Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

Q&A: Report on Massacre of Native Protesters in Peru Biased, Says Head of Inquiry

Milagros Salazar interviews JESÚS MANACÉS, head of the Bagua massacre inquiry commission

LIMA, Dec 30 2009 (IPS) - The coordinator of the commission convened by the Peruvian government to clarify a June massacre of 33 indigenous protesters and police near the Amazonian town of Bagua refused to sign the final report, which he says is biased.

Jesús Manacés (centre) in Bagua. Credit: Courtesy of Ben Powless

Jesús Manacés (centre) in Bagua. Credit: Courtesy of Ben Powless

Jesús Manacés, an Awajún leader who coordinated the special commission, told IPS that he did not sign the final report because it does not include the views of everyone involved and does not identify those who were responsible, in the political, police and military spheres.

He said the commission had neither adequate resources nor enough time to clarify what happened on Jun. 2 near the town of Bagua in the Amazon jungle in northern Peru, where a clash between security forces and native protesters left at least 33 people dead, one missing policeman and over 200 people injured.

The killings put an end to a two-month demonstration and roadblock in Bagua by Amerindians demanding the repeal of decrees passed by the government of Alan García that opened up indigenous land in the rainforest to oil, mining and logging companies, in the framework of the free trade agreement (FTA) signed with the United States.

(After the incident, in June, Congress revoked two of the most controversial decrees.)

According to different sources, the local police chiefs and the protesters had reached an agreement for a peaceful lifting of the roadblock at 10:30 AM. But just before 6:00 AM, heavily armed police units arrived and opened fire on the demonstrators, some of whom were still sleeping.

Manacés and religious worker Carmen Gómez, another member of the commission, went public on Dec. 26 with their discrepancies with the report, in a letter addressed to Agriculture Minister Adolfo de Córdova, who heads the Grupo Nacional de Coordinación para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas (national coordinating group for the development of indigenous peoples).

In the document, Manacés and Gómez say they will draw up an alternative report to shed more light on what happened that tragic day. IPS correspondent Milagros Salazar sat down with Manacés to discuss the situation. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: You note that the commission was unable to question several key figures to clear up what happened in Bagua. Who are you referring to? A: Several cabinet ministers and others in high-level positions. In some cases, we were unable to arrange the interviews, as in the case of former Prime Minister Yehude Simon. I pointed out the need to talk to him, we wrote a letter, but the request never reached him.

We also asked for a meeting with then Foreign Trade Minister Mercedes Aráoz, who defended the decrees that prompted the protest by our indigenous brothers and sisters. She said that if those decrees were repealed, the FTA with the United States would collapse, and as we know now, that wasn’t true.

She made an appointment with us, but we didn’t go because the work of the commission was moving along so quickly and we didn’t have the resources or assistants to deliver the letters or carry out the interviews.

Q: You met with Mercedes Cabanillas, the then minister of the interior. What explanation did she give you about the violent police crackdown to break up the roadblock by the native protesters who were camping out at the Curva del Diablo (a spot on the highway near Bagua)? A: She described the events for about half an hour, and then responded to only a few questions.

Q: Didn’t you ask her who ordered the operation to break up the roadblock? A: She said she didn’t give the order, that it was the police chief who gave it. She didn’t respond as expected. But it’s obvious that she was ultimately responsible.

Q: Cabanillas insists that everything was in the hands of the police and that she only received a report after the fact. A: That response is like saying that as minister, the person who is ultimately responsible, she gave the police free rein to do whatever they wanted. And if that’s true, isn’t she responsible for what happened?

Q: You said you also weren’t given access to important documents like the Interior Ministry’s “Report on Internal Security”. Who refused you access to that document? A: I made that request in front of Minister Octavio Salazar (who replaced Cabanillas) in a meeting with him and Gen. Javier Uribe (who was in charge of the negotiations with the indigenous protesters prior to the police operation) in the Special Operations Division headquarters.

The general said he couldn’t hand over the document because the case was being appealed, but I insisted that it would be a big help for us to do our job. The minister then agreed to give it to us, but that didn’t happen.

Q: Isn’t it contradictory that the final report signed by the other members of the commission acknowledges that agreements had been reached by the police and indigenous people to peacefully call off the roadblock, but that no one was found to be responsible for what happened? A: Yes, but…it was Gen. Uribe who negotiated the peaceful lifting of the traffic blockade, and after that there was a change of command. Who ordered it? Why did they do it? Everyone here knows which authorities were in charge.

That’s why I believed responsibilities should have been determined at different levels of the executive branch, the legislature, etc. Now it turns out that so much talking has been done, but nothing has been clarified.

Q: What progress has the commission made in determining who was responsible, in the police and army chain of command? A: It’s clear that the army provided the police with no support, that the situation on the ground was not properly assessed, and that those who took part in the operation after the agreement for a peaceful lifting of the roadblock did so without understanding the magnitude of the protest, that there were between 3,000 and 4,000 demonstrators there.

It was a disproportionate operation conducted without coordination. I’m sure that if it had not been carried out, the people would have left on Jun. 5 at 10:30, as planned. Maybe it was launched to justify the police presence in the area.

Q: You observe that in nearly every paragraph of the report, the version of only one side is presented, rather than conflicting or different versions. A: That is one of the main reasons that I have not signed the document. It’s why I asked for an extension, to complete the information.

With the time pressure, on Sunday Dec. 20 we worked into the wee hours of the morning of the next day, and a few hours later they wanted me to take a final look at the whole thing, in order to sign it.

I refused because I was only given a very short time, but the other members handed the report over to the executive branch. I’m not sure that what was delivered is what I saw on Sunday night.

Q: It has come out that the final report states that legislators of the (opposition) Nationalist Party incited the indigenous groups to protest the decrees. How much of that is true? A: That isn’t true, it’s just some seasoning added by the politicians. The idea behind saying that is that we had no idea why we were going to the protests, as if someone had given us some formula to repeat.

Q: You say the report wrongly insists that the origin of the conflict was the lack of communication and failure to explain the positive aspects of the decrees. A: That’s right; they say that because they don’t know us. For us it was sufficient that the decrees were approved without consulting indigenous people, as required by International Labour Organisation Convention 169, which