Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango arrested on return to Peru

Alberto Pizango, exiled president of Peru’s national organization for Amazonian indigenous peoples, AIDESEP, was arrested May 26 at Lima’s airport as he arrived from Nicaragua, where he was granted political asylum in the aftermath of last June’s Bagua massacre. He faces charges of “sedition, conspiracy and rebellion” for his alleged role in the Amazon violence. AIDESEP sees the charges as part of a wider campaign by the government to undermine Peru’s indigenous movement.

Pizango arrived in Lima together with AIDESEP’s vice-president Daysi Zapata Fasabi and Q’orianka Kilcher, the actress of indigenous Peruvian descent who played the role of Pocahontas in the film The New World. In a statement before his arrest, he said he had “waited too long and will make this enormous sacrifice.”

The charges against Pizango were made after hundreds of peaceful indigenous protesters were attacked by Peruvian police on June 5, 2009, an incident that led to 33 deaths dying and at least 200 injured and sparked protests against Peru’s government around the world. According to government figures, the dead included 10 civilians and 23 police officers.

In England, Survival International director Stephen Corry responded to the news of the arrest by saying, “We urge the Peruvian government to drop all charges against Alberto Pizango and enable him to return to his position as AIDESEP’s president.” (BBC News, Survival International, May 27)

See our last posts on Peru and the struggle for the Amazon.

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  1. Alberto Pizango speaks

    In a statement released by AIDESEP May 27, Pizango says he initially sought exile in Nicargua because he was afraid that his arrest would escalate the situation in Peru and lead to more violence. "I have returned to my homeland Peru not only to clear my name and demonstrate my innocence of the charges against me, but to contribute to the necessary reconciliation between Peruvians, so that we can be recognized as peoples and be vindicated as citizens in conditions of equality." He expresses his condolences to the survivors of both the indigenous and protesters and police killed in last year's violence.

  2. Peaceful murderers
    Peaceful protesters?!!… right. So how many policemen end up their lives after hours of torture by these peaceful protesters. I know! they torture themselfs only to discredit these landlords who just may let you practice informal mining and wood trafic or even rent their women and children if you pay enough to the feudal lords, but may kill and disappear you if you mess with their bussiness.

    1. Evidence please
      You make some very serious charges—murder, torture, illegal timber sales, illegal mining, child prostitution. We’d like to see some corroboration if you are going to continue posting here. This website will not serve as a forum for empty accusations. Thank you.

      1. For corroboration…
        For corroboration please do contact professional peruvian sociologists. They may surprise you with they findings. The life of the amazonian indigenous is pretty much a feudal society, where the leaders or ‘apus’ owns the lives of everybody else. They have territorial control. Of course in this kind of patriarcal society organization (as in any part of the world or epoch) women and children are property.
        If you make an effort of listening them in youtube, you’ll find that these ‘apus’ are very much xenophobic as in any close society is. This is as valid for a taliban tribe, a quaker colony, a sicilian mafia familly as it is for the amazonian tribes.
        And for the tortures, please do refer to the serious independent press. You’ll find they did torture the policemen. In the end, their sponsors money had the chance to buy the necessary legal support and win (as they finally did) many times. But they were not after a legal victory as you can see for the results.
        And for all of this, you may propose education, but close societies and radical thinkers will see your intentions as cultural disregard and obliteration. And it is really hard to change the escence of a group (even via ‘education’) and not make them unrecognizable. So, we do have a serious problem trying to stop forest depredation. For the private corporation problem it is easy, we can close them any access. But what do we do with the present landlords whose economy is based in renting to the best bidder land and people.

        1. Not good enough.
          I’ve spoken to plenty of professional Peruvian sociologists, such as Beatriz Huertas and Roberto Espinoza, who wholeheartedly support the indigenous movement. We’d like some names and references before we are going to treat your claims as legitimate. And we’ve monitored the Peruvian press closely since the Bagua massacre, and have seen no credible claims of torture by indigenous activists. If they are so easy to find, go ahead and post a few. We’ll be waiting.

  3. “Pocahontas” protests Peruvian president
    From NBC, June 2:

    Q’orianka Kilcher, 20, chained herself to the fence near the White House gate, and then her mother, who was traveling with her, threw a thick black liquid onto Kilcher. It looked like crude oil. That seemed like a good guess — after all, isn’t that what most protesters are taking a stand against these days?

    Needless to say, hazmat crews swooped in on the scene.

    As it turns out, it was just black paint. Hazmat crews quickly figured out it was not toxic.

    The women were protesting Peruvian President Alan Garcia Perez’s meeting with President Obama, which was happening during the demonstration. Both women were arrested.

    Kilcher is charged with disorderly conduct. Her mother is charged with destruction of government property. They were arraigned, released and ordered to stay away from the White House Wednesday afternoon.

    Q’orianka Kilcher is known for starring as Pocahontas in the 2005 blockbuster “The New World.”

  4. Amnesty International: free Alberto Pizango
    From Amnesty International, May 28:

    Peru must drop charges against Indigenous leader
    Amnesty International has urged the Peruvian authorities to drop unsubstantiated charges against a prominent Indigenous leader, who was detained on his return to the country this week after almost a year in Nicaragua.

    Segundo Alberto Pizango Chota is accused of being responsible for violence between Indigenous rights activists and police, in which 33 people were killed and at least 200 injured in Bagua, northern Peru, in June last year.

    However, at the time of the violence Alberto Pizango, leader of indigenous rights organization AIDESEP (Asociación Interénica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana), was in Lima, hundreds of kilometres away.

    Alberto Pizango has been charged with “rebellion, sedition and conspiracy against the state and the constitutional order”, and “apology of crimes against public order”.

    “The charges against Alberto Pizango appear to be politically motivated and must be dropped immediately,” said Guadalupe Marengo of Amnesty International

    On his return from Nicaragua on Wednesday, Alberto Pizango was detained by police at Lima airport. He was released on Thursday but still faces prosecution.

    In a statement shortly after his release Alberto Pizango said: “I have returned to my home country of Peru, not only to face the law and demonstrate that I am innocent of the charges made against me, but also to contribute to the necessary reconciliation between Peruvians,”.

    On 5 June 2009, violence broke out after police officers dispersed a road blockade organized by Awajún and Wampí­s Indigenous people in a stretch of the Fernando Belaúnde Terry highway, known as the Curva del Diablo (Devil’s Bend) leading to Bagua, in Bagua province and Bagua Grande, in Utcubamba province.

    Among those killed, 23 were police officers and 10 were civilians, including five Indigenous people.

    Eleven of the police officers were killed while they were held hostage by Indigenous protestors at a petrol station 80km from Bagua near the town of Imacita, Bagua province; 12 were killed during the police operation at the road blockade and the whereabouts of one police officer remains unknown.

    The evidence for the charges against Alberto Pizango appears to rest solely on a press conference he gave on 15 May 2009 where he called for an “Indigenous insurgence” against the government.

    At the press conference he clarified that the call for insurgency was a call to the government to annul a series of laws which were being passed without the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous people, as a first step to initiating a dialogue as equals.

    The following day Alberto Pizango and other AIDESEP leaders signed an agreement with the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s office retracting the call to insurgence, which was posted on the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s website as well as being reported in the press.

    “These tragic events were the predictable and preventable result of the continued disregard by the Peruvian authorities of their duty to respect, promote and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon region” said Guadalupe Marengo. “The recent approval by Congress of the Law of Consultation, which is an important step in the right direction, shows that the government of Peru is beginning to understand this. We trust that the President will now promulgate it without further delay.”