The implications of Bagua for Peru’s democracy and South America’s stability are ominous. The Bolivarian revolution has begun in Peru. If President Alan Garcia mishandles the conflict with Peru’s indigenous tribes he could suffer the same fate as President Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada in Bolivia in 2003. However, Garcia faces powerful enemies instigating the violence in Peru: President Hugo Chavez and President Evo Morales.
The Bolivarian revolution spilled first blood in Peru on June 5-6, 2009 after years of careful preparation orchestrated by revolutionary strategists in Venezuela and Bolivia. President Alan Garcia and the Peruvian armed forces were completely surprised by the outbreak of violent rioting by radical indigenous groups in Bagua in which 33 persons were killed and over 150 injured.
The indigenous tribes which rioted in Bagua are members of the Inter-ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle (Aidesep – Asociacion Interetnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana). Aidesep’s president is Alberto Pizango Chota, 43, a member of the Shawi-Campu Piavi tribe of the Loreto region. Pizango taught school in Yurimaguas in the Loreto region until he was elected president of Aidesep on December 14, 2008 for a term which ends on December 31, 2011 – a presidential and congressional election year in Peru.
Pizango declared Aidesep in revolt against Garcia on April 9, 2009 when Peru’s president issued new rules “ordering” the management of forest and water resources in the Peruvian jungles. The changes are in line with the Garcia government’s successful free market policies since his election in 2006. Peru’s economy grew 9.8% in 2008 and 9% in 2007. Growth of 4% is anticipated in 2009.
Polls in Peru show that over 80% of the population including a substantial percentage of its indigenous people support sustained economic development of the country’s abundant energy and mineral resources. But Aidesep is a radical proponent of historical indigenous rights and a bitter foe of free market policies. Ideologically, Aidesep is aligned with the Peruvian Communist Party, and former army officer Ollanta Humala, who is Chavez’s handpicked candidate for the presidency of Peru.
The new rules issued by Garcia gave Pizango the opportunity for a confrontation in which Aidesep can sell itself internationally as the underdog and tap the energetic and well-funded support of huge global advocacy networks based in Europe and the United States. Under the old rules, energy and mining companies interested in prospecting in territories which belonged historically to indigenous peoples were required to consult first with the affected tribes. The new rules do not require prior consultation, and indigenous leaders are furious at what they perceive as the theft of their rights.
Aidesep’s revolt consisted mainly of blocking roads and rivers, and harassing oil and mining companies working in the area. However, it was clear from the start of the protests that Pizango was spoiling for a violent confrontation with the government. Garcia sought to avoid clashes by engaging Aidesep in dialogue over more than 50 days, seeking agreements to end the road and river blockades. But Pizango would not cooperate. Finally, police received orders on June 5-6 to break an indigenous blockade of the Belaunde Terry highway, one of the country’s principal land routes for the movement of passengers and goods, which passes through Bagua.
However, police commanders responsible for the operation under-estimated the threat posed by several thousand angry indigenous protesters. Only 300 police officials were deployed without adequate anti-riot gear. When the police tried to clear the highway on June 5, they were attacked by several thousand indigenous protesters. Many of the attackers were armed. In all, 33 persons died including 24 unarmed police officers whose throats were cut by their indigenous captors; only 9 indigenous protesters were killed.
Preliminary police investigations indicate that Pizango may have ordered armed indigenous gunmen to attack the police. There are unconfirmed reports that Pizango also may have approved the execution of the 24 captive police officials. The Garcia government has charged Pizango with homicide; in May he also had been charged with sedition. Nicaragua’s government has granted Pizango political asylum at its embassy in Lima.
It’s unclear if Garcia will allow Pizango safe passage out of Peru, but it probably would be politically and strategically unwise to let the indigenous leader leave. There’s no question that if Pizango is allowed to leave Peru he will quickly arrive in Venezuela, and likely Bolivia too. Pizango roaming the world freely with financial support from Caracas and propaganda support from Cuba could create more headaches for Garcia than if he remains secluded inside Nicaragua’s embassy in Lima.
A week after the violence, President Garcia said his government shared some of the responsibility for what had occurred. Garcia declared the government had dialogued with Pizango for too long and had offered too many concessions.
“Dialogue is a virtue but when there is too much dialogue what happens is that the person in front believes there is weakness or fear,” said Garcia.
Garcia said the government will continue seeking dialogue with the country’s indigenous groups. But he also gave Peru’s national police commanders orders to “dialogue faster and act immediately” when confronted with road blockades and other indigenous protests which disrupt the free flow of people and commerce.
