35 to Life

35 to Life

As Peru gets closer to trying in court 53 indigenous leaders and activists for the tragic clashes in the Amazon Bagua in June, 2009, I have been thinking more and more about the meaning of the violent events for the groups that have stayed in the fight for indigenous rights.

Until recently, many had taken a persistent legal course and political course and shelved plans for direct conflicts with the companies or the state. But the recent takeover of Pluspetrol oil facilities by Achuar villagers along the Corrientes River could indicate that they are losing patience or that the shock of the Bagua violence has lost some of its power over time. Either way, it shows that the conflict has not been resolved and can boil over at any time.

Just as Amazon Watch Peru director Andrew Miller and I were brainstorming how to cover the trial, which is set to open on May 14, Alberto Pizango made our job a lot simpler and urgent all at once.

Pizango, the leader of AIDESEP, faces charges of sedition and incitement of violence against agents of the state that could put him behind bars for 35-years to life.

AIDESEP has posted an internal interview with Pizango that includes the following comments that frame the Bagua trial and remind us of why it is so important:

There’s a “Before Bagua” and an “After Bagua”. A before in which the Peruvian State didn’t want to and didn’t know how to listen to the proposals of indigenous peoples. This exacerbated the situation until things came to what happened, which unfortunately took so many lives unnecessarily. I’d say an “After Bagua” because thanks to the Amazonian mobilizations I can say that today the indigenous agenda is not only inserted in the national level and within the State, but on the international level.

Pizango urged all of Peru’s indigenous to stand fast and be free:

I’d just say to the indigenous peoples and my indigenous brothers who are being tried for these regrettable events that they should stay firm in continuing to lift up the voice of indigenous peoples. All we have done is comply with our role as being the official spokespeople and work to insert in the national public agenda the different claims as mandated to us by our peoples. I’d reiterate to my brothers that they should stay firm in the significance of indigenous peoples rights. We’re going to overcome these accusations, we should be conscious of the fact that we haven’t committed any crimes. Perhaps our only crime was to carry the voice of the people, which is what we’ll be judged for starting May 14th….

It will be one thing for Miller and I to consider the meaning of Bagua and relate it to our audiences through Amazon Watch and Alianza Arkana, but quite another to be so clear-headed and eloquent as Pizango when facing so much. I wish him and the others well.

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