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Last Thursday, September 22nd, a Peruvian criminal court in Bagua officially exonerated 53 indigenous leaders who were involved in a series of political events known as “Baguazo” back in 2009. The trial lasted more than two years, and indigenous leaders, including the AIDESEP (Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest) President Alberto Pizango, were accused of hindering development, shooting police officers, and sedition.

 

Baguazo resulted from the numerous Legislative Decrees (LD) passed by the government of Alan Garcia (2006-2011) to implement the Free Trade Agreement negotiated between Peru and the United States. The LD allowed multinational oil, mining and logging companies to directly extract resources from indigenous land in Amazonian rainforest. Peaceful roadblock and protests soon attended by indigenous communities and local civilians in the Peruvian Amazonian province of Bagua for two months, but the subsequent clash on June 5th, 2009 between police officers and indigenous protesters resulted in 33 deaths, and more than 200 injured. Although the heavily armed security forces were ordered by the ex-President Alan Garcia, his Minister of Interior Mercedes Cabanillas, the General of the Peruvian National Police Luis Muguruza to suppress indigenous protesters,  none of the politicians faced any charges, whereas more than 350 indigenous people have been summoned to face charges over the years. The trial involving 53 indigenous leaders was the largest trial ever held in Peru, and the Rainforest Foundation has been following the case since May 14, 2014.

The vindication of 53 indigenous leaders proves the Peruvian judicial system’s ability to restore justice, and it provides a glimpse at the efforts made by the government in the last few years to protect indigenous rights over land and resources. A Law on the Right of Consultation of Indigenous, which was formerly blocked by previous President Alan Garcia, received a unanimous vote from congress in 2011. “This law gives Peru’s indigenous communities the right to be consulted in regard to any activity, plan, administrative or legal measure, or development or project that would involve, affect, or take place in their ancestral territories.” Both domestic and international companies now are required to seek agreement with indigenous people prior to any development, and indigenous leaders were granted the right to request a consultation process if the commercial projects affect their land. This is a big step towards reducing social conflict and building an equal and respectful relationship between the government and indigenous communities.

 

Contributed by: Mia Mayixuan Li