Introduction, by Ian Angus: On August 22, Indigenous people in the Amazon rain forest areas of Peru celebrated a victory in their struggle against laws that promote privatization of communally owned land.
Last October, the country’s right-wing president, Alan García, outraged Indigenous communities by saying their refusal to permit exploitation of timber, oil and minerals on their lands was a result of “taboo, laziness, indolence or the law of the gardener’s dog that says: ‘If I don’t do it, no one can.’” Garcia continued:
“In addition to real peasant communities, there are artificial communities that have title to 200 thousand hectares but farm only 10 thousand hectares, leaving the rest idle, while the people, who live in extreme poverty, look to the state for help.”
“The anti-capitalist communist of the 19th Century, who disguised himself as a protectionist in the 20th Century, has in the 21st Century adopted the cloak of environmentalism. But always anti-capitalist, anti-investment…”
García’s neoliberal goal is elimination of Indigenous communal property rights in the Amazon basin, releasing this environmentally sensitive area for development of timber, oil and minerals with an estimated value of 3.5 billion dollars.
Under Peru’s 1979 Constitution, communally-owned land could not be sold. That clause was removed by the notorious Fujimori government in 1993; the only remaining legal protection was a law that requires a two-thirds vote of the community involved before land could be sold or leased. This year, García took a further step towards privatization, reducing the requirement to a simple majority vote. He made the change unilaterally, using powers granted to him by Congress to implement the recently-signed free trade agreement with the United States.
On August 9, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, some 700 members of the Aguaruna Indigenous community occupied an oil pumping station in the Peruvian Amazon region, demanding repeal of the new laws and restoration of the provisions of the 1979 constitution. Similar occupations, road blockades, and strikes quickly spread across the forest regions of Peru, involving some 12,000 people in 63 communities.
There were clashes between police and protestors in a number of areas, including the city of Bagua Chica, where urban dwellers joined with Indigenous forces to expel the police from the town. On August 18, García declared a state of emergency, suspending civil liberties, banning public meetings in three provinces, and sending in 1,500 armed soldiers.
García refused to negotiate with the protestors, but growing popular outrage forced members of Congress to intervene. On Friday, August 22, the Congress voted 66 to 29 to disallow García’s decrees. It remains to be seen whether the repeal will hold, since under the constitution García can send the law back to Congress with revisions, and he still has emergency powers. Nevertheless, news reports say that there has been widespread celebration in the forest areas.
The following statement was distributed in Peru by supporters of the newspaper Lucha Indígena (Indigenous Struggle), shortly before the Congress vote. It was written by Hugo Blanco, the legendary peasant leader in the mountainous Cuzco region. For more information about Blanco and the Indigenous movement in South and Central America, see the links at the end of the article.
Translation Note: In this article, Hugo Blanco uses the phrase “Buen Vivir,” which translates literally as “Living Well” but implies much more. A central concept in the Andes Indigenous world vision, it has been defined by Bolivian president Evo Morales as “Thinking not only in terms of income per capita but of cultural identity, community, and harmony among ourselves and with our Mother Earth.”
Rosalia Paiva, the Quechua liberation activist and author who suggested this quotation from Morales, adds the following information:
“Our brother Hugo, in writing of Buen Vivir, is referring to Sumak Kausay or Allin Kausay. This was a central element in the lives of our Inca ancestors. Allin Kausay means to live in harmony with yourself, with the natural world, and with society. Allin means ‘splendid,’ Kausay means ‘life,’ or, better, ‘existence.’ Allin Kausay is composed of a diversity of factors including knowledge, ethical and spiritual codes of conduct, the relationship with the environment, human values, and the vision of the future. In this sense, it is a category that is in constant development in the life of Andean/Amazonian peoples. For more on this, go to http://mamapacha.org/allinkausay.html.”
The Struggle in Amazonia:
A Clash of Cultures and Philosophies
Alan García’s philosophy of “progress” and the “gardener’s dog”
— against the philosophy of Buen Vivir, solidarity, and respect for nature.
By Hugo Blanco, August 2008
For millennia, the rain forest has been inhabited by native communities, who over many years learned from nature how to live there.
They domesticated plants and adapted them for human consumption, including such species as papayas and cassava.
They knew how to heal: from them the world learned about quinine, which saved the life of the future Sun King of France. They taught us about Cat’s Claw and many other natural medicines.
They know how to cultivate the land without destroying the thin and fragile layer of fertile soil. Copying nature, they cultivate different species with different life cycles together in a small area. Then after a time they move their agriculture elsewhere, returning the land they had been using to the forest.
