Tuesday, 25 December 2007


Deep in the Peruvian Jungle an unreported struggle intensifies, as globalisation, under its many guises, threatens the very survival of the tribe of the Asháninkas.

From semi-nomadic habits they saw themselves obliged to be completely sedentary. There are no longer the conditions to hunt, to fish and grow crops like their forfathers. The Asháninkas live in their aloted land, richly proud of their own cultural identity, and willing to fight for it.

When the Spanish conquistadors came they were unable to outdo the tribe. Even to much more recent times, the Asháninkas held off the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso, losing 5,000 their population, displacing another 10,000. Only 4,000 were left.

The violence is still present by the insurgence of Sendero or because of the development of a form of ‘narcoterrorism’ not easily identifiable as Sendero anymore. Those Asháninkas that left and then in the hope of returning to their communities came, found their lands invaded coca plant growers.

The menace that faces the tribe today comes in different forms. The heavy demand for cocaine has meant that low density farmers emigrating from the Andes; have begun to clear land for exclusive coca growth. Illegal loggers also continue stripping the rain forest. A further obstacle now are the Spanish and Peruvian petroleum companies encroaching on what little is left of their ancestral land.

Spanish petroleum company, Repsol, has given them only broken promises. In saying they would assist with medical care and improve sanitation it has only expanded into lands not corresponding to them.

“The government does not consult, it only informs the community” says Ruth Buendía, president of CARE (Community of Asháninka of the River Ene) in response to the expansions in the jungle area of the river Ene. Buendia, 32, is fighting so that the land, which she says was entitled to them, is not vanquished. “Investment must be consulted with the people living here to see whether it is favourable or not.”

The population is composed mainly of women and children, widows and orphans. There is a huge deficit of men and of the young of both sexes, because so many have died at the hands of subversives or are controlled by them.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Fascists and Indians

Fascists and Indians

Ponchos Rojos

Nazis in Santa Cruz

Fascists and Indians

Things have reached a new climate in Bolivia from where extremist factions are on the rise. On the one side a group called the ‘Ponchos Rojos’ seeking Indian insurrection, were recently seen on TV decapitating the heads of dogs as warning to the opposition. To the other, rekindled Fascists, using Nazi symbolism, have begun firing arms at manifestations. As steps towards a newly-thought indigenous constitution are realized, up to what point will talk of ‘imminent civil war’ come to, as the country divides even further?

Evo Morales, Bolivia's first Indian president, says that the changes in the country’s constitution will redress centuries of discrimination by a political class dominated by a European-descended elite. Proposals there range from rechristening Bolivia with an indigenous name, Qollasuyo, to that of land reform and allowing Morales consecutive presidential terms.

The country is at an unstable situation, in which poor and well-organized sectors of society have managed to take control of the government, but have not actually taken control of power. The power, as such, still resides with the government’s main political enemies based in Santa Cruz, Sucre and Cochabamba, the country’s economical bastions.

The leaders of opposition say they want greater autonomy from the capitol La Paz. Some, a radical minority, want full independence. They complain that they generate Bolivia's wealth and do not see why they should subsidize the poor in the mountains. Many wealthy landowners also oppose government measures to redistribute land to peasant farmers and limit the size of properties.

The story is of a disillusioned people who, with the great responsibility of constructing Bolivia for the new century, remain divided, in conflict, without a firm ideology of unity and of constructing a more just social order. As such the youth and the poor become the ‘cannon fodder’ for extremists capitalizing on the disarray.

One such group is the Falange Socialista Boliviana, a far right movement founded in the late thirties, whose voice, though silenced for the past thirty years, now regathers emphasis. Their talk of arms and radical change is seen by some in the East and South as the only firm solution. Curiously they are seen bearing Nazi symbols which leads one to think their rhetoric is openly racist.

