Controversial Peruvian lands law suspended

Alberto Pizango, a leader of the land protest movement, speaks at a press conference in Lima on June 5, 2009.
Peru’s Congress voted Wednesday to suspend indefinitely a controversial law that has created tension between President Alan Garcia’s government and indigenous communities in the Amazon, the state-run Andina news agency reported.

The vote to suspend the Forestry and Wildlife Law and repeal another related law came days after clashes between indigenous citizens and national police left more than 30 dead and 50 wounded in northwest Peru. These laws were part of numerous decrees that Garcia passed through special powers awarded to him by Congress last year with the goal of having Peru meet rules set in a free trade agreement with the United States. The decrees made it easier for companies to gain concessions for oil drilling, mining and logging in Peru, including on indigenous lands. The forestry law, in particular, removed some 45 million hectares (more than 170,000 square miles) of Peruvian jungle from the government’s list of protected lands.

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Protests by indigenous citizens escalated when they began blocking roadways in a northwest province. The recent violence started Friday, when national police attacked a roadblock near the Amazonian city of Bagua. Lawmakers said that during the law’s suspension, Congress will redefine it in a way that gives indigenous citizens a voice in how the lands are used, Peru’s TeleSur News reported.