powers because petroleum headquarters have been seized, riverways blocked, highways picketed, and demonstrations displaying spears and banners have called for the repeal of 10 legislative decrees that they consider dangerous for the rainforest, as well as their communities.


Photo by Thomas Quirynen

The indefinite strike called on April 9 by the Amazon’s indigenous people has become a central concern for Peru’s principal state powers because petroleum headquarters have been seized, riverways blocked, highways picketed, and demonstrations displaying spears and banners have called for the repeal of 10 legislative decrees that they consider dangerous for the rainforest, as well as their communities.

Even though the Congress’s Constitutional Commission (Comisión de Constitución del Congreso) declared  the Forest and Wild Fauna Law unconstitutional, its repeal is not effective until it is discussed and voted with full parliamentary participation. However, there remain nine regulations that the indigenous hope to see repealed, and which were declared unconstitutional by a multiparty congressional commission in December 2008.

Alberto Pizango, president of the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest (Aidesep), who heads the movement, maintains that the protests will go on indefinitely as long as the demands of the protesters are ignored.

According to Pizango, the government should lift the state of emergency that has been established since May 9 in five Amazonian regions, the Congress must repeal the controversial decrees, and there should be a sit-down discussion concerning a different path to development in the Amazon. [i]

Congress granted an exceptional amount of authority to the Executive Branch at the end of 2007, allowing it to make legal adjustments in the regulatory framework of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

Of the 99 legislative decrees presented by the Executive until mid-2008, ten would endanger reserved forest spaces to benefit investment in large extractive industries, such as petroleum, mining, logging, gas, and biofuels.

The organizations that have aligned themselves with the Aidesep-led protest maintain that these decrees violate Agreement 169 of the International Labour Organization, which was signed and ratified by the Peruvian state in order to affirm the right of indigenous communities to be consulted on matters that directly affect their localities.

On May 15, the conflict between the Amazon peoples and the central government came to a head when Pizango, seeing that agreements were not being made between the two parties, called for a rebellion producing fears of bloodshed in the regions declared to be in a state of emergency, where the presence of police and the military is greatest.

The following day, the spokespersons of Aidesep softened their tone after signing a contract with the Defensoría del Pueblo (People’s Protection Office), and said that the call for rebellion had been excessive. Due to the actions of Pizango, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Prime Minister’s Office (PCM, for its acronym in Spanish) denounced him this week for sedition, rebellion, and conspiracy against the Peruvian state. [ii]

Spear Wounds and Resolutions

In turn, President Alan García has declared, "I do not obey any corporate business group. I defend all Peruvians. And the lands of the Amazon are theirs, and their children’s, they belong to the whole nation; the lands of the Amazon are for all Peruvians, not for a small group who happens to live there." [iii] He added that the Amazon mobilization, "subscribes to a backward, oligarchic ideology and vision." [iv]

Likewise, Prime Minister Yehude Simon maintained that the armed forces of the state would impose order on the zones where the indigenous had declared a rebellion in mid-May.

Simon warned: "Enough is enough. We have had ample patience. They have gone on with this stance for one month and a week. They have surely viewed our democracy as being weak and have considered that because of its weakness, the state has not responded to their provocations. But unfortunately, upon request of the people, my respect for democracy and the constitution, we must proceed with action." [v]

After the call for insurgency was suspended and as days passed by, Simon adopted a more conciliatory tone, insisting to Aidesep that it should name its representatives for a multisectorial sit-down discussion [vi] with the goal of discussing how the Amazon can be developed in the short, medium, and long terms.

Nevertheless, the Prime Minister considered the repeal of the legislative decrees "difficult" because there are sectors that would reap benefits from them [vii]. At most, Simon indicated that modifications could be made in order to abate the fears of the Amazonian communities.

In this regard, Pizango says: "With the PCM we have made important advances because Supreme Resolution 031 has finally gone through and it gives us 15 days to choose the representatives that will constitute a multisectorial commission that will work on issues of education, health, and agriculture… but the roundtable that they are setting up should not mislead us, it is not sufficient to suspend the demonstrations." [viii]

Juan Ossio, anthropologist and one of the members of the consultant committee for President García, considers that: "It is very important to formulate appropriate legislation that imposes order on the rainforest’s productive activity. Therefore, the efforts of the government can not be excessive when there still is increasing laxity toward drug-trafficking, illegal lumbering, and informal mining activities." [ix] Basically, he is pushing for order. No more law of the jungle.

