Peru congress repeals contested Indian land laws

Lima, Peru (AP) 8-08

Peru’s congress voted Aug. 22 to repeal two laws facilitating the sale of Indian lands that had generated protests by dozens of tribes in the Amazon rain forest.

Lawmakers voted 66-29 in favor of repealing the laws, which were passed by presidential decree earlier this year to promote private investment in tribal lands.

Thousands of Indians celebrated the lawmakers’ decision in the main plaza of Bagua, a Peruvian jungle city where protesters clashed with police.

“This is a new dawn for our people and for all Peruvians who wish to develop in liberty, not in oppression,” said Alberto Pizango, president of the Peruvian Jungle Inter-Ethnic Development Association, which represents the protesters.

By Peruvian law, the repeal must be approved by President Alan Garcia, who is likely to modify the measures and send them back to congress in coming days, Interior Minister Luis Alva said.

The laws would allow an indigenous community to approve the sale of tribal lands by simple majority vote – eliminating a provision that had made it nearly impossible to develop communal property.

But 65 Indian tribes mobilized against the laws, which they said would speed up the loss of their land. They launched 11 days of protests, blocking highways and threatening to stop the flow of natural gas and oil at two key Amazon pipelines.

The tribes agreed to suspend the protests two days ago in anticipation of the vote in congress.

On Aug. 20, Garcia warned that repealing the laws would be a historic mistake condemning Peru’s Indians to “another century of backwardness and misery.”

Garcia decreed the law using special legislative powers he was granted to implement U.S. requirements for a free trade pact between the nations.