Indigenous and other community leaders exonerated of criminal charges

Photo: Amazon Watch

Photo: Amazon Watch

This Thursday, September 22, the Criminal Court of Bagua, Peru, acquitted 52 indigenous leaders accused of killing 12 policemen during a protest at the Curva del Diablo, which took place7 years ago. The conflict known as “The Baguazo” occurred during the second government of former President Alan Garcia, on June 3, 2009 in the Amazon region.

Protests by indigenous and traditional communities against a decree -made without prior and informed consultation, as required by law- that favored large transnational mining companies and allowed them to use the forest to exploit large deposits of oil, gas and other minerals, culminated in the death of 33 people, including civilians and police.

The reading of the court ruling exonerated the accused on the crimes of homicide, serious injury, riot, aggravated damages, riots, interference of public services, illegal possession of weapons, ammunition and explosives, as well as removal of official weapons and attacks on public transportation units; for these crimes the prosecutor had requested life in prison for 5 of the defendants, including Alberto Pizango, President of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP).

The Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Northern Amazon region of Peru (ORPIAN-P) urged the Peruvian Judiciary to open a process on former president Alan Garcia and his ministers, declaring them as the only ones responsible for what happened during “The Baguazo”.

All persons accused in the case are leaders and members of indigenous communities. According to a press communicate from Peru’s Frente Amplio, released prior to sentencing, “The only true and proven fact is that they suffered a violent eviction by the police. They were simply defending their land rights.”

This case brought to public light the constant struggle that indigenous peoples and traditional communities live, fighting against the actions of governments, private entities and extractive industries that seek, by all means possible, to strip them of their land, with the intention of exploiting their natural resources to generate monetary gains, in spite of forest degradation and the environment.

The acquittal is a victory for the Awajún-Wampis peoples and for all indigenous communities who have been harassed, persecuted, criminalized and murdered for defending their territories. Communities, associations, alliances and groups working incessantly for the right to live on their ancestral lands, defending the forests of the voracity of corporations and companies looking to profit at the expense of extraction, destroying life philosophies based on conservation and traditional use of natural resources.

As mentioned by AIDESEP in a statement on the issue “it is not possible to convict innocent people whose only crime was to exercise their fundamental human rights to territorial access and to survive as Peoples with a future.”