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Congress overturns laws behind Amazon unrest

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-19

In a move welcomed by the country's indigenous people, Peru's Congress overturned on Thursday the laws that had led to deadly clashes between police and local protesters over mining projects in the Amazon rain forest

REUTERS - Peru's Congress overturned two controversial land laws on Thursday that ignited clashes between police and indigenous protesters in the Amazon rain forest two weeks ago, killing at least 34 people.

 

The vote to throw out legislative decrees 1090 and 1064 could delay foreign investment in mining and energy projects and may prompt Peru and the United States to reevaluate clauses of their free-trade pact.

 

The violence may also force President Alan Garcia to reshuffle his cabinet in July, when Peruvian leaders traditionally announce changes. Garcia's chief of staff, Yehude Simon, has already said he will step down in coming weeks for failing to prevent the bloodshed.

 

Garcia, a promoter of private investment, issued a series of decrees last year under powers Congress gave him to implement the U.S. trade deal and create a framework to regulate investment in the Amazon.

 

After protests turned violent, he backtracked and asked Congress to repeal two of the most divisive laws, though others remain in effect.

 

"This is a historic day for all indigenous people in Peru," Daysi Zapata, director of the Indian rights group Aidesep, said alongside dozens of indigenous people who wore traditional tunics and headdresses to watch the vote in Congress.

 

'BOMB' DEFUSED FOR NOW

 

Zapata said she would ask indigenous groups to lift any remaining blockades of roads and rivers that started in April in the Amazon basin, but said the government may be pressured to make more legislative changes.

 

"There are still seven legislative decrees left," she said, suggesting tribal groups could demand future congressional votes to prevent their ancestral lands from being opened up to foreign companies.

 

Political analysts said an emboldened indigenous movement could constrain Garcia politically for the remainder of his term, which ends in 2011. There is often discord between urban elites and groups representing the rural poor.

 

"The government has deactivated a bomb for the time being. This bomb could be activated again or be permanently defused -- but it depends on the lesson that President Garcia has learned from this," Martin Tanaka of the Institute of Peruvian Studies said on Canal N TV.

 

After initially refusing to hear the tribes' demands, Garcia has apologized for the violence and for failing to ask for input from indigenous groups before passing the laws.

 

"There comes a time to recognize that there were a series of errors," he said in a speech in which he urged Congress to strike down the two laws.

Date created : 2009-06-19

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