They do not need to raise cattle, which is destructive; they fish and hunt.
They do not separate work from relaxation. They go for a stroll, and when they find something to hunt, they do so. They harvest wild fruits. If, as they pass through cultivated areas, they find something that is ripe they pick it; if something needs fixing, they fix it; if there is something to plant, they plant it.
They are not “owners” of the earth, they are its children.
Five centuries ago the European invaders came. Since then they and their descendants have been going into the forest to destroy it.
The first of the great invading predators sought rubber. Then came the big landowners who cleared the jungle for destructive plantations and even more destructive ranching, gold prospectors, loggers, and now the devastating oil companies.
Many natives have been adversely affected to a greater or lesser degree by the capitalist invasion. Some have fled contact with the civilization that destroyed their essential living space, that enslaved and murdered them, that exposed them to contagious diseases they had never known before.
Today the invaders are attacking the jungle primarily to extract oil and gas, but they are also cutting down forests for timber and to clear land for livestock. They are cutting and burning to impose new types of agriculture.
Killing the jungle will kill its native peoples.
Killing the Amazon will kill the lungs of the world.
We defend our Amazonian brothers who are defending the world.
The invaders claim their aggression is legal, justifying it with “laws” that they wrote while excluding Indigenous people from participation or consultation.
These laws “recognize” that the surface area belongs to the native communities, but not the wealth beneath the soil, which belongs to the invaders’ state.
Alan García said that the natives are “the gardener’s dog” who doesn’t eat the plants and won’t let others eat — so we must give way to multinational companies. Most recently he issued a series of decrees that allow “unproductive lands” to be seized — to hand them over, of course, to the big business predators in the name of “progress,” promoting the “legal” destruction of the rain forest.
Those who think they are white discriminate against Indigenous people from the highlands. Those who are considered white, creole or non-Indigenous, together with whites and Indigenous people from the highlands, discriminate against the natives of the rain forest, calling them “savages.”
Now, those who are discriminated against by other victims of discrimination are teaching the country’s exploited majority how to respond to attacks by big business and by Alan García and its other servants.
In various parts of the jungle, they have risen up peacefully and massively to block the continued attacks on the Amazon region. They have crippled oil extraction and electrical production.
The government has declared a state of emergency in those areas.
It has sent armed police to counter this “illegal” activity, but the natives have peacefully disarmed them.
There have been clashes with police in several areas.
The military is publicly preparing to attack the civilian population, which will lead to deaths and injuries.
The natives want to be masters of their future. They will decide what should be kept from the past and what aspects of the present should be adopted.
What they have taught us
- That it is not enough to challenge the validity of the oppressors’ laws; we must respond with action.
- That we need to act simultaneously in several areas.
- That it is possible to disarm the repressive forces.
How will the fight continue?
This depends on the actions of the other exploited people in the country, and on solidarity from abroad.
If they stand alone, it’s likely that Alan García will murder them, as his long record of criminal actions demonstrates.
If we join their struggle, they will win and their triumph will be ours. It will lift our spirits and encourage the poor people of Peru to follow in their footsteps.
We likewise prefer Buen Vivir, albeit in our own way and not that of the rain forest. Although we can see it only in outline, we are confident that it will be based on collectivist principles, on solidarity, on our past and other aspects of our cultural heritage, on love and respect for nature whose children we are.
We know that this pits us against the so-called “progress” that causes global warming and the extinction of the human species, including:
- The poisoning of water and soil by multinational oil and mining companies.
- The poisoning of rivers, lakes and seas by other industrial activity.
- The thinning of the ozone layer that protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
- Atomic energy.
- Genetically modified foods.
- And more.
Support the culture of life that our brothers in the jungle are struggling for!
Crush the culture of death defended by multinational corporations and their servant Alan García!
Translated for Socialist Voice
by Ian Angus and John Riddell
- The Fight for Indigenous Rights in the Andes Today by Hugo Blanco (PDF)
- From Resistance to Power! Manifestos of the fight for Indigenous Rights in Central and South America (PDF)
 Alan García, “El síndrome del perro del hortelano.” El Comercio, 28 October 2007. The term “gardener’s dog” comes from a Peruvian proverb similar to the English expression “dog in the manger.” The gardener’s dog doesn’t wish to eat the cabbage, and won’t let anyone else eat it either.
 Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is an anti-inflammatory herb used in Peru since Inca times to treat a variety of illnesses.