By Aliyya Swaby:
I was one of about a hundred people in Plaza Washington Saturday listening as three victims of the June 2009 Bagua protest recalled how they were affected by the tragic events that left more than 30 dead.
Supporters, activists, and others interested in or impacted by the protests three years ago gathered for music, speeches, photography and performances, in a demonstration called “Yo Recuerdo Bagua” or “I Remember Bagua” that lasted from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. I attended with a few AIDESEP members, who explained a little bit of the history to me.
Three years ago, protestors had set up various roadblocks throughout the Amazonian region to protest new legislation that would have opened indigenous territories to further development (including mining, oil and natural gas). The morning of June 5, 2009, Peruvian forces opened fire from helicopters into a crowd of protestors in northern Amazonian province Bagua in order to break through a road block. And later that day, they faced them on the ground, violently clashing on a narrow highway strip called “Devil’s Curve.”
Seeing Saturday’s event made me realize just how important AIDESEP is for indigenous people and environmental justice in Peru. Local AIDESEP officials were involved in the Bagua protests. And amid the resulting protests, the organization’s president Alberto Pizango was charged with advocating revolt and had to seek asylum Nicaragua for the next year. But the proposed legislation was eventually repealed by the Peruvian congress, marking a hard-won victory for those involved.
So far in my work for AIDESEP, I’ve been reading and translating resolutions from various indigenous groups, which demand certain rights as regarding REDD+ projects being developed in their forests. Though they are written forcefully, I never imagined that they would make that great of an impact. The government has been ignoring their demands for decades — how will a report change anything?
As a journalist and someone who lives by the ability of words to make change, I should have known better. In dismissing the reports, I underestimated the amount of support the communities have among other non-indigenous factions in the country, including environmental and human-rights activists. The resolutions serve at least two worthy purposes: airing indigenous grievances against the government and inviting others to join the cause, in order to increase the likelihood of reparatory action in the Amazon. I’m going back to work tomorrow hoping I’m participating in the early steps to more comprehensive change.
Aliyya Swaby ’13 is in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.