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June 13, 2008

NAFTA Peru Expansion Didn't Solve Peruvian Forestry Problems, I

The results are pouring in: when Congress voted to pass last year's NAFTA expansion to Peru, they effectively gave up leverage over a government determined to rip apart the Amazon and its biological occupants.

The FTA negotiations began in 2004. At that time, there was exploration contracts with multinational extraction companies for eight oil blocks. Then, in 2006, as negotiations were wrapping up, that number jumped again; slowed down while Congress was considering the FTA in 2007; and now has jumped up by another eight, bringing to total to 40 blocks. Another 14 are slated to be signed by 2009. According to ENS:

"Oil and gas blocks now blanket nearly 75 percent of the Peruvian Amazon," said Dr. Matt Finer, staff ecologist at Save America's Forests in Washington, DC, who is now in Peru. "That is over 123 million acres of megadiverse rainforest, roughly the size of California and Maine combined."...

"Hydrocarbon blocks now overlap 20 protected areas," said Cesar Gamboa, president of the Peruvian nongovernmental organization Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales.

"Thirteen of these protected areas preceded creation of the oil blocks and the overlap is illegal due to the lack of compatibility studies required in the Protected Areas Law," Gamboa said...

An analysis by Save America's Forests indicates that 58 of the 64 blocks overlay titled indigenous lands and 15 overlap the territories of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation.

Then, Peruvian President Alan Garcia unilaterally modified the institutional structure that slowed down destruction of the rainforest, only months after Congress approved the trade deal. According to IPS:

Legislative decree 1,015, approved by García on May 20, makes it possible for indigenous communities in the country’s highland and jungle regions to authorise the sale or lease of communal land to private investors with the votes of just 50 percent plus one of the members of the community assemblies.

The new law modifies legislation on private investment that required the consent of two-thirds of the qualified members of the village assembly to sell or lease land.

Now the votes of only a simple majority in village assemblies, who no longer must be duly qualified members, are needed...

The entry of private investment has come hand in hand with the formal land titling and break-up of communal property, and many indigenous peasants in the coastal regions have been forced to pawn their land titles to obtain loans, given the lack of state support for improving the productivity of their farms, said [one activist]...

Some warn that the decree opens the door to manipulation of communal assemblies.

"The common practice of many companies has been to foment the creation of communal organisations parallel to the official ones, and to co-opt some of the local leaders, which has enabled them, in many cases, to destroy the social fabric and impose their own decisions," said lawyer Javier Jahncke with the non-governmental Ecumenical Foundation for Development and Peace (FEDEPAZ).

Indeed, the action by the nominally socialist Garcia has brought together the left, the right, and indigenous groups in Peru to oppose the presidential power grab, and the multinational land grab. We'll look at more of this story today and next week.

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