Garcia also blamed the violence in Bagua on “external” forces which are competing with Peru’s oil and gas resources. Clearly, Garcia meant Venezuela and Bolivia.
However, Peru’s president apparently does not fully understand the international forces deployed against his government; or perhaps he is consciously understating the severity of the external threat to Peru’s democratic stability for prudent diplomatic reasons.
Presidents Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales are certainly stoking the Bolivarian revolution in Peru clandestinely from afar. The Chavez regime provides some financial support to Pizango and Aidesep, as it supports Ollanta Humala. Radical Bolivian indigenous militants supported by the Morales government are also working clandestinely with radical Peruvian indigenous groups including Pizango’s supporters.
However, Cuba also is involved clandestinely in the nascent Peruvian revolution, and so are Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Bolivarian Liberation Front (BFL).
The Chavez government’s explicit strategic and political alliance with the FARC facilitates the training of Peruvian militants in Peru, and also in Colombia and Venezuela. Some Colombian intelligence officials think the FARC/Chavez alliance is driving the regionalization of an armed Bolivarian revolution through the FBL, whose operational commander and chief strategist reputedly is a former interior and justice minister. Established revolutionary networks already exist between Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. Now the armed Bolivarian revolution has zeroed in on Peru.
Overtly, Pizango and Aidesep are associated with the Congreso Bolivariano de los Pueblos (CBP), which was created in 2003 by Chavez to openly promote the regional spread of his Bolivarian revolution. All of the region’s radical political, social and militant groups are associated with the CBP. When FARC leader Rodrigo Granda was abducted in Caracas in December 2004 he was on his way to a meeting of the CBP.
The Sao Paulo Forum co-founded in 1990 by Cuban leader Fidel Castro and then-radical Brazilian labor leader Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva has been supplanted in many respects by the CBP.
The Sao Paulo Forum gave the Latin American left a venue to develop the strategies and tactics which produced a lengthy string of municipal, bubernatorial and presidential victories across the region since the mid-1990s.
But the CBP embraces a more radical strategy – socialist victory at any cost. If the revolution cannot achieve power democratically it will seek power by triggering social, economic and political instability. The CBP embraces and defends fundamental indigenous, nationalist, popular rights. It positions itself always as the oppressed underdog in class warfare between the poor and the rapacious imperialist elites. The US is always the great Satan, of course. The CBP also believes its radical vision of revolution takes precedence over the moderate manifestations of socialism in Latin America – like Chile and Brazil.
The strategies and tactics learned in Bolivia in 2002-2003, when Evo Morales led an indigenous uprising which forced the resignation of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada, are now being introduced in Peru. The massacre of Bagua was just the first skirmish in what could be a bloody revolt if the Garcia government fails to respond with balanced policies to maintain public order.
If the Bolivarian revolution destabilizes Peru over the coming two years, the chances would increase of fostering conditions favorable to the election of Ollanta Humala in 2011. If the Bolivarian revolution takes power in Peru, Colombia’s regional political isolation would increase, and Chile would be further cut off from the rest of South America. The potential risks to Brazil’s national security also could be substantial. A radical revolution rooted in the alleged defense of indigenous and environmental rights of the poor likely would spread quickly into western Brazil’s Amazonia, upsetting the national development plans of its ruling economic and political elites.
Peru’s indigenous peoples represent about 45% of the population, compared with about 60% of the population in Bolivia. Pizango cannot count on winning the presidency only on his indigenous blood. But Pizango has an ace which Morales did not have. Internationally, Pizango and Aidesep also enjoy the support of powerful organizations dedicated exclusively to protecting the environment at all costs and preserving intact the world’s remaining indigenous cultures and tribal societies.
Peru has the world’s third largest tropical rain forests, after Brazil and Democratic republic of Congo. Deforestation rates in Peru are significantly lower than in Brazil, Ecuador or Colombia. Peru has large reserves of oil, gas and minerals in its rain forests, which comprise up to half of the country, but these riches remain untapped, and the forces arrayed against Garcia want to make sure they remain unexploited – at least until the radicals take power in Peru.
Garcia cannot expect any support from the Organization of American States (OAS), which Chavez has transformed into his own simpering toadie with generous oil giveaways like PetroCaribe. And forget the Obama administration. President Barack Obama does not have a Latin America policy. The recent nomination of Arturo Valenzuela as Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere confirms that President Obama is completely bereft of original ideas with respect to Latin America. Chile’s socialist government won’t back Garcia in a diplomatic standoff with Chavez and Morales.
