Latin America & Caribbean

Peru's Amazonian groups to launch political party

Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango
Alberto Pizango says he may stand for president

Peru's indigenous Amazon groups say they plan to launch their own political party ahead of elections next year.

Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango said it would campaign to protect the rainforest and indigenous rights in the Andes mountains as well as the Amazon.

Mr Pizango - who is on bail on charges of leading violent protests last year - said he might stand for president.

Peru's large indigenous minority has historically had little representation in national politics.

The new party will be called the Alliance for an Alternative for Humanity or APHU.

The acronym is a play on the indigenous Quechua word "apu", which means leader or mountain god.

Mr Pizango said it had begun collecting the signatures needed to be recognised as a political party, and would formally register in September.

"We want to seize the political agenda to save our planet," he said, adding that the party would not just represent indigenous demands, but wanted to reach "all citizens who want to defend our forests, nature, life."

Sedition

Alberto Pizango is the leader of Aidesep, a federation of more than 60 indigenous tribes in the Peruvian Amazon.

He is currently on bail on charges of sedition after being accused of leading violent protests against oil development in the Amazon last year.

More than 30 people died in clashes between police and Amazon tribes who had blocked roads near the town of Bagua to oppose oil projects on their ancestral territory.

Among the dead were 24 police officers, allegedly killed by indigenous protesters.

Mr Pizango fled to Nicaragua to escape arrest after being accused of leading the violence, but returned to Peru in May.

Peruvian government estimates say there are around 400,000 indigenous people in the Amazon region, out of a total national population of 30 million.

But Mr Pizango insists there are more than a million indigenous Amazonians, and he says his party will also represent the interests of the larger indigenous population in the Andean highlands.

Unlike neighbouring Bolivia and Ecuador, Peru's large indigenous minority has not played a prominent role in national politics in modern times.

Last June Peruvian President Alan Garcia refused to sign a law that would give indigenous people more power to stop oil and mining projects on their lands.

The law was approved by Congress, but Mr Garcia said he could not let indigenous communities stop development that would benefit all Peruvians.

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