Violent Protest at Devil’s Curve in 2009 Sees 53 Facing Trials

Barbara Fraser

Five years after a violent confrontation that left 33 people dead and scores injured in northern Peru, 53 people face charges that include murder, personal injury, forcibly taking firearms and ammunition from people, and sedition.

The trial began on May 14, but was suspended almost immediately because there were no translators for the 23 Awajún, Wampis and Shawi people involved.

Proceedings resumed May 26 in the northern town of Bagua with the reading of charges against the defendants, who include seven indigenous leaders who were not present when the violence occurred, but who are accused of having incited it.

The leaders include Alberto Pizango, president of the Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon (Asociación Interétnica para el Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana, AIDESEP), Peru’s largest Amazonian indigenous umbrella organization. If convicted, the leaders could face sentences of life in prison.

“We hope for the acquittal of all the defendants, because the prosecutors do not have sufficient evidence to support their case,” AIDSEP lawyer Marco Barreto told Indian Country Today Media Network.

Over the next several weeks, each defendant will be questioned individually. Barreto said he expects the trial to last four or five months.

The charges stem from events that occurred at a place known as the Curva del Diablo, or Devil’s Curve, on the main highway through Peru’s Amazonas region, near Bagua.

More than 20 non-indigenous people were killed after security forces moved in early in the morning of June 5, 2009, to break up demonstrators who had been blocking the road for more than a month to protest a series of legislative decrees that they feared would open up their lands to timber, oil and mining companies.

The decrees were issued in the first half of 2008 as part of a government effort to bring Peruvian legislation into line with the country’s new free trade agreement with the United States.

At the time, environmental lawyer Manuel Pulgar-Vidal—who is now environment minister, but who was then the director of the non-profit Peruvian Environmental Law Society (Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental, SPDA)—said the package of measures went far beyond what was needed to meet the trade pact’s requirements.

Protests in August 2008 led to the repeal of several of the decrees, and the government announced that it would open talks with indigenous organizations opposed to the measures.


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