Strongly affiliated are the ‘juventudes cruceñas’, young demonstrators from Santa Cruz said to now be arming themselves under slogans of “defending the patria”. They have already attacked shop keepers and vandilised in and around districts where there are MAS supporters (Movement Toward Socialism – Evo Morales’ party).

A counterpart on the left is the Ponchos Rojos, indigenous activists from the high plains who recently slit the throats of two dogs before television cameras shouting the names of the two leading opposition leaders, Branko Marinkovic and Rubén Costas. An Ayamara ancestral organization, composed of men over 50, it assures 100,000 members in their files. It has also converted itself in one of Morales’ main strike forces. Their leader Ruperto Quispe now threatens to take the lands of Santa Cruz “immediately” if the Constitution fails. They are also allied to hardened miners loyal to Morales, who explode small dynamite charges occasionally to intimidate any potential anti-assembly protesters.

All of the pieces seem to be in place for a civil war – a general climate of discontent and resentment after a long history of colonial oppression; a concentrated campaign aimed at stirring up fear, hatred, and racial/ethnic and regional divisions; the aggressive use of the media in promulgating violent conflict; the near-total silence of international observers regarding these same trends. Bolivia has always been an unstable pocket within the southern continent. But the intensity of the present cloud of instability could bring it closer than ever to a full eruption.

Saturday, 15 December 2007


At first instances Father Marco Arana, 43, comes across as a mild mannered man. It’s hard to picture him as the outspoken figure he is associated with. He is courteous and open about all the contentious events surrounding mining company Newmont/Buenventura, and of the stories which inadvertently involve him and of the NGO he founded GRUFIDES.

Concerning Newmont/Buenaventura, owners Yanacocha and of many other mining ventures across Cajamarca, he directly implicated them on several wrongdoings of which the most violent are three murders:

1. Lingal Edmundo, Nov 04, killed in the province of Santa Cruz, a peasant standing up to water contamination caused by the mine La Sanja. Arana asserts he was killed by a group of peasants contracted by Newmont/B. There is apparent proof the rifles were given by the company.
2. Isidro Llanos Chevarria, Aug 06, killed at the manifestations of Combayo, by three contracted police men. Chevaria had been standing up to an expansion of Maqui Maqui Carachugo 2 sought by Newmont/B. The REPUBLICA has investigated this matter.
3. Esmundo Becerra Cotrina, Nov 06, shot 17 times by ‘sicarios’ (assassins) in the area of Yanacanchilla Baja. He had been given several death threats months before, for his stance against the digging of the San Cirilo Hill. It is an area from where several lake pockets would be depleted. Cotrina -a prestigious community leader- was the only one in his community to have gone to university. The project was by Newmont/B.

Arana then went on to add that from November 2006, for four months, there was a whole series of espionage tactics carried out by N/B on his person and of the personnel at GRUFIDES. He says he was followed everywhere, from the country to Lima. Calls were made to female employees threatening rape, as well as death threats to GRUFIDES employees’ family members. LA REPUBLICA has largely investigated this, from where a conclusion was made that a certain figure Aldo Schwarz, an ex Marine Commander, (pseudonym Pato!) was paid by FORZA, the cooperative security firm contracted by N/B.

There are said to 600-700 FORZA security guards at Yanacocha alone. The information is reserved but has been divulged by the guards themselves. In times of civil unrest mine companies are allowed to contract police to defend their interests. Police are gathered from other states which have no involvement with such provinces. Up to 400 policemen can be brought in. Their orders are often to repel -by whatever means- the disturbances which most often are in the form of road blocks. Added to this there are certain laws of impunity where it is hard to accuse a policeman for having carried out an action while on duty.

Arana says many in the community are wary of the press as often it has been through these means that many have been identified and then victimized.

There still has not been a systematic study of the current water contamination taking place in the several provinces of Cajamarca. In 2003 an external body was brought in, STRATUS, paid by N/B to make a study. Not much progress has been made since.
Trout are still dying, the waters are still poisoned. The problems between the mines and the communities are deteriorating.