It’s been a month since the June 5 massacre in Bagua where hundreds of Indigenous peoples were killed in the northern Amazon region of Peru.
Let me repeat in case you didn’t read well: a month ago hundreds of Native peoples were massacred by the Peruvian government led by Alan Garcia, and part of the causes of this tragedy were the free trade policies promoted by the United States.
This tragedy that has caused hundreds of injured, detained and missing civilians and policemen is the result of a violent and well planned attack launched by the Peruvian militarized police against a civilian and peaceful protest organized by Indigenous groups and social movements, who blocked roads and oil pumping stations as a protests against private investment policies imposed by the Garcia administration, without previous popular consultations.
Previously and during months, Indigenous leaders had tried to dialogue with Garcia at not success and Native organizations representing hundreds of thousands –if not millions- of Peruvians, had expressed their strong opposition to free trade policies designed by the United States government and included within the U.S.–Peru free trade pact.
Silence and complicity
Even thought the genocidal actions of Garcia in Bagua were excused and caused mostly by the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement policies, but the U.S. government has remained mostly silent about these crimes against humanity.
President Barack Obama and secretary of State Hillary Clinton have showed no interest in the crisis of Peru and they haven’t said a single word of solidarity or protest, at least not publicly, nothing. This speaks a lot about the human dignity, decency and level of compassion of the current American government.
For once this has been one of the biggest disappointments I personally have endured recently. I have volunteered for the Obama presidential campaign in 2008 and I participated in talks with different U.S. Congress members staffers -including Hillary Clinton office- while lobbying against the U.S.-Peru FTA, and the message I always got gave me hope that true change was possible in this country.
Only two weeks after the Bagua massacre, president Obama appeared on national TV calling for the Iran government to stop violence on Iranian protesters. Civilians in Iran who didn’t agree with the controversial results of the presidential elections were calling for new elections. Almost all the U.S. media bombarded us daily with pictures and videos of Iranian people being abused and attacked by the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad government, blood everywhere, sad. The violence seeing in Peru had been worst and had caused more deaths, but Obama along with CNN and the other mainstream TV news channels remained mostly silent.
When Obama remains silent about Peru, he is losing the respect of many. This is not about interference but accountability, for what the U.S. policies have created the legal grounds for the destruction of the Amazon forest and the political excuses for the violent attacks on Peruvian people. The U.S. government knew of the possibility of violence in Peru, as it happened in Bagua, they always knew and didn’t care.
Part of the lousy response from the U.S. government might have to do with the fact that Peru has a submissive government who would gladly obey Washington, DC orders, unlike Iran. Also Peru is not an anti-Israel state, and as long as they are under the U.S. influence it matters little to the White House if Peruvians don’t have a true democracy where civil rights are respected.
Now I am convinced that the Obama administration is just like the previous ones, and that the United States government is not a friend of the Indigenous peoples of Peru, as long as evil corporate interests keep deciding its foreign policies.
Also a campaign of lies and defamation lunched by the Garcia administration through its embassies around the world, made the case for the Peruvian government. During a press conference in Washington, DC, the Peruvian ambassador Luis Valdivieso lied so much about Bagua that I had to face him and asked directly why his government blamed Venezuela and Bolivia of its own crimes but his response was rude and evasive. A video of this encounteer is available in my blog Peruanista.
Worldwide solidarity avoided more killings in Peru
Since the very same day of the Bagua attacks, many people watched carefully the whereabouts in Peru. I have personally dedicated many days and hours of work, researching and exposing news and data on how the Indigenous peoples of Peru were killed by police forces sent by president Alan Garcia. I got in contact with leaders and groups involved in the protests. This was a mostly apolitical and a true grass roots movement, never seeing before in Peru since the Tupac Amaru II uprisings in the 18th century.
This effort has cost me a lot, in terms of my job and personal life as I had to sacrifice my own time and resources, but it has also thought me amazing lessons and a sense that we all can contribute to help the Indigenous struggle in Peru. Humbly, I feel that I was part -along with hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world- of what the Garcia’s government has called “an international conspiracy” against his abusive rule.
This great work of solidarity throughout independent media -using websites like Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Ground Report and others- allowed for many in Peru and around the world to know more about what really was happening in Bagua, in times when most international media remained silent with few exceptions. Also we learned on how to take action to firstly, stop violence in Peru and secondly, keep the struggle. This was supported with the know-how skills and hard work of several non profit organizations in the world.
