By Jed Koball | Mission Co-worker Peru
The recently released award-winning documentary ¨When Two Worlds Collide¨ tells the dramatic story of the 2009 massacre in Bagua, Peru that shaped the context of modern day politics and development in Peru and also helped set the course of advocacy for our Joining Hands partners there.
2009 was a turning point for the work of Joining Hands in Peru, as three critical events shaped its future direction and advocacy work. 1) Peru-US Free Trade Agreement was enacted; 2) the metallurgical smelter owned by Doe Run Peru declared bankruptcy (which would lead to its NY based owner Renco Group to file a lawsuit against Peru within the framework of the Trade Agreement); and 3) the massacre at Bagua – often referred to as the Tiannamen of the Amazon. It is this third event that we have not spoken much about, but nonetheless is instrumental in helping us understand our position in the face of free trade and the extractive industry.
Beginning in early 2009, indigenous peoples of the Amazon near the town of Bagua began a protest by blocking the main highway leading into that part of the country, effectively ending the transport of resources from the region. Their protest hinged on a series of supreme decrees passed in the dark of night by the Peruvian Congress in order to meet the demands of the United States in the negotiating of the U.S.- Peru Free Trade Agreement. These decrees would not only limit the voice of indigenous peoples in determining the development of land they have occupied for generations, but also criminalize protests against such development – extracting oil and minerals found in great supply in the jungle.
In June of 2009 the protest reached a tipping point following a statement from the U.S. State Department (uncovered by wiki-leaks a few years later) in which the Peruvian government was encouraged to consider using violence to end the protest, lest the protestors garner international support and Peru be seen as unfriendly to trade. Two days later, the Peruvian national police and military opened fire on the indigenous peoples, leading to a violent response from the indigenous peoples themselves. Dozens were killed on both sides.
In Lima, Joining Hands partners joined with thousands in marching to Congress, demanding a peaceful resolution and just as importantly an open ear to the concerns of the indigenous peoples. To this day, the massacre of Bagua provides the framework of the context in which we address globalization in Peru, as the mechanisms of free trade and the destructive practices of the extractive industry threaten the lives and livelihoods of our indigenous brothers and sisters who are the first line of defense in protecting this common house we share – Creation.
Thankfully, the story of Bagua has not been lost. ¨When Two Worlds Collide¨ tells what happened that fateful day and attempts to bring understanding to the distinct differences in worldview that are being debated every day in Peru and beyond. It is our belief that the indigenous populations have much to teach us about a balanced and harmonious relationship with the Earth, and for this reason we continue to stand in solidarity with them against State development agendas that seek to undermine and dehumanize such a perspective. We encourage you to seek this important documentary as you continue to educate yourself about the impacts of globalization.
Watch Jed Koball’s video footage of protests in June 2009