Throwback ThursdayFor those who know me, its no secret that I love history. As a PCV, I’ve hit the jackpot with a placement in Peru. There’s so many different cultural heritages to learn about and so many great archaeological sites to visit that would make any history buff want to cry. Not to mention, there is so much more to Peruvian history than just than the Incas and Machu Picchu. So in the spirit of sharing my love for history, I decided to do a series called Throwback Thursday where I highlight a specific part of Peruvian history on a Thursday of course. Enjoy – I hope ya’ll learn something new.
My site used to be a red zone – a place where volunteers aren’t allowed to travel. As a matter of fact, volunteers have only been in my particular part of Amazonas for a little over a year and I’m the second volunteer to ever serve in my town. The first one is my site mate who beat me here by about three months.
When I got here, I was told vaguely about something called “Baguazo,” a massacre that happened not tooo long ago. But at that time, my Spanish was not great and so I never really understood completely what I was being told. All I knew was it had something to with a clash between the government and the indigenous groups (the Awajun and Wampi) that live in my province. Overtime (and with Google of course) I was able to get a better picture of what happened here in 2009 and recently, a documentary called When Two Worlds Collide was released in theaters and on Netflix about the entire conflict. But if you don’t have Netflix or time to get to the theater, have no fear Throwback Thursday is here:
Well, where there is oil, there’s trouble.
In February 2009, a free trade agreement between Peru and our dear old US of A was the catalysts for changes in law that allowed access to the Amazon to extract resources. Indigenous groups from different regions of the Amazon (Loreto, San Martin, my home region Amazonas, etc.) started vocalizing their disagreement with the new laws and asked for congress to re-examine their new policy out of fear that these private companies would exploit their natural resources and destroy the land. And to no surprise, the government ignored the protesters because, of course, where there’s oil, there’s also money.
In April of that same year, protests led by the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Jungle (AIDESEP, a coalition of regional indigenous communities) began. There were in total 65 continuous days civil disobedience on part of the indigenous communities who were voicing their concern. Protesters, insistent on having their voices hear, blocked roads and trucks as to stop the flow of these private companies coming in and out of the jungle. And in a decision that would make this conflict take a deadly turn, then president of Peru, Alan Garcia, declared a state of emergency, suspended civil liberties, and sent the military to intervene in the protests.
On June 5th the conflict escalated into what is now called the “Battle at Devil’s Curve” which is a highway that is just outside of my town and that I’ve travelled on countless times. When security forces tried to break down a blockade of approximately 5,000 people, things turned violent. The indigenous groups protesting accused the police of inciting the violence by using their helicopters to fire upon them while police said they were the ones that were fired upon first. By the end of the day 23 of the protesters and 9 policemen died and more than 150 protesters were wounded (all of which were treated at the hospital I work with as my main counterpart). Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the government to demonize and pin all the blame on the native people for the incident. And as if things couldn’t have gotten worse, the next day nine more police officers were killed when a group of indigenous peoples seized a petroleum facility belonging to the national petroleum company Petroperú.
As a direct result of all of this, the leader of AIDESEP was prosecuted on charges of sedition but eventually found asylum in Nicaragua. Peruvian congress suspended two of the offending decrees that sparked the initial protests however, they were eventually repealed due to continued civil disobedience.
And even though all of this happened less than ten years ago and very close to my town, you will be hard pressed to find people who are not Awajun or Wampi who are willing to talk about it. I’ve tried to ask adults, I’ve tried to ask my students and I’ve received little to no information about it. Some of my students even said they had never even heard of Baguazo which shocked me. Most of what I learned, I learned from this documentary. What I have noticed is that the indigenous people of my province are often characterized as primitive and sometimes savage and it seems as it the portrayal of what happened in June 2009 helped solidify some of those pre-existing stereotypes. Its a sad story all around and not unlike what has happened multiple times over the centuries with Native Americans and the U.S. government… (*cough, cough* Standing Rock *cough, cough*) .. But I digress.
If you do happen to check out the documentary on Netflix, you’ll see my town in a bunch of the scenes. Let me know what you think should you find space for it in your queue!
If you’re a history buff like me and want to read more Throwback Thursday posts, click here.