Public sector workers in Cuzco, Peru, held a rally in the historic city Sept. 30 to protest plans by the national government to allow private administration of cultural and archaeological sites. The Cuzco regional government, whose territory includes such famous sites as Machu Picchu, Saqsaywaman and Ollantaytambo, has already announced its refusal to comply with the new policy. The national Culture Minister Diana Álvarez-Calderón says President Ollanta Humala's new Legislative Decree 1198 does not affect the fundamental nature of state properties but would help attract capital "in order to transform them into a point of development in its area of influence." She emphasized that many sites are currently unprotected and vulnerable to artifact thieves and traffickers, and environmental erosion. But Wilfredo Álvarez, leader of the Cuzco Departamental Workers Federation (FDTC), warned, "If the private sector administrates the archaeological centers, it will bring income for millionaries" rather than Peru's people. He said the FDTC would give Humala a "prudent" period to revoke the decree before undertaking an "indefinite" strike. (La Republica, Oct. 1; Peru This Week, El Comercio, Sept. 29; Andina, Sept. 28; La Republica, Sept. 27)
On Sept. 6, a confrontation at a protest roadblock in Peru's province of La Convención, Cuzco region, saw a vehicle fall into a canyon of the Rio Vilcanota, leaving two dead, including Rosalío Sánchez, mayor of the pueblo of Kepashiato. In a similar incident four days earlier, a 16-year-old youth was shot dead by National Police troops in a confrontation at a roadblock. The province has been paralyzed by a general strike since Aug. 27, to demand action on several outstanding petitions to the national government, some dating back five years. Demands include construction of a local gas processing plant; the remote jungle valley of La Convención is impacted by the Camisea gas pipeline, yet the price for gas is much higher locally than in Lima and other urban areas of the country. The Central Struggle Committee of La Convención is also demanding an investigation of local mayors and officials who they say have embezzled monies from the pipeline "canon," compensation funds to local communities for development of the project in their area. Some 1,500 National Police troops have been mobilized to the valley. (La República, Lima, Sept. 8; El Pais, Spain, Sept. 6)
The UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Sept. 2 issued a statement expressing "concern" about the "disproportionate use of force" against indigenous protesters in Peru. (Celendin Libre, AIDESEP, Sept. 2) The statement came the same day that a 16-year-old protester, Jhapet Claysont Huilca Pereira, was shot dead by National Police troops at Santa Teresa village in the Valley of La Convención, Cuzco region, during a protest against construction of the Gasoducto Sur Peruano through local lands. Protesters were blocking to road leading to the tourist attraction of Machu Picchu, charging corruption in the process by which the new gas duct gained a right-of-way through their lands. The parents of the fallen youth are demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Daniel Urresti Elera. Lawmaker Verónika Mendoza has also called on Urresti to give a full accounting of the incident, saying, "It is unacceptable that firearms are used in dealing with social conflicts." (La República, Sept. 4 La República, Celendin Libre, Celendin Libre, Sept. 3)
Highly vulnerable "uncontacted" indigenous bands who recently emerged in the Brazil-Peru border region have said that they were fleeing violent attacks in Peru. FUNAI, Brazil's indigenous affairs agency, has announced that the uncontacted bands have returned once more to their forest home. Seven members of the band made peaceful contact with a settled indigenous Ashaninka community near the Ríó Envira in Brazil's Acre state three weeks ago. A government health team was dispatched and has treated seven band members for flu. FUNAI has announced it will reopen a monitoring post on the Rió Envira which it closed in 2011 after it was overrun by drug traffickers. Survival International called the emerging news "extremely worrying," noting that isolated indigenous groups lack immunity to the flu, which has wiped out entire tribes in the past. Brazilian experts believe that the isolated bands, who belong to the Panoan linguistic group, crossed over the border from Peru into Brazil due to pressures from illegal loggers and drug traffickers on their land.
Peru seems poised to move forward with the controversial expansion of the Camisea gas project in the lowland rainforest of Cuzco region, following the Jan. 7 release of a new document by the Vice-Ministry for Interculturality. The document is an official response to consortium leader Pluspetrol's own response issued a week earlier to the Vice-Ministry's objections to the Environmental Impact Assessment for the project. The new response says the Vice-Ministry is lifting 34 of its 37 objections to the impact study. The remaining three points concern protection of the watershed of the Río Paquiría, which could impact where the consortium conducts seismic tests. But the statement apparently raised no concerns about isolated indigenous bands living in the concession area, which overlaps with the buffer zone of Manu National Park, hailed by UNSECO as having a level of biological diversity that "exceeds that of any other place on Earth."
In a popular assembly Nov. 6, residents of Espinar village in Peru's Cuzco region declared themselves on a "war footing," pledigng to resist imminent construction of the Majes Siguas II irrigation mega-project, which would divert water from indigenous communities in the highlands to agribusiness interests on the coast. Profesor René Huamani Quirita, president of the Unified Defense Front for the Interests of Espinar Province, protested that hundreds of National Police troops have been stationed in the nearby community of Yauri, apparently in anticipation of protests. (Radio Universal, Cuzco, Nov. 6) Later that day, Espinar's mayor Oscar Mollohuanca announced that some 100 police troops had attacked local villagers at Urinsaya in Coporaque district, beating five. The whereabouts of one villager has been unknown since the attack, and Mollohuanca joined the missing campesino's family in demanding an urgent investigation. (Radio Universal, RPP, Nov. 6)
Riot police clashed with student protesters in Cuzco, Peru, June 14, using tear-gas against demonstrators who hurled stones. Students at the city's University of San Antonio Abad (UNSAAC) walked out the day before to protest a proposed education law they say violates the autonomy of universities and is a step towards privatization of the national university system. The University Law is currently under debate in Peru's Congress. Some 20 students were injured in the clashes, and 11 arrested. Police said two officers and a local prosecutor also suffered injuries. (Vision, June 17; La Republica, June 14)
A new study published in Science finds that a critical glacier in the Peruvian Andes has shrunk to its smallest extent nearly since the end of the last Ice Age. Ohio State University glaciologist Lonnie G. Thompson is studying plants that have been recently exposed near Quelccaya Ice Cap, the world's largest tropical ice sheet, located 18,000 feet above sea level (straddling the border of Cuzco and Puno regions). Chemical analysis of plants exposed by melting several years ago showed them to be about 4,700 years old, proving that the ice cap had reached its smallest extent in nearly five millennia. In the new findings, a thousand feet of additional melting has exposed plants that lab analysis shows to be about 6,300 years old. Thompson said this indicates that ice that had accumulated over approximately 1,600 years melted back in no more than 25 years.