According to Ossio’s analysis with respect to the impasse: "The conflict can be explained by, on one hand, the absolutist attitudes of Aidesep that, being a simple NGO, has become the prime representative entity of all the native peoples that live in the Amazon and, on the other hand, a government that aspires to govern for all Peruvians, procuring its economic growth especially during the current global crisis while lacking a sufficient understanding of the multicultural nature of the nation." [x]

To that, Pizango states that, "Aidesep, for the indigenous world, is not considered an NGO; we consider that it is an association of interests with an institutionality that stems from the Amazonian indigenous movement." [xi]

It is worth remembering that Pizango is the "apu" (chief) elected by the leaders of 1200 native communities in the Amazon that comprise a population of 350,000 people.


Photo by Thomas Quirynen

Order and Progress

When the Amazonian villages staged a protest in August 2008 that lasted nearly a month, there was hardly an echo to be heard in Lima. This year, the conflict has gained wider media coverage and has created a space within which two models of development are clashing; one that is being pushed by the state, and one valued and supported by the Amazonian populations.

Today, while the government and Aidesep seek to arrive at agreements, fluvial routes for petroleum carriers continue to be blocked off, as well as petroleum stations numbers 5 and 6 in Loreto, which form part of the Nor Peruvian pipeline. Likewise, Pluspetrol announced on May 20 that its operations would be paralyzed due to the strike.

"Unfortunately, it must be this way in order that word reaches mass media. These peoples that have been seen as marginal are now the protagonists," said Margarita Benavides, anthropologist and co-director of the Instituto del Bien Común (Common Good Institute).

"The government, in place of having a discussion about civilization, should change and be more willing to dialogue and not sit around waiting for such situations to arise, in which peoples get tired of being constantly deceived," added Benavides. [xii]

In turn, Adda Chuecas Cabrera, director of the Centro Amazónico de Antropología y Aplicación Práctica (Amazon Center for Anthropology and Practical Application-CAAAP), has stated: "The greater part of the indigenous territories have natural resources that are the source of conflicts with oil and mining companies, and logging concessions. And although the Defensoría del Pueblo says that most of Peru’s conflicts are socio-environmental, the Peruvian state does not have a development policy that is inclusive to the indigenous peoples." [xiii]

Throughout its history, "development" in Peru has been carried out by extracting finite natural resources. In the 19th century there was a boom in guano and saltpeter; at the beginning of the 20th century, it was rubber. Recurrently, one sees cycles of prosperity and decadence, such as efforts to "colonize" the rainforest and the expansion of the agricultural frontier, all in the name of progress.

What Federico More once said in Zoocracy and Cannibalism about ex-president Augusto B. Leguía (1919-1930), also known as "the builder of the new Peru," could easily be applied to President García Pérez: "He was a great mayor for the Republic. If given the chance, he would have left little of the rainforests un-asphalted and converted almost all of the Amazon into a swimming pool for some grand high-society club." [xiv]

For more information concerning the decrees that the Amazonian peoples consider damaging, see: “Informe legal sobre los decretos legislativos 1090, 1064, 1080, 1081 y 1089” in-


[i] Interview from 5-20-09.

[ii] “Procurador de la PCM denunció a Pizango por rebelión y conspiración”, El Comercio, 5-20-09

[iii] “Alan García: Yo no obedezco a ningún grupo corporativo empresarial”, Coordinadora Nacional de Radio, 5-16-09.

[iv] Ibidem.

[v] “Simon: ‘Fuerzas del Estado actuarán pues se agotó la paciencia'”,, 5-15-09.

[vi] “Yehude Simon instó a Aidesep a llegar un acuerdo sobre Ley de la Selva”,, 5-22-2009.

[vii] “Yehude Simon: ‘Es difícil eliminar decretos sobre Ley de la Selva'”, 5-22-2009.

[viii] Interview from 5-20-2009.

[ix] Brief questionnaire interview from 5-19-2009.

[x] Ibidem.

[xi] Interview from 5-20-2009.

[xii] Ibidem.

[xiii] Interview from 5-19-2009.

[xiv] More, Federico. Zoocracia y canibalismo, Editorial La Llamarada, Lima, 1933, p. 9.