In a decision made very timely amid new mobilizations against oil and mineral operations on peasant and indigenous lands, Peru's high court last month struck down a provision of the country's penal code that rights advocates said criminalized the right to "social protest." The July 6 ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal voided an amendment to Article 200 of the Penal Code that had been instated under Legislative Decree 1237, issued by then-president Ollanta Humala in September 2015. The decree expanded the definition of "extortion" to apply not only to use of force to gain "economic advantage" but also "advantage of any other nature." This expanded definition has been used to bring criminal charges against protesters who have blocked roads or occupied oil-fields or mining installations. The legal challenge to the decree was brought by an alliance of regional human rights organizations led by the Legal Defense Institute (IDL). (IDL, Servindi, July 7)
Four months after COVID-19 was first suspected of spreading to indigenous communities in the Amazon Basin, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghereyesus, said at a press conference that the WHO is "deeply concerned" by the pandemic's impact on native populations. He singled out the recently contacted Nahua people in Peru, six of whom have caught the virus. Poverty, malnutrition, and the prevalence of communicable diseases put indigenous people at greater risk from coronavirus.
A revered leader of Peru's Awajún indigenous people, Santiago Manuin Valera, 63, died July 1 of COVID-19 at a hospital in the coastal city of Chiclayo. He was first taken from his remote community of Santa María de Nieva in Amazonas region to a hospital in the closest city, Bagua; then transferred over the mountains to Chiclayo as his condition worsened. His daughter, Luz Angélica Manuin, warned of a dire situation in the Awajún communities and across the Peruvian Amazon, with COVID-19 taking a grave toll. "There are many dead," she said. "We keep vigil over them and we bury them. The government has forgotten us."
Supporters of longtime Peruvian social leader Hugo Blanco are protesting what they call a disinformation campaign launched by the military and political right in response to release of a documentary film about his life. The film, Hugo Blanco, Río Profundo, produced by filmmaker Malena Martínez, won last year's National Competition for Feature Film Distribution Projects, sponsored by Peru's Ministry of Culture. This has prompted a group of current and former generals and admirals of the armed forces to issue a joint statement accusing the Culture Ministry of helping to disseminate a film that glorifies "extreme terrorist violence." In an implicit reference to the Shining Path insurgency, the statement said the film is "alien to the sentiment of Peruvians, who have suffered decades of violence and terror, reversed with much sacrifice from all of society, especially our Armed Forces and Police."
Indigenous leaders are warning that a combination of neglect, inadequate preparations, and a lack of lockdown measures is exposing remote and vulnerable communities in the Amazon to potentially devastating outbreaks of COVID-19. The nationwide death toll in Brazil has soared above 11,000 amid growing anger at President Jair Bolsonaro's dismissive response. The situation is particularly bad in the Amazon gateway city of Manaus, where the number of fatalities is feared to be many times the official 500 to 600. Peru and Ecuador also have large outbreaks and significant Amazonian indigenous populations.
Peru's right-wing opposition leader Keiko Fujimori, who had been jailed in January while corruption charges are pending against her, was released from pre-trial detention at Lima's Chorrillos prison on May 4, ostensibly on fears she could be exposed to the coronavirus. Fujimori will be under "restricted release," meaning she cannot leave Lima without prior authorization and must check in every 30 days with judicial authorities. Of course there has been no general discharge from Peru's dangerously overcrowded prisons, and one leading anti-corruption prosecutor in the Fujimori case, Rafael Vela, is protesting her release as "illegitimate." (Milenio, Japan Times, Diario Uno)
In countries across the world, the impoverished are in the paradoxical position of being disproportionately impacted both by COVID-19 and by the police-state measures imposed in response to the pandemic—and consequent economic pain. In Lebanon, which had been in the midst of a national uprising before lockdown orders were imposed in March, protests have been re-ignited just as the lockdown is being eased—and with far greater rage. Violence escalated April 28 in the northern city of Tripoli as residents angered by the country's economic collapse set banks on fire and met volleys of tear-gas from security forces with barrages of pelted stones. The outburst came at the end of a massive funeral procession for a young man who died the previous day, apparently after being shot in a street clash with army troops. Mirroring a similar incident in Venezuela last week, mourners dubbed the deceased "Martyr of the Hunger Revolution." (WaPo, Foreign Policy)
In Episode 50 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes frightening advances toward a fascist world order amid the COVID-19 crisis. With police-state measures being imposed worldwide, Donald Trump is claiming "total" executive power and threatening to "adjourn" Congress. That he is doing so in the name of lifting rather than enforcing the lockdown is certainly an irony, but either way it represents exploitation of the crisis for a power-grab. Even under a best-case scenario of a post-pandemic return to "normality," it will be in the context of an unprecedented totalizing surveillance state.