- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2009

For more than a month, Indian groups drawn mostly from the vast Peruvian Amazon have come out against a package of laws that would open their region to oil and gas drilling, hydroelectric projects and biofuels farming.

Wielding bows, spears and shotguns, activists have overtaken jungle oil facilities, blocked tourist destinations and cut off thoroughfares. The effort is intended to press Peruvian President Alan Garcia to repeal decrees that are designed to bring the country’s economic framework in line with a U.S.-Peru free-trade accord.

At one point, Peru’s state oil company was forced to shut down a key pipeline after Indians overran a pumping station.

Although weeks of protests have been largely peaceful, a clash between police and protesters on Friday left 155 people wounded and at least 30 dead, including 22 police officers, according to the Peruvian government.

Mr. Garcia and many Peruvians argue that Amazon resources are part of the national patrimony.

Apart from seeking redress for historical grievances, Indian activists fear losing control of natural resources on land occupied by their ancestors long before European colonists arrived.

Some Peruvian officials see the onset of a nationwide insurgency backed by Venzuelan President Hugo Chavez, a socialist leader who is using his country’s oil wealth to back like-minded politicians and activists throughout the region.

“We have evidence that Venezuela is supporting the protesters,” Peruvian Congressman Edgar Nunez told The Washington Times.

“These people are extremely poor, so you have to ask how they can afford to travel large distances, camp and feed themselves for weeks at a time,” said Mr. Nunez, chairman of the Peruvian Congress’ national defense committee.

Mr. Nunez said his committee has evidence that Venezuelan funds appear to be flowing to the protesters through ALBA houses, grass-roots support centers named after Mr. Chavez’s alternative trading bloc, known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA).

“We are going to close down those lines of financing,” Mr. Nunez said, declining to elaborate on the nature of the evidence against Mr. Chavez or the means by which the government would try to close off purported lines of finance.

When asked whether Peru is planning to lodge a formal complaint against Venezuela, whose firebrand leftist leader has accused Mr. Garcia of being a pawn of the U.S., Mr. Nunez said only that investigations are continuing.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Lima did not return phone calls seeking comment. In the past, however, the Venezuelan government has denied any link, financial or otherwise, to ALBA houses in Peru.

In response to an investigation by a Peruvian congressional committee earlier this spring, Venezuelan Ambassador Armando Laguna said:

“Venezuela has nothing to do with the ALBA Houses. We don’t finance them, or help them. They have nothing to do with the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas,” according to an article on the Peruvian Times Web site.

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