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Hugo Blanco: Indigenous people are the vanguard of the fight to save the Earth

October 13, 2009 -- Socialist Voice -- Peruvian peasant leader Hugo Blanco, who edits the newspaper La Lucha Indigena, was interviewed on August 28, 2009, in Arequipa, in southern Peru. The previous day he gave a presentation at a conference entitled “40 Años de la Reforma Agraria” at the city’s Universidad Nacional de San Agustín.

You said last night that today the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon are in the vanguard of the struggle in Peru. Can you say more about this?

The struggle is no longer just to free the land, but to defend the land against the poisoning taking place at the hands of the mining companies in the Sierra [mountains], and the oil and gas operations in the Selva [rainforest] – poisoning the rivers, killing the fish, killing the birds, and killing the people too. There are still many struggles in the Sierra – in Cajamarca, in Piura. Just yesterday there was a struggle in this department [Arequipa] at Islay, where several people were hurt. But these struggles are scattered, dispersed. In turn, the amazonicos, despite having 50 different nationalities and languages, have united – the amazonicos of the north, the centre the south. The have united to coordinate a democratic and peaceful struggle. Last year, they had a struggle and won concessions from the government. Now they are waging another struggle, and the government has responded with arms. But again, the government was forced to retreat and overturn these two laws. They have gained another triumph.

`Indigenous peoples have been
fighting for eco-socialism for 500 years'
-- Hugo Blanco 

This was a peaceful struggle that was treasonously attacked by the government, but the indigenas captured arms from the police and defended themselves. So I think this is a lesson – and not just for Peru, but for the world. Throughout the world, many people are concerned about the environment – and with good reason, because as the United Nations has recognised, in another 100 years there could be no humanity. Due to global warming, provoked by the big corporations, whose only imperative is to make as much money as possible in as little time as possible. We can protest, publish articles, but the big corporations keep doing what they want, defended by the world’s governments. The way to resist this is the path taken by the amazonicos.

And this struggle is not over. Their leaders are meeting this month to evaluate the next step. Probably they will not return to the road blockades they have been carrying for the past months. But they will not allow the companies to enter their territories. So I say the amazonicos are teaching the Peruvians and all the world how to defend nature and defend the survival of the human species.

But your own heritage is as a leader of the campesino [peasant] struggle …

Yes, we had to struggle. The Spanish came here looking for spices, but they didn’t find spices, they found gold and silver. But in agrarian question, they applied the feudal system of Europe – where the feudal lords had the best lands, and they were worked by the serfs in exchange for a little piece of land to work for themselves. And this survived the revolution for independence; nothing changed for the indios. It was done away with in Mexico with the uprising of Zapata. It was done away with in [the altiplano of] Bolivia in 1952, with the Bolivian uprising that year. But here it persisted. In 1962, we began a struggle to recover the land for those who work it. And when the government violently attacked us we were obliged to take up arms. But finally the government was forced to pass an agrarian reform law recognising that the land belongs to the campesinos.

I was in prison for eight years. They wanted to give me the death penalty, but thanks to the international solidarity I won, they were not able to kill me. And it was thanks to that international solidarity that after eight years I was liberated. So now I feel that my obligation is to struggle for those who are imprisoned in the struggle for the Amazon – to fight for them as others fought for me.

Until now, the Amazonian peoples have been very isolated, and have not been involved in the class struggle in Peru. Do you think now, with the process of globalisation, they are becoming a part of the broader social struggle in the nation?

Their struggle is not about class. Their struggle is to defend the natural environment where they have lived for millennia. But now this nature – which they regard as their mother – is under attack. The timber companies cutting the trees, the oil companies poisoning the rivers – this is what their uprising is against. They do not understand it as a class struggle. But nonetheless, it is a struggle against the multinational corporations, which are defended by the government. So we understand that it is related to the class struggle.

In your 1968 book Tierra o Muerte [Land or Death], there is a lot of the ideology of Trotsky. Are you still a Trotskyist?

This book is a polemical work that I wrote, because we were in debate against Stalinism, which then took the line of only working within the law, struggling through the judicial process and so on. Whereas we took the position that a guerilla movement was necessary for revolution. So it was a debate between these two positions – the reformist position and the guerillerista position, which holds that the people must organise themselves, and when the people decide that there is no other option but to take up arms, they should take up arms. But it is the people who must decide, not any group or party.

