Three Years after the Tragedy of Bagua and Little Has Changed

Date of publication: 
6 June 2012

The violent clashes in 2009 left 34 dead and over 200 injured in the worst violence that Peru has seen in recent history.

Three years ago yesterday, Peruvian police, in an attempt to end 55 days of peaceful indigenous protests across the Amazon basin, opened fire on a group of protesters at “Devil’s Curve”, near the town of Bagua in northern Peru. The violent clashes that ensued left 34 dead and over 200 injured in the worst violence that Peru has seen in recent history. Each group of protestors had their own fight – a gold mine in the ancestral territory of the Awajun, the ongoing contamination from 40 years of oil drilling in Corrientes, ongoing spills from the Camisea Gas project – but they were brought together by a common cause: fighting the oppressive policies and new legislation from the Garcia government that undermined indigenous rights and opened up the Amazon to foreign investment and extractive industries.

Today, Peru has a new government under Ollanta Humala. The approval of a new consultation law soon after Humala’s appointment brought hope to the indigenous movement, but those hopes faded with Humala’s response to massive mobilizations against the $4.8 billion Conga open-pit mining project in Cajamarca. Humala clamped down on protests and reshuffled the cabinet, marking a 180-degree turn from the promise of change from the failed neoliberal development and environmental policies of the Garcia administration.

Today, the fragile ecosystems and critical watersheds of Peru’s Andes and Amazon are under greater threat than ever before from the ongoing expansion of oil drilling and mining throughout the region. From the Achuar peoples’ protest against proposed drilling by Talisman Energy in the Amazon, to marches through the streets of Iquitos against the threat to the city’s drinking water by ConocoPhillips, and increasing number of indigenous peoples are speaking out in defense of their water and their future.

Unfortunately Humala continues to walk in the footsteps of Garcia: criminalizing and clamping down on social protest and pushing ahead with policies that put short-term profit and investment over the environment and long-term sustainability. The national indigenous organization of the Amazon, AIDESEP, said, in a statement commemorating Bagua (English translation), “Criminalization of social protests has deepened. In retrospect, Alan Garcia and his executive orders are a small thing compared with what’s happening now. Today, the political powers … have placed themselves outside of the rule of law and have violated the principles of justice consecrated within articles 138 and 139 of the Constitution as they repress social protests, violating due process, original jurisdiction, and jurisdictional guardianship.”