After the massacre: Canadians demand halt to free trade deal with Peru

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OTTAWA -- Non-governmental organizations are urgently asking Canadians to write to senators, MPs and the Prime Minister to express their outrage at the police massacre of peaceful Indigenous protesters in Peru, and to demand that the Canadian government halt its implementation of the Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that is now before the Senate as Bill C-24.

On Friday, June 5, an estimated 600 Peruvian police officers in helicopters and on foot opened fire on thousands of peaceful Indigenous protesters blocking a road near Bagua in the Peruvian Amazon. For the past two months, over 30,000 Indigenous Peruvians have sustained nonviolent protests along the roads and waterways of the Amazon in response to a series of presidential decrees issued in advance of the implementation legislation for potential U.S. and Canadian free trade agreements.

Protesters point out that these decrees violate indigenous rights, discourage environmental protection of the Peruvian rainforest and open the way for an unprecedented expansion of new transnational petroleum, mining, logging and plantation agriculture. Indigenous leaders are calling for international solidarity to safeguard the Amazon, 72 per cent of which is already leased for petroleum exploration and extraction, almost half of it by Canadian companies.

One Canadian company that will benefit directly from this rollback of indigenous rights is the Alberta-based petrochemical firm Petrolifera. The Peruvian government recently signed an agreement with Petrolifera to explore land inhabited by one of the world's last uncontacted tribes –- a decision that the Instituto del Bien Comun has appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Conservative estimates put the death toll of last week's police attack at 60 Indigenous protesters and police officers killed in retaliation, but police have since been accused of burning bodies, throwing them in the river, and removing the wounded from hospitals to hide the real number of casualties.

"Is this the kind of development the Harper government is trying to encourage by signing a free trade deal with Peru," asks Stuart Trew, Trade Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. "Canadians would be appalled to learn that rights and environmental protection measures are being sacrificed to enrich Calgary's oil patch."

"If anyone still had doubts about the true nature of these free trade agreements, the actions of the Peruvian government make it clear that they are really about putting foreign investment ahead of everything else, including the livelihoods - and even the lives - of indigenous people," adds Jamie Kneen, Communications and Outreach Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. "Canada is the largest investor in Peru's mining sector. President Alan Garcia claims this is development, but it's a destructive model of development. If people are being killed on behalf of Canadian investors, to promote and protect investment projects on Indigenous land, then their blood is on our hands."

This month, the Canadian Senate is debating Bill C-24, the implementing legislation for the Canada-Peru free trade agreement. Non-governmental organizations are asking that people write to Senators and government officials to ask them to immediately suspend the bill.

"Canadians need to send a strong message by writing to our government officials indicating that we stand with the indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon and that we reject the killing and destruction promoted by free trade legislation currently before legislatures both in Canada and the U.S. This deadly trade deal must be halted immediately," says Rick Arnold, Coordinator for Common Frontiers-Canada.

MiningWatch Canada (MWC) is a pan-Canadian initiative supported by environmental, social justice, Aboriginal and labour organisations from across the country. It addresses the urgent need for a co-ordinated public interest response to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices in Canada and around the world.

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