Garcia must be prepared for increasing tensions with Morales and Chavez. The revolutionary governments of Venezuela and Bolivia have publicly embraced Pizango’s cause, effectively giving the indigenous leader international political recognition which makes him seem more influential in Peru and internationally than he actually is.
Bolivia initially denied any involvement with the violence in Bagua triggered by Pizango. But President Morales finally owned up that he supported Pizango’s indigenous movement. “It’s not possible that most reviled (people) in Latin American history should be humlitiated as we have just seen,” Morales declared, adding that the “Indigenous movement of Latin America is a great defender of the planet Earth, of the environment, and that is why the struggles to defend equality and social justice will continue.”
Separately, Bolivian Justice Minister Celima Torrico accused the Garcia government in Peru of unleashing a “bloody repression” against the country’s indigenous population.
Venezuela’s Minister of Indigenous Peoples, Nicia Maldonado, launched a furious public tirade against Garcia, accusing him of perpetrating “genocide…a terrorist act,” and “confirming (he) is a fascist.” Unlike the Chavez government, she added, Garcia has confirmed he “hates the people, hates the poor, hates the indigenous tribes” of Peru. “We absolutely and categorically condemn this genocide against our brothers of the Peruvian amazon jungle,” Maldonado continued. She also said, without offering any proof, that Peruvian police had burned some bodies and thrown others into rivers so it was unclear how many people had been killed.
Remarks like these confirm that Garcia faces more pressures in coming months from Caracas and La Paz. Clandestine Bolivarian operations in Peru aimed at creating instability and conflict likely will intensify. Until Bagua, Peru’s military and civilian intelligence services had been more focused on erasing the remnants of Shining Path than on following the evolution of the Bolivarian revolution in their country. That likely will change as more intelligence resources are focused on the clandestine operations being infiltrated into Peru by the networks based on the Chavez-Morales-FARC alliances.
It’s also likely that the Garcia government will quietly increase intelligence and security cooperation with Colombia and the US. Increased intelligence and security cooperation between the Garcia government and Brazil is also likely. But all this will be done very quietly. And little of this cooperation may prove useful.
The emerging Peruvian indigenous movement whose titular ahead for now is Pizango is a different and more difficult security challenge than Shining Path. But it’s not clear yet that Garcia and the country’s traditional democratic powers understand this. Shining Path’s war killed tens of thousands and never won the hearts and minds of the people. But the radical indigenous movement has deep ethnic, cultural and social pillars which are embraced by over 45% of the population, which is indigenous. Many indigenours Peruvians may not participate in radical political activities, but they identify with the underlying cultural and social values defended by leaders like Pizango. The indigenous movement cannot be contained or defeated.
In a confrontation, the state always will be perceived as the oppressor and the indigenous radicals as the underdogs standing up for their legitimate rights. That’s how the story will be driven by international NGO’s and how it will be reported in the mainstream news media. The other viewpoint – that sustained development of Peru’s natural resources will be good for all Peruvians – isn’t heard or else is reported as representing a rightist (i.e. fascist, racist) position. Indeed, the clash in Bagua inflicted international damage on Garcia’s democratic credentials although Pizango’s armed thugs did most of the shooting and killing.
The tougher approach Garcia says he will employ in future standoffs with indigenous groups may easily backfire. Pizango and the forces supporting him clandestinely want more violence and bloodshed in order to whip up class hatreds and divisions. Their goal is to achieve sustained instability through labor strikes, indigenous protests, road and river blockades, and other disruptive street tactics that disrupt the economy in general. Indigenous fatalities are necessary politically; more is better including women and children. More repressive government tactics create opportunities for radical indigenous militants to respond more violently.
The emergence of a radical indigenous movement willing to engage in lethal violence is a good reason for President Garcia to review how to balance sustained economic growth with social wellbeing and stability. The enemy’s political strategy is clear: Foster conditions which provoke violent conflict between the Garcia government (the traditional state) and the indigenous tribes (the poor “pueblo”). Cripple the economy, destroy Garcia’s popularity, and set up a radical like Ollanta Humala for election as president in 2011. This would almost complete an Andean arc of radical revolutionary regimes with Marxist/nationalist agendas and viscerally anti-US foreign and national defense policies. If Colombia’s Marxist forces gain power there too after Alvaro Uribe Velez, Brazil would be almost completely surrounded by radical regimes.