While most of the media in Peru and the U.S. were posting only news wrote by Lima’s government manipulated reports, we were sending emails, making phone calls, and reaching out to as many people as possible in order to alert of the horrendous violence perpetrated by Alan Garcia and his shameless cabinet. We "the international conspirators" had no other intention than to support our courageous brothers and sisters of Peru, to protect the Amazon forest as the last lungs of the planet, and to defend life and to promote justice for all peoples. It was the right thing to do then as now.
Thanks to this collective work, we created awareness in the world and the Garcia administration was pressured to act quickly: they had to stop violence and avoid more police and military actions. Then Garcia had to repeal two of the controversial presidential decrees that motivated the social uprising. Then Yehude Simon, the prime minister of Garcia announced that he was going to resign after peaceful talks with the Natives, as the minister of Women rights had resigned already. An increasing sense of solidarity grew in Peru even among those who usually ignored the Amazon peoples struggle, and national protests and rallies of solidarity were held in several cities including Lima.
After weeks of hard work, I was emotionally exhausted and I had to slow down. A meeting of bloggers in Chicago gave me the chance to reflect about what I wanted to do next, and how to do it best. Through photographs, videos and testimonies I had seeing the brutality of the killings suffered by my people. They were shot, tortured, burned and disappeared in Bagua. This proved not only the brutal practices of the racist and genocidal Garcia regime, but also its low respect for the lives and rights of its own citizens.
The cynical response of the Peruvian government was first to blame the Indigenous leaders of the violence –Amazonian activist and teacher Alberto Pizango and other two Native leaders have asked for asylum at the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima, and Pizango has left the country after a warrant for his capture was issued.
When the world showed support for Pizango and his organization AIDESEP, including the quick visit of Native actress Q’Orianka Kilcher, then Lima accused that some “criminal groups” from Bolivia and Venezuela were agitating and promoting violence among the Indigenous peoples, even mentioning official authorities from those countries. Not only the Garcia cabinet was wrong by sending poor Indigenous police men to kill poor Indigenous civilians, but now they had the shameful nerve to blame this mess on others. Cowards.
No signs of change in Peru
The lack of official protests from the international community, especially from the U.S. government has served to guarantee the impunity of Alan Garcia and his cabinet. The gross crimes they committed are not being prosecuted yet.
Peru’s government officials have suggested that they might take to court the NGOs Amazon Watch and Survival International, suing them for ‘lying’ about the Bagua massacre and ‘damaging’ the international image of the country.
Alan Garcia has pressured the Congress of Peru to suspend 7 Indigenous Congress members who protested against the impunity of the Bagua criminals. The leftist leaders are forbid from working at Congress for 3 months because they spoke their minds. Meanwhile, not a single official has been prosecuted for the Bagua massacre, and all the authorities that ordered the cowardly attack are still in office without anyone even apologizing for their actions.
By the end of June, Survival International denounced that the Garcia administration signed an agreement with Perenco, an Anglo-French corporation to drill for oil in the Amazon assuring an investment of over $2 billion dollars in territories where Indigenous people live away from contact with other cultures. Perenco admits that “contamination of soil, contamination of water and the flight of game and birds are possible consequences of its work”.
After all the injustice, lies, corruption -today Romulo Leon a close ally of Garcia has been released from prison even though he was proven to sale oil contracts to foreign corporations- but Peruvian people continue their fight for justice and against the abusive economic policies of the Garcia administration.
As strikes, rallies, and social uprisings are shaking up Peru right now, in a three day long nationwide protest led by union leaders, teachers, students, miners and activists demanding for changes and the repeal of those failed policies.
Today people came out to the streets of several cities in Peru, to protest the Garcia government policies that have promoted injustice and the increase of the poverty gap. In Bagua, police stopped the civilians saying their rally was “illegal” which was false. The protesters used alternative routes and met at the main square where once again, they asked Lima for justice and for an answer about the hundreds of missing people who have disappeared since the June 5 attacks.
After days of a voluntary silence, I have decided to retake the issue of Bagua. I am doing this because I see the danger for more violence against Native peoples in Peru and the destruction of the Amazon forest persist, very likely. So I feel that is my duty as a blogger and as a Native man from Peru to express the voice of those who have been forced to be silent for too long already, and to support modestly but convincingly the fight for social justice in Peru. I invite everyone to join this common effort in behalf of justice for all humans, not just Peruvians.