Peruvian lawmakers on Wednesday suspended a controversial law that eased restrictions on lumber harvesting in the Amazon rain forest, days after it sparked clashes between police and indigenous protesters, killing dozens of people.
The legislature agreed by a 59 to 49 vote to suspend Decree 1090 — dubbed the “Law of the Jungle” — that covers forestry and fauna in Peru’s northeastern Amazon rain forest, said Javier Velasquez, the head of Peru’s single-chamber Congress. A decree related to governing private investment was also suspended.
The decrees are vehemently opposed by the approximately 500,000 Indians of 65 ethnic groups who live in the Peruvian jungle. The natives, who see the development of the jungle as an assault on their way of life, have been holding protests since April across the region.
The Amazon protest peaked on Friday and Saturday when 400 police officers moved in to clear protesters blocking a highway near the northern city of Bagua. Protesters fought back, then retaliated by killing police hostages.
The government said 25 police officers and nine Indian protesters died in the clashes. Protest leaders and media reports however said the death toll was much higher.
The decrees were originally to be suspended for 90 days, but in the final vote legislators agreed on an indefinite suspension “to negotiate without pressure,” said Aurelio Pastor, a legislator with Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s APRA party.
Both measures are among decrees issued in 2007 and last year by Garcia easing restrictions on mining, oil drilling, logging and farming in the Peruvian Amazon.
Garcia issued the laws when Congress granted him special powers to implement a free-trade agreement with the US.
Angry legislators with the opposition Nationalist Party (PNP) called for the decrees to be overturned and waved signs as they held a protest in the chamber after the vote.
“No to transnational [corporations] in the Amazon,” one sign read. “The land and water are not for sale,” another read.
The clashes were the bloodiest since the government’s war in the 1980s and 1990s against the Shining Path, a violent Maoist insurgency, and the leftist Tupac Amaru guerrillas.
The vote suspending the decree is seen as a compromise allowing the government to resume talks with the protesting indigenous groups who have been blocking key regional highways, spokesmen for legislators that voted for the measure said.
The vote also comes on the eve of a strike called by the country’s powerful leftist labor umbrella group, the General Confederation of Workers of Peru (CGTP).
CGTP leader Mario Huaman said there would be a protest march ending at the presidential palace in Lima to reject “the arrogant, intolerant, overbearing and discriminatory attitude of the government towards the Amazon communities.”
Other protest marches, including those held by indigenous protesters in Amazon cities and towns, are planned in Peru’s main cities.
“There is no justification at all for the protests,” Peruvian Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas said after the decrees were suspended.
Meanwhile 3,000 Indians from 25 ethnic groups continue to block a key Amazon highway linking the cities of Tarapoto and Yurimaguas, 700km north of Lima.
“We want an immediate derogation of those laws,” said Segundo Pizango, an apu — indigenous leader — at a roadblock near Yurimaguas.
Another native leader, Kariajano Sandi, said that he and his men would not lift the roadblock until the government definitively overturns the laws.
“We do not believe the government, they lie too much,” said Sandi, surrounded by a group of his followers.
The repercussions of the violence have rocked the government, with Women’s Affairs Minister Carmen Vildoso resigning on Monday in protest over the government’s crackdown.
The crisis even extended its reach to foreign affairs after Nicaragua granted political asylum to Alberto Pizango, the main indigenous protest leader, who earlier took refuge in Managua’s embassy in Lima.
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