Patriotic chants, colorful signs and arrests…it must be a protest! Many gathered in front of the White House Tuesday, June 1, 2010 in protest of the Peruvian president, Alan Garcia, who visited the White House earlier in the day. The protest was held in solidarity with the indigenous people of Peru, calling for the defense of Amazonian land and denouncing the labor and human rights abuses occurring in Peru as a result of U.S. policies, primarily the U.S. - Peru Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
The protest began with the arrest of activist and actress, Q’orianka Kilcher, who chained herself to the White House gates as her mother, Saskia, poured black paint all over her, representing the oil spills that have been occurring in the Amazon rainforest for nearly three decades. Both mother and daughter were both charged; Q’orianka faces disorderly conduct charges while Saskia is being charged with defacing government property. Kilcher’s, who is of Indigenous Peruvian descent, actions served as a grave reminder of the hundreds of indigenous people who were killed and injured in last year’s Bagua Massacre in Peru.
The Bagua Massacre took place on June 5, 2009 when Peruvian police used force against indigenous civilians in the town of Bagua as they protested against the FTA’s implementation of decrees that allowed private corporations to access indigenous lands without consultation. The violent conflict between police and the indigenous led to more than 100 wounded, and 30-84 deaths. The death toll has been highly contested by both the Peruvian government, estimating on the low side, and indigenous groups, stating that corpses were being carried away during the conflict and later social upheaval. Such free-trade economic policies not only pollute the air and water of neighboring villages, but also promote labor abuses and corruption, especially in the mining industry. As a result, indigenous people, who make up the majority of the workforce in the mining industry, are forced into jobs that pay poverty wages, entrapping them in a lifestyle of vulnerability. To date, no arrests have been made for the killings in Bagua.
This act of genocide is just one example of the violence occurring in Peru under the Garcia administration. Since his entrance into office, social movements have gone from peaceful protests to violent uprisings as a result of police brutality in the country. The increased presence of U.S. military police in Peru impedes and has unjustly prohibited civilians from protesting issues stemming from the FTA implementation such as decreased access to land of small farmers and increased food prices. Protesters at the White House stood up for the Peruvian community leaders that have been persecuted with charges of terrorism or even killed for raising their voices against injustice.
The rights to protest, strike and organize unions are what make up the right to trade union organization. The use of police threat and brutality are just one of the various violations that labor activists and leaders face when trying to defend their rights. As is occurring in Peru, workers worldwide are being silenced and in the meantime, exposed to hazardous actions that threaten their well-being and safety. Read ILRF’s Freedom at Work Campaign Toolkit to learn more about these abuses and what you can do to ensure workers are granted the right to freedom of association.
Standing next to my Peruvian father as we chanted in solidarity with our compatriots, I felt blessed to be able to freely stand up for what I believe in without threat of persecution. Unfortunately, I know that the sense of freedom I feel isn’t shared by all and seeing the devastation the repression of social protest has caused in Peru hits especially close to my heart. I admire the bravery of all the indigenous people of Peru and their relentless fight for their rights to their land and in the workplace, and I only hope that Peruvian officials can join in the same sense of support to ensure a just world for all human beings.Want to see videos and pictures from the June 1st protest against Alan Garcia? Check out Peruanista, a bilingual blog about Peru, Latin America and the influence of U.S. policies in the Americas.