Peru’s story haunts the TPP

As the U.S. Congress debates fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), in Peru we just marked the sixth anniversary of a deadly confrontation between Peruvian officials and indigenous communities protesting controversial executive decrees enacted to comply with the 2007 bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States.  

Our experience under the U.S.-Peru FTA is relevant to today’s TPP debate. President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaBuzz builds on Becerra’s future plans Green Party nominee escorted off debate premises Obama defends work on tribal issues MORE claims that the TPP would be the first U.S. agreement with enforceable labor and environmental standards in its core text and thus provide “protections that have been absent in previous agreements.”  

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But the first U.S. agreement to have such enforceable terms in its core text was the Peru FTA. These terms, which served as the template for the TPP’s Labor and Environment Chapters, reflect the “May 10, 2007” deal between congressional Democrats and the George W. Bush administration to improve trade pact rules. 

Key rules in the Peru FTA prohibit the rollback of environmental and worker protections. But last year, the Peruvian government enacted a package of laws (PL 30230) that did just.  The agreement made no difference, even with a U.S. Democratic president responsible for enforcing it.  

Indeed, repeated efforts by Peruvian and U.S. labor and environmental groups to push for the Obama administration even to initiate a consultation with Peru’s government about this apparent violation of the FTA has not resulted in any meaningful action.  

The U.S.-Peru FTA also had a special annex on forestry. As is now being promised for similar conservation rules in the TPP, these terms were supposed to counter “illegal logging, and illegal trade in wildlife, including wildlife trafficking.” But six years later, Peru’s Amazonian forests face an illegal logging crisis with “major violations” suspected in almost 70 percent of all logging concessions.  

Increasingly, those seeking to defend our forests are coming under violent attack. Assassinations of environmental activists in Peru have surged. The nongovernmental organization Global Witness found that at least 57 environmental activists in Peru have been killed since 2002, with the majority assassinated since 2010. Peru has become the fourth most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental or land defender. 

Late last year, Edwin Chota, a leader of the Ashenika Indian community and an outspoken opponent of the illegal logging rampant in his remote Amazon region, was found dead with three other local leaders. Peru's president, Ollanta Humala, told reporters that "those responsible are apparently mafias that have economic interests in illegal logging." But there has been no action under the FTA to counter the illegal logging plague or the associated assassinations and human rights violations. 

Sadly, the FTA’s initial implementation foreshadowed the pact’s threats.  In Peru, we remember the day six years ago when 32 people died, including indigenous protestors and police, in what is called the “Bagua massacre,” an incident that was widely reported in your newspapers. On June 5, 2009, Peruvian security forces attacked several thousand indigenous Awajun and Wambis protestors, including many women and children, who were blocking the “Devil's Curve,” a jungle highway near Bagua, 600 miles north of Lima. The protestors were demanding revocation of decrees providing new access to exploit their Amazonian lands for oil, gas and logging that had been enacted to comply with the FTA’s investor rights requirements.  

The decrees, enacted by Peruvian President Alan Garcia, violated the indigenous peoples’ rights both under the Peruvian Constitution and treaties Peru had signed guaranteeing prior informed consent by indigenous communities on projects involving their land. Thanks to WikiLeaks’ publication of diplomatic cables between the U.S. State Department and the U.S. embassy in Lima, we know that four days before the killings, a State Department cable addressed the growing indigenous protests, proclaiming: “Should Congress and President Garcia give in to the pressure, there would be implications for the recently implemented Peru-US Free Trade Agreement.” 

What has become known as the “Amazon’s Tiananmen” brought the realities of the U.S.-Peru FTA into sharp relief. Rather than being a new trade agreement model, as it was sold, at its heart were the same extreme investor rights that animated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  

Although the Obama administration is now trying to use the same sales pitch to sell the TPP as “new” and “progressive,” thanks to another leak from Wikileaks of the TPP’s Investment Chapter, we know it would extend further the Peru FTA’s extraordinary privileges and rights for foreign investors.  

Foreign corporations have used these investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) powers, both explicitly and behind the scenes, to pressure the Peruvian government to pardon polluters and to strong-arm mining concessions in areas of the country where indigenous communities continue to rise up in opposition to environmentally damaging projects.   

Just in the last month, the Peruvian government has declared a state of emergency in the Islay province, after social conflicts and protests against a proposed copper mine led to five deaths and dozens of arrests. And Renco, a U.S. firm, sought to evade its contractual commitment to remediate environmental and health problems caused by its toxic metal smelting operation that had poisoned children in the community of La Oroya, by launching an $800 million ISDS claim against Peru’s government.  

From the tragic massacre on “Devil’s Curve” six years ago to the surge in illegal logging to growing violence and threats against environmental defenders to the recent rollback of environmental and labor protections to the ISDS attacks on our environmental policies, Peru’s story suggests that it is time to rethink how we approach trade agreements before “Fast Tracking” more of the same via the TPP.

Echave is former vice-minister for the Environment of Peru.