So I defended Trotsky because the struggle was against Stalinism. Am I still a Trotskyist? I’m not sure. In certain senses I am, and in others I am not. Trotsky believed in defending the revolutionary ideas of Marx and Lenin against bureaucratic tendencies. He defended world revolution against the ideas of “socialism in one country” and a “progressive bourgeoisie” and “revolution by stages” and the other Stalinist ideas promoted in the name of Marxism-Leninism. So I was right to be a Trotskyist in this epoch.

One thing Trotsky said which has been vindicated is that if the working class doesn’t take power from the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy will be displaced by capitalism. This is what has happened. Today the principal directors of the Soviet Communist Party are the big neoliberals in Russia. Trotsky said that either the working class will triumph, or the bourgeoisie will, that the bureaucracy is not a social class and has no historical future. Unfortunately, its power was not broken by the working class, so it was broken by the bourgeoisie.

But now that there is no Stalinism, why do I have to be a Trotskyist? I don’t feel the same imperative. Of course, there are things I have learned from Marx, things I have learned from Lenin, things I have learned from Trotsky – and from other revolutionaries, from Rosa Luxemburg, from Antonio Gramsci, from Che Guevara. But now I do not feel it is logical to form a Trotskyist party.

The youth who organised the conference yesterday – they want answers to the questions of today. We don’t have to resuscitate old debates from the last century. It is enough to still believe that another world is possible. I am old, and if I can teach something about Marx, Lenin and Trotsky and so on, this is something I can contribute. I still believe in standing up and struggling and not pleading with the government, so in this sense I am still a Trotskyist. But I don’t feel the need to say, “Listen everybody, this Trotskyism is the answer!”

And when I speak of the indigenas of the Amazon as the vanguard, I do not mean it in the Marxist-Leninist sense, that others should copy their methods. And when I speak to Indigenous peoples, I speak of “collectivism” not “communism.”

You are perhaps best remembered in Peru as a guerilla fighter, although this was just one brief period of your life. What is your view of armed struggle in the current situation?

I think the amazonicos are teaching us that struggles need to be massive and peaceful – but if we are attacked, we have the right to defend ourselves. At the blockades, the amazonicos are armed with their spears and bows and arrows and blowguns. But they only use them to defend themselves and their territory from those who invade their territory. If you are attacked with arms, you have the right to defend youself with arms.

For instance, I do not agree with Sendero Luminoso – and neither with those who believe in taking power by elections. Whether by arms or by elections, both are struggling to take power. In this sense, I am a Zapatista. I do not believe in struggling to take power, but to build it. The villages in the Sierra that are standing up to the mining companies are building power. The indigenas in the Selva who are now controlling their own territory are building power.

But when the people feel they have to defend themselves with arms, they have the right to take this decision. The rightists in Santa Cruz, in Bolivia, do not want to let the people govern, and meet their peaceful struggle with bullets; so the people have the right to meet this force with bullets, to defend democracy with bullets.

You say that there is a new `industrial latifundio' emerging today.

That’s right. Big companies of industrial scale on the coast, tremendously exploiting the agricultural proletariat, the majority of which is not unionised. They get no vacation, they have no social security. And these industries use agro-chemicals that kill the soil. And it is all for export to the United States, it is not for internal consumption.

So this new new `industrial latifundio' is of both agriculture and mining?

Of course – agriculture, mining, oil, timber. All of this is preying on the natural environment. A new agrarian reform is needed to do away with these predatory corporations.

Now nearly every government in South America, except Peru and Colombia, has gone over to the left to one degree or another. What is your perspective on this phenomenon?

Well, the struggle must continue, no? Like the struggle against the coup in Honduras, the struggle against the mining companies in the Sierra, the oil companies in the Amazon. Probably in the next elections here in Peru, another servant of neoliberalism will win. But what interests me are the social struggles, which must continue under any government.

What do you think of the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador? You said last night that you consider these to be `governments of transition'.

