Jun 16, 2009

Protestation, violation, retaliation, and examination

Well, this last week has been interesting!

there has been a growing unrest among the indigenous people of the Amazon region. For years there has been a law protecting the Amazon rainforests and the indigenous people who live there. But within the last year or so, the government of Peru has opened up that area to logging and oil. This decision affects the property and lifestyles of the people who live in this area, and it was done without consulting them or allowing them to vote on it, or to express their opinions in any way. It has led to numerous non-violent protests and roads blocked with stones and people, typical of the way the Peruvian people usually express their disagreement with government actions. But, as I said, unrest has been growing, culminating in a confrontation between the indigenous and national police who were sent to clear a roadblock near Tarapoto. This confrontation resulted in several indigenous people being killed...which in turn led to police in a different area (Bagua) being killed or taken hostage, in retaliation for what happened in Tarapoto. Bloodshed there in Bagua (pronounced Bá-Wa) continued for a week, during which time the leader of the Bagua indigenous faction fled to the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima to avoid arrest.

Last Thursday, the protestors followed their leader to Lima and staged a protest on Abancay Avenue, where the Ministry of the Interior is located, as well as being just half a block from where I work. The police were prepared, but none of the local people were aware of what was going to happen until it happened. About 3:30 in the afternoon, hundreds of university students and indigenous people marched on Abancay Avenue, armed with clubs, steel pipes, and 2 x 4s, waving flags and banners, and makng a huge racket with horns, pipes, loud speakers, and the like. I was in my classroom and couldn't hear what my students were trying to say.

Then something went awry and the protest turned violent. Police reacted by shooting tear gas into the crowds and chasing a good number down to the middle of the block (where I work!) with gas bombs. Although the steel doors on our building were closed and the windows were closed to the second floor, gas still managed to enter the building. Between the noise and the effects of the gas, classes had to be temporarily stopped. And, heh, I had one student who just couldn't resist opening a window and sticking his head out to see the spectacle. He got a good doses of tear gas.

Oddly, I wasn't affected by the gas. I had several students who complained of sore throats and itchy eyes. I didn't feel anything. Huh. Musta been all those years of gas mask training in the Air Force, with real tear gas. We were locked down for about an hour, then students were allowed to go home out the back way, to avoid the remnents of the protest.

And then, on Saturday, I had to take an English proficiency exam provided to the institute by the University of Michigan. I'm not sure how I did, although it seemed to be to easy to be real, for me. I wonder if this will benefit me in some way. Every ICPNA instructor has to take the exam and pass it, but what will it do for me in the future? Nothing, probably. English is my first language, and at my age, I expect that I should be proficient in it.

All last week, I had substitutions. I'm not sure what was happening...maybe everyone was sick? I don't know, but I had 10 hours of work every day. Love the extra money, but the hours really sucked. Wah.


Pondside said...

That's pretty scary stuff, Kat. Are you getting anxious to head north one day soon? I hope that the protests and demonstrations end before anyone else is hurt.

Queenmothermamaw said...

Hello Kat, I found you through Pondside. How in the world did you get to Peru. I just recently read "Snake River," about Teddy Roosevelt in the Amazon. That is a terrible thing to hear about happening to the indigenous people in any country. Stop by my neck of the woods if you find the time.

Rani said...

WOW! WOW! That is incredible. And you were right in the thick of it! I'm glad you weren't hurt. I'll have to google that and keep up with it. We don't hear much about your part of the world here, unfortunately!

knittingdragonflies said...

Wow, thanks for the reality check you give us. I forget what it is really like in others places. Take care, glad the tear gas didn't bother you.