Sunday, May 17, 2009

Alan Garcia, Racist

Indigenous Peruvians are protesting their government allowing multinational corporations to mine and log their lands without their permission. Not surprisingly, the racist president of Peru, Alan Garcia, could not care less. In fact, Garcia is sending in the military to put down the protests. He claims,

"We have to understand when there are resources like oil, gas and timber, they don't belong only to the people who had the fortune to be born there,"

Uh-huh. That's code for, "we don't care about the rights of Indians. We are taking your resources, you won't see one red cent for it, and you can't do anything about it."

There is a history of western environmental groups stepping in to make a positive difference in these situations. In the early 1990s, Ecuadoran indigenous people protested against oil exploration. They made connections with western environmental organizations who then put international pressure on the oil companies and the government. Interestingly, the big enviro groups made a deal with the oil companies that was then rejected by both their own members and the indigenous groups. The corporations then pulled out. In that case, it wasn't that the indigenous groups weren't interested in developing their resources. But they wanted control over the operations and real assurances that it wouldn't lead to the destruction of their land and society. I suspect it's the same in Peru.

But ultimately, you have to have a president who is willing to listen to international pressure on these issues and I don't know that Alan Garcia would do so. Arguably the worst South American leader not named Alvaro Uribe, Garcia has never shown much willingness to do what is right and to work with the poor people of his nation in any constructive way. It's particularly unlikely he's going to do that here with a $2 billion offer for the oil from the French company Perenco on the table.

Moreover, his stance, his words claiming that all Peruvians own these resources, and his use of the military suggest the worst kind of racism toward indigenous peoples. This racism has long plagued South American nations and often manifests itself over resource extraction. The indigenous people have usually lost these battles. Unless the West steps in here and applies some pressure, it's likely that they will lose again.