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PERU: Families of Dead Native Protesters Tell Their Stories

Milagros Salazar

BAGUA, Peru, Jun 16 2009 (IPS) - Sobbing, an indigenous woman dressed in black cries out as she sees us arrive: "My son, my son, they have killed my son!" She is Andrea Rocca, the mother of Felipe Sabio, a young man who died in a clash between police and indigenous protesters in the northern Peruvian region of Amazonas.

Lucio Rocca's cousin David Jausito was one of the protesters killed. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Lucio Rocca's cousin David Jausito was one of the protesters killed. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Men, women and children from the village of Wawas were gathered around the doorway of the Sabio family home when IPS and other journalists arrived on Saturday Jun. 13.

Fear and consternation have been aroused by the death of Sabio, who was regarded as one of the few educated men in this village, a four-hour drive from the town of Bagua, where the violent clash took place on Friday, Jun. 5.

"He was a defender of indigenous rights and he gave his life to defend our territories," said Germán Llagkuag, Sabio's uncle, who told journalists they must publish the indigenous people's side of the story, as they are being blamed by the government of President Alan García for the violence and bloodshed that put an end to their two-month protest and roadblock near Bagua.

The indigenous groups are protesting decrees issued by the government for the implementation of the free trade agreement (FTA) signed with the United States, which promote private investment in their territories and open up the Amazon jungle to oil, mining, agribusiness and logging companies.

A multi-party congressional committee had declared in December that the decrees were unconstitutional.


As a result of the scandal caused by the death toll among police and indigenous people, the government said on Monday that it would recommend that Congress repeal two of the most controversial decrees.

García said on Jun. 12 that what happened in Bagua was a "genocide against the police by extremist elements who want to hand us over to foreign models of development." He was referring to the deaths of 24 police officers in the Jun. 5 clashes with native people at the Curva del Diablo (Devil's Curve) on the Fernando Belaúnde Terry highway near Bagua and at the nearby Petroperu oil pipeline pumping station No. 6.

In response to what he interpreted as an accusation by García, the next day Bolivia's indigenous President Evo Morales called what had happened in the Peruvian Amazon "the genocide of the FTA."

The Peruvian Ombudsman's Office says that five indigenous people were killed, but participants in the protests put the number much higher. The search for bodies continues, and committees in over 300 indigenous villages in the area are making lists of people who have not yet returned home.

Salomón Aguanash, chair of the regional committee for the defence of indigenous peoples' rights, who led the protests at Curva del Diablo, identified another victim who was added to the Ombudsman's Office's list: Jesús Carlos Timias, from the village of Uracuza, who brought the official death toll of indigenous protesters to six. Five local townspeople were also killed on Jun. 5, in Bagua.

In addition, 50 indigenous people were arrested and held until Jun. 12 according to human rights organisations, and 85 indigenous people have not returned to the villages of Santiago, Nieva and Cenepa, Aguanash said.

"My husband wasn't just an ordinary man, he was intelligent and educated. He would solve people's problems around here, and he joined the protest because Alan García wanted to take our land away from us by a law and hand it over to the corporations. The president is to blame for what happened," 27-year-old Violeta Pitug Wanpush told IPS from her bed, as she had given birth just the day before.

Pitug Wanpush is Sabio's widow, and this week she has had to face both life and death up close.

On Jun. 6 they brought her the body of her dead husband from Bagua with a bullet wound on the left side of his chest, and five days later her daughter was born. She also has three other young children.

"My children cry all day and ask me, 'Where's daddy?' How am I going to look after them now without my husband? Here I am, absorbed with this thought and this suffering," she said between sobs, her baby in her arms and her three other children, ages two to four, clustered around her.

Her husband Sabio, a correspondent for a local radio station, was reporting on the indigenous protest to the communities in coordination with the Regional Organisation of the Indigenous Peoples of the Northern Amazon (ORPIAN).

He was shot near the main square of Bagua on Jun. 5, when the police were trying to disperse local people who were angrily protesting the deaths of the indigenous demonstrators a few hours earlier on the Fernando Belaúnde Terry highway and in nearby ravines.

"We were about to leave"

Aguanash told IPS that 15 days before the bloody events of Jun. 5, some 2,600 indigenous people from five villages in the district of Condorcanqui went to Curva del Diablo, where they were joined by 140 more from San Ignacio in the province of Cajamarca region, and another 1,000 from Paután in the Nievas district in Amazonas province.

Among the demonstrators on the highway was 19-year-old David Jausito, an Awajun Indian from the village of La Curva, who was the first to die in the clashes at Curva del Diablo, according to Aguanash.

"The police fired first from the helicopters, and then two armoured cars came toward us along the highway. There were bullets everywhere, and several of our brothers fell, but David was the first," the indigenous leader told IPS.

David's mother looks on in silence, but his father, Moisés Jausito, speaks briefly. "He went to check out what was happening at the protests. We never thought they would kill him," he said, showing us a photo of his son in his nursing assistant uniform.

David Jausito had come to Bagua in February to study at a local technical institute, to become a nursing assistant. His body was taken back to his village on Jun. 10 and was buried a few metres from his house.

His grave reflects the poverty of this jungle community: he lies beneath a patch of earth marked by a simple white-painted wooden cross, surrounded by flowers.

"When someone dies in the community, it affects all of us," said Lucio Rocca, David’s cousin, who said that most of the members of the La Curva community attended the burial in solidarity with the indigenous demands.

Rocca was with his cousin when the clash occurred at Curva del Diablo. "The shots were fired directly at people's bodies. The police took us by surprise, because we were going to leave that very day before 10:00 AM, that was the agreement. We were about to leave," he told IPS.

Aguanash confirmed this account, which was also given to IPS by other indigenous people who took part in the protests.

The media reported that the police guarding Petroperu pumping station No. 6, near Bagua, had agreed to a non-violence pact with the indigenous people. According to official reports, native protesters killed police officers they were holding captive there in cold blood on Jun. 5.

"These police brothers are not to blame, and neither are we. This happened by order of the government," said Aguanash, who called on Lima to cancel the arrest warrants out for the leaders of the protests.

Five leaders of the Peruvian Rainforest Inter-Ethnic Development Association (AIDESEP), an umbrella group of indigenous associations, including its president, Alberto Pizango, have been accused by prosecutor Silvia Sack of disturbing the peace and attacking the state by advocating "sedition and revolt."

According to Sack, the indigenous activists could be sentenced to up to six years in prison.

 
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