The special commission appointed last year to investigate last June’s deadly confrontation between National Police and indigenous protesters at Bagua in the Peruvian Amazon handed in a final report over the New Year holiday, endorsed by the presidential appointees on the panel—but disavowed by those members representing indigenous communities. Speaking on the stalemate, President Alan García assailed his critics in the opposition Nationalist bloc in Peru’s Congress for defending the “assassins” of 24 police agents. He made no reference to the at least 10 indigenous activists killed at Bagua.
He also portrayed the indigenous leaders as pawns of the Nationalist politicians: “I am not a prosecutor to indicate who is responsible, but the report says that the Nationalist legislators among those provoking the violence, and this report has been issued by a consensus of the commission,” he said. (Periodismo Peru, Jan. 2)
The official coordinator of the commission has refused to sign the final report, which he charges is biased. Jesús Manacés, an Awajún leader, asserts the does not include the views of the indigenous members of the commission, and does not identify those who were responsible in the political, police and military apparatus. He also says the commission did not have adequate resources to clarify what happened at Bagua.
According to different sources, the local police commanders and the protesters had reached an agreement for a lifting of the roadblock at 10:30 AM. But just before 6:00 AM, heavily armed National Police units arrived and opened fire on the protesters, some of whom were still sleeping.
Manacés and religious worker Carmen Gómez, another member of the commission, went public on Dec. 26 with what they charged were discrepancies in the report, in a letter addressed to Agriculture Minister Adolfo de Córdova, who heads the official National Coordinating Group for the Development of Indigenous Peoples. In the letter, Manacés and Gómez say they will draw up an alternative report to shed more light on what actually happened at Bagua. (IPS, Dec. 30)
The controversy began with the release of draft report in mid-December, which was immediately assailed by indigenous leaders. “The draft report is absolutely worthless because it wants to show that it is the indigenous people who are to blame for what happened. That is not true and does not fit with the peaceful way in which indigenous people live,” said the indigenous Amazonian alliance AIDESEP in a statement.
“We reject the preliminary report, allegedly written by the commission investigating events at Bagua, in which missionaries are blamed for having ‘provoked, supported and gone along with legal and illegal actions’ that ended in the deaths of policemen and natives,” said the Aguaruna and Huambisa Council (CAH), a local indigenous organization.
The draft report is the “antithesis of a serious work of investigation,” said a spokesperson from Peru’s Institute of Legal Defense. “It portrays indigenous people as ignorant and failing to understand the benefits of the laws” that they were protesting against.
Indigenous leaders also objected to the draft’s controversial remarks about “uncontacted” and “isolated” native peoples. It refers to a “racist and romantic anthropology” whose defense of uncontacted tribes would paradoxically amount to “violating their human rights and committing ethnocide.”
The report also makes a series of condescending “recommendations” to Peru’s indigenous population. These include:
• “The current situation in the Amazon means that the native must revise his culture and social, political and religious structures.”
• “The natives should revise their organization in the light of modern movements.”
• “The natives should abandon their concept of a static culture opposed to change… the way their leaders function… their belief that ‘all people are equal’… their idea of ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…'”
• “The natives need to adapt to a globalization model inspired by an authentic humanism.”
Survival International director Stephen Corry said, “Apart from totally failing to clarify what happened at Bagua, the draft report is a disturbing insight into the mindset of some of the commission members. The report is full of unsubstantiated claims and misunderstandings, and it ends with a series of ‘recommendations’ so paternalist and offensive they almost defy belief.” (Survival International, Dec. 19)