Yes, of course. Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Ecuador's Correa and Bolivia's Evo Morales are very good sometimes, with their discourse against the empire. But we still cannot say that these are governments of the people of below [gente de abajo]. For example, Chávez wants the entire workers’ movement to be an instrument of his government. But the movement must remain independent and take its own positions. So in this I am not in agreement with him. And for this reason, I have not been invited to Venezuela! [Laughs]

I do not like the compromises that were made in the referendum following the constituent assembly in Bolivia, where they decided that 5000 hectares constitutes a latifundio. To speak of this in Peru would be considered scandalous. This was a compromise with the reactionary governments of the Media Luna.

And when Santa Cruz held its referendum on independence, Morales said, ``All the the people of Bolivia should mobilise to Santa Cruz and block this illegality''. The Bolivian people were advancing, but then Morales said, ``Oh no, better not to go''. The campesinos were ready to block the roads; Morales said, ``No, please don’t block the roads''.

These breaks on the social movements remind me of the breaks applied by Salvador Allende in Chile that facilitated the pinochetazo. These breaks indicate counter-revolutionary attitudes. I oppose this. But these attitudes do not mean the government of Bolivia is counter-revolutionary – no! The Indigenous councils that are being organised and so on – these are advances. But it is still not a full manifestation.

So when you say `governments of transition', you mean transition towards what?

A government of all the people. Towards “Good Government Juntas” [councils] in Bolivia and Ecuador and Venezuela!

This is a reference to the governing bodies of the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas. So you see the Zapatista movement as a model?

I completely support the Zapatista movement; that appears to me the correct path. They represent an example of the kind of society that we want to build in the future. They represent an example of government that is accountable to the people. If one of the Indigenous leaders in the Good Government Juntas is not functioning well, he can be recalled at any time. And the Zapatista National Liberation Army doesn’t govern in their territory. It ensures that the Mexican national army doesn’t molest the people. The Good Government Juntas govern, providing education and so on, without one centavo from the government.

And they wanted this system constitutionally recognised through the San Andres Accords, and when this was rejected by the Mexican congress in favour of the government’s proposal, they declared all the political parties of Mexico to be traitors, and they participate in no elections. Instead, during the presidential race [in 2006], they held the Other Campaign, and travelled throughout the country asking people what problems they had, and how can we confront them. Not putting forth a line, but coordinating with the people.

And they are also doing this at the international level. For example, the people from New York who are trying to save their homes, also participated in the Other Campaign. This year, at the Festival of Dignified Rage that was held in Zapatista territory, they showed a video from this group.

Yes, the Movement for Justice in El Barrio. You went to Mexico for this meeting?

Yes. This appears to me the correct way of building power.

Well, there have been criticisms on the Mexican left that the Zapatistas’ ethic of refusing to participate in elections has allowed the right to win.

Yes, but all the parties are trying to trick the people. Elections are not the way to build power. The communities in the Sierra that are confronting the mining companies, and the peoples in the Amazon who are standing up to the oil companies – they are building power, like the Zapatistas.

You said last night that in the 1960s you were struggling for a more just society, but today it is a more grave issue – the survival of the human race.

That’s right. The amazonicos are struggling against global warming. If you ask them, they will say they are struggling to defend their territories. But in effect, they are struggling against global warming too. Indigenous peoples have been fighting for eco-socialism for 500 years.

[This article appeared in Socialist Voice's LeftViews. This article is excerpted from a longer interview which appeared in World War 4 Report.]

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Peru: The struggle for the Amazon

September 22, 2009

By Karl Cosser, Bagua

An indigenous uprising in the Peruvian Amazon has forced the US-backed government of President Alan Garcia to repeal key decrees that aimed to open the region to greater exploitation by oil and gas corporations. However, indigenous people faced violent repression from security forces as they tried to defend their land and the environment. On June 5, a brutal massacre occurred in Bagua, with dozens of indigenous people murdered by police.

Karl Cosser, a member of the Socialist Alliance from Australia currently in Peru, recently visited Bagua. He was part of a small group led by Hugo Blanco, a veteran revolutionary and fighter for indigenous and peasant rights. Blanco is the director of the Lucha Indigena newspaper. Blanco is keen to establish links between the struggles of Peruvian indigenous peoples and Indigenous people in Australia. He is asking Indigenous rights activists and Aboriginal leaders to email him at hugucha@yahoo.com.

