Peru: indigenous leaders cleared in Bagua massacre

Following a trial lasting seven years and four months, a court in Peru's Amazonas region on Sept. 22 absolved 52 indigenous leaders in charges related to the 2009 Bagua massacre. Initially, charges were brought against 53, but one defendant died over the course of the proceedings. The Penal Chamber of Bagua district found insufficient evidence that the accused indigenous protesters had handled firearms at the scene of the massace, in which at least 32 lost their lives. The defendants faced charges in the deaths of 12 police officers at the scene. The violence began when National Police troops attacked protesters blocking the road at Devil's Curve on June 5, 2009—yet no police officer or commander has served time for the massacre. The incident came amid indigenous protests over changes to Peru's land tenture system pushed through in preparation for the Free Trade Agreement with Washington and aimed at opening the rainforest to oil exploitation.

Juan José Quispe of the Legal Defense Institute (IDL), representing one of the defendants, applauded the verdict, especially noting the finding that initial incriminating statements had been made under duress and physical abuse by police. The reading of the verdict was done in the indigenous languages Awajun and Wampis as well as Spanish. Quispe also hailed this, saying "The court recognized cultural and juridical pluralism."

A Peruvian congressional commission led by then-lawmaker Guido Lombardi laid responsibility for the massacre with then-Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas for mismanaging the police operation. It also criticized then-Prime Minister Yehude Simon and then-Trade Minister Mercedes Aráoz for escalating the situation. Aráoz is now serving as second vice president under newly elected President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski—which made the 2010 Lombardi Commission report an issue in this year's campaign. Aráoz said the report was "weighted" against her. An earlier report by a presidentially appointed "Truth Commission" was rejected by indigenous leaders as biased. (ServindiTeleSur, RPP, Sept. 22; El Comercio, Jan. 27)