Thursday, May 27, 2010

Arrest of Indian leader sparks concern over U.S. ally Peru

Word from Lima that Indian leader Alberto Pizango had been taken into custody upon his return to Peru raises new worries about the future of one of South America's staunchest U.S. allies. Pizango was arrested at the airport after 11 months of exile in Nicaragua, where he fled to avoid sedition charges stemming from anti-development protests in the Amazon that turned violent, according to the Associated Press in an article published in the New York Times. More than 30 police officers and demonstrators were killed last June during protests against government decrees allowing exploration of potential oil and gas resources in the Peruvian rainforest, the Indians' ancestral lands. Violence broke out after authorities tore down roadblocks set up by the demonstrators in Bagua to block access to the rainforest, and Pizango was charged with fomenting the violence. Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega, granted Pizango political asylum. But Pizango said he had been away from Peru long enough. "I think that I have waited too long and will make this enormous sacrifice that has cost me and is costing me so much," Pizango said before he left Nicaragua. Groups of Pizango supporters rallied at the airport as his plane came in, backing his contention that the government should have consulted native groups before allowing the planned exploration. Opponents of Pizango also protested at the airport, urging the government to press charges against the Indian leader. Government officials claim potential discoveries could generate enough money to end poverty in Peru but, hopefully, not at the cost of the country's vibrant democracy.

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