* * *

After an overnight bus ride thorough the Andes mountain range, we arrived at the town of Bagua just before the sun came up. Standing in the main plaza looking out into the park, it seemed surreal at how peaceful it was this time of morning, considering the brutal slaughter of local indigenous people that happened there only a few weeks before.

Overlooking the park was a two-storey high police station from which shots were fired killing and injuring dozens of civilians. Many locals had gathered around the police station after they heard that protesters had been killed by police at Curva del Diablo, just out of town. The protesters had been blocking the road.

From observations and statements by local people, it was clear the police at the station were not acting in self-defence when they fired on the crowd. The walls of the station were solid brick and concrete. There was no evidence of bullet marks on the walls.

Later in the day we travelled further into the Amazon jungle. We visited the village of Chiriaco, from where many people were reported killed, missing and injured.

Several community members displayed injuries as evidence of police repression, including wounds from beatings and bullet marks on their bodies. Local community members said they had no firearms, but carried their traditional carved hardwood timber spears. A community member said the spear was ornamental artwork as a cultural expression, not a practical weapon.

Although the people protesting had ornamental spears as an expression of indigenous pride and identity, they did not represent a genuine threat to the police that would justify an armed attack.

Holding on to his spear in a bamboo hut, a Chiriaco community member told us of further atrocities committed by the state that day. Police rounded up people who were taken away and are still missing. Up to 200 indigenous people could be dead.

Reports made state that police chased after people as they were trying to escape into the jungle, all within full view of children and other family members. It is highly likely that the children forced to witness such brutality will be traumatised by experiencing such events.

At this stage, it is difficult to get an accurate number of those who have disappeared or died. This was an act of terrorism carried out by the Peruvian people’s own government in the name of neoliberalism.

Chiriaco, among many other indigenous communities in Peru, has been the victim of neoliberal policies imposed upon it without consideration or respect for its rich culture and history.

One resident of Chiriaco told us they have their own concept of socialism and collectivism. They don’t support a system that does not include them in economic decision making for the benefit of the community.

Hugo Blanco, the director of the Lucha Indigena newspaper, said that when a multinational corporation sought to use the land of the Amazon indigenous people, they had no respect for the long term sustainability of the land and have the freedom to move on to somewhere else in the world once all resources had been consumed.

The laws of use of chemicals for agriculture in Peru are relaxed, which corporations exploit. The Amazon indigenous people, who have lived in harmony with their environment for many years, are being forced off their land. This is the reason for the urgency in the struggle for defence of the Amazon — the lungs of the earth.

The Peruvian government shows more respect for those with money to buy the Amazon than for the rights of indigenous people. Therefore, the indigenous struggle and the defence of the environment is a class struggle.

Neoliberalism, among other things, is part of a global project seeking to exploit the resources of indigenous land all over the world — including the land of Aboriginal people in Australia.

Most recently, in the form the “Northern Territory intervention”, there is an attempt to drive Indigenous communities off their land. Australian scientist Helen Caldicott said the land grab was for the purpose of uranium mining and using the Northern Territory to dump nuclear waste.

Blanco, who is from the Quechua indigenous people, is encouraging Australian Indigenous activists to contact him to extend solidarity between the indigenous peoples of Peru and Australia.

Republished from Green Left Weekly

Ecuador: Indigenous, government clash over mining

Duroyan Fertl

10 October 2009

On September 30, violent clashes between indigenous protestors and police in Ecuador left at least one protester dead, and nine protesters and 40 police injured, the October 1 Latin American Herald Tribune said.

The protests are the first big test for Ecuador’s left-wing President Rafael Correa, first elected in 2006 on the platform of a “citizen’s revolution” promising to build a “21st century socialism” in the small Andean country.

The protests were called by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) — the umbrella confederation representing Ecuador’s indigenous population. About 35% of Ecuador’s population is indigenous.

On the same day, Ecuador’s main teachers union, the UNE, and students also protested against proposed educational reforms.

CONAIE and many environmental organisations are opposed to a new mining law they believe will cause environmental destruction and may result in water privatisation.

They also believe the law violates Ecuador’s new constitution, which, among many other progressive additions, guarantees access to water and grants specific rights to the environment.

The new law allows for the expansion of copper, silver and gold mining in Ecuador’s Amazonian and highland regions. It also restricts the involvement of indigenous and affected communities to a right to consultation, rather than the right of veto they have called for.

