Peru Archbishop calls for dialogue after killings

Peruvian Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos has called today for law and order in his country after more than 30 people were killed when government troops attacked protesters.

CAFOD partner Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos, who is president of the Peruvian Bishops Conference, said: "This was a disaster waiting to happen. The indigenous peoples have been forgotten. We must listen to them.

I also think we need to be aware of the worldview of these peoples. We are forgetting that. The indigenous, the natives, think in a very different way from us. What is good for us is lethal for them. They defend the water and the earth because it is life. There's a problem of understanding. This has been a tremendous problem.

Law and order needs to be re-established urgently. In such grave circumstances, we need to think first of Peru, of the common good. From this perspective, the authorities cannot impose their will on the will of a people, neither can one group hold the country to ransom. They need to come together in the middle, reach a balanced position, to deal with this conflict calmly.

I am not a lawyer, but I suggest that for the moment the government should suspend the decrees the Amazonian communities object to. Then there can be dialogue, but direct dialogue, involving the real representatives of these people who are taking this action... I insist that these measures should be suspended. And for their part, the natives should suspend their action. The solution is in the hands of both sides.

There should also be independent mediators. The situation in Bagua is like a knot being tied tighter and tighter. Let's stop this now! Enough human lives have been lost.

There should be no provocation, on either side. Lives are at stake, the lives of the police officers, the indigenous and the townspeople. Many families are suffering, many have been orphaned. The problem is already going beyond politics and social policy - it's existential. The Amazon peoples are part of Peru, not an island. We have to learn to solve problems peacefully, by talking to each other. There's no other way.

We have to be serious and recognise that this isn't just the responsibility of the present government. There are just demands of the Amazon peoples from way back that haven't been dealt with, about issues such as health, education, roads, electricity. We have to listen to them and understand their vision of the world.

The Church has always been ready to do its part, especially in these circumstances where human life is at stake. In this situation we can't talk about winners and losers. I repeat: the issue is Peru and the common good."

Notes to editors

The protests in Bagua in the Peruvian Amazon were sparked by a set of 99 decrees issued by President Garc a to facilitate the privatisation of collectively held land. His aim was to implement the free trade agreements with the US and Canada signed by his government, which could open the country's Amazon lands to oil, gas and mineral exploitation. The Peruvian government has declared a state of emergency in some Amazon regions, suspending residents' constitutional rights.

CAFOD endorses the call of Amazon bishops for the Peruvian government to rescind the laws affecting these territories and to begin genuine dialogue with the local inhabitants.

[Source: Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, Peru, 09Jun09]

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