On June 5th, 2009, a peaceful protest along a highway in Northern Perú ended in massacre: over 20 people died and more than 170 were injured, primarily indigenous people from the Awajún and Wampís tribes. They were protesting several laws that had been passed as part of the 2007 US-Perú Free Trade Agreement, opening up Indigenous lands to corporate mining and deforestation. They had reached an agreement to clear their roadblock by noon that day; The shooting began at 7:00 a.m.
"The Peruvian Government is allowing mining exploration works in our territory with the intention of authorising exploitation activities, despite the area is ecologically vulnerable and contains several basin headwaters situated in the high mountainous areas, from which water resources descend and on which our Awajún and Wampís communities depend for their survival and physical and cultural reproduction. The situation is urgent and extremely serious, which threaten seriously, imminently and irreversibly our rights to life, to health, to ethnic identity and to free self-determination."
A wholly-not-shocking yet disturbing revelation from Wikileaks reveals that the Massacre of Bagua was directly influenced, and encouraged, by the US State Department and the US Embassy in Lima.
“Should Congress and [Peruvian] President Garcia give in to the pressure, there would be implications for the recently implemented Peru-US Free Trade Agreement,” said one cable, days before the killings. Laying blame for the protests on "radical actors" and "highly ideological... NGO's," the U.S. Embassy cable stated that the standoff was getting worse because "the government's reluctance to use force to clear roads and blockades is contributing to the impression that the communities have broader support than they actually do." A cable shortly after the massacre had begun dryly notes that "the increasingly confrontational protests was finally resolved in favor of action. The consequences, however, are worse than anyone anticipated."As we pass the 5th anniversary of "The Amazon's Tiananmen," dozens of Indigenous protesters are finally being brought to trial under what Amnesty International has labeled questionable and trumped up charges. What's worse, a recent law passed partially in response to the protests gives soldiers and police amnesty from prosecution if they injure or kill someone while on duty. As Front Line Defenders outlined in their June 2014 report, "Environmental Rights Defenders at Risk in Peru," Human Rights Defenders and environmental activists already face frivolous lawsuits, intimidation, harassment and violence; now mining companies can call in the police and army to act as private security, to “prevent, detect and neutralise threats." And when a peaceful protester is neutralized, they have no legal protections.
You can read more about what's happening through this terrific summary by The Guardian as well as this blog created by the tribes fighting for their freedom, rights, and land. And if you're interested in the history and impacts of Trade Agreements on the poorest populations in Perú, here's a great summary.
Happy 4th of July, everyone. Freedom from Tyranny.