Oil and mining companies in Ecuador have a history of violently intimidating communities opposed to the rampant environmental destruction that often accompanies the opening of new mines.

Despite Ecuador’s heavy reliance on the industry, mining was temporarily stopped by the Congress in April 2008. However, the new mining law was passed in January despite protests from indigenous and environmental groups.

The initial protests, which took place in seven of Ecuador’s 24 provinces on September 28 — were called off by CONAIE on the same day after Correa agreed to renegotiate parts of the contentious mining law.

However, the CONFENIAE — the Amazonian arm of CONAIE — continued its protests and blockades in the south-east of the country.

On September 30, one protester was killed in clashes between the indigenous Shuar and Achuar communities and police in Ecuador’s south-east jungle.

Protesters and police dispute who was responsible for shooting the protester, an indigenous teacher, each side blaming the other.

Correa has called for calm and assured protesters there are no plans to privatise water, saying the law and the new constitution expressly forbid it.

“We wait for them with open arms”, Correa said in a call for dialogue. “But please, we never want to see this again, killing among Ecuadorians.”

The constitution and mining law forbid the privatisation of water and natural resources, but members of Correa’s governing alliance are known to support it in limited circumstances and protestors are concerned about what they say are loopholes for mining companies.

Ecuador’s weak economy is heavily reliant on mining revenue. Correa said the revenue is needed to promote other branches of Ecuador’s industry to break with dependence on mining and to fund his government’s ambitious social programs.

Such programs provide free education and health care, and the Correa government has raised the minimum wage and introduced other social benefits.

Ecuador also has a formidable foreign debt. Correa defaulted on US$3.2 billion of illegitimate and illegal debt in 2008, and has pushed to renegotiate oil contracts on more favourable terms.

However, the debt is still enormous — equivalent to about 25% of GDP.

Indigenous and environmental activists have been campaigning against the mining law since it was drafted, and have sought to have it amended.

Correa has reacted negatively to the campaign, calling environmental protesters “childish” for their opposition to mining.

Correa insisted on the need for “environmentally responsible” mining, the revenue from which can be used to end dependence on mining.

Correa has also accused the popular movements of “lying” and being manipulated by the right-wing opposition to destabilise his government.

This has simply prompted more protests and has begun to alienate Correa from important potential allies in the country’s strong social movements.

The recent protests pale in comparison with previous demonstrations, but protests organised by CONAIE played a central role in the overthrow of former presidents Abdala Bucaram (in 1997) and Jamil Mahuad (in 2000).

In 2005, the CONAIE also helped overthrow president Lucio Gutierrez. However, it split over the issue and has been weak since.

However, the CONAIE still represents a powerful section of Ecuadorian society. It has begun to grow in influence again, taking a strong stand in defence of Ecuadoran environmental and cultural rights.

Rural Water Systems president Carlos Perez warned that if Correa kept insulting the social movements, “we know that he who sows wind, reaps tempests”.

However, the government and indigenous groups have begun to move towards a conciliation.

On October 5, 150 representatives from the three regional organisations of CONAIE began tense negotiations with Correa in the presidential palace in Quito.

The government agreed to review changes to the indigenous bilingual education system and to find a consensus with CONAIE over the new water law.

CONAIE is also planning to negotiate reforms to the mining law, which it has also appealed before the constitutional court.

Among other proposals being discussed is one from the Shuar and Achuar peoples that the Amazonian province of Morona Santiago be declared “ecological” and made off-limits to mining. This is similar to a recent declaration made for the province of Zamora Chinchipe.

However, the government has indicated that it may not agree to this.

CONAIE representatives have made clear that any changes will be dependent on their members’ support, with whom they will consult before agreeing to the amendments.

However, CONAIE is hopeful of reaching an agreement. Correa has adopted some of their demands in the past, including the closing of a US air force base on Ecuadoran territory, convening a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution and declaring much of the foreign debt illegal.

A joint commission — including members of the government and CONAIE — will be appointed to investigate the events around the violent confrontation.

The Achuar and Shuar nations, however, are maintaining roadblocks near the city of Macas while they wait to hear the outcome of the discussions.

[Duroyan Fertl edits Ecuador-rising.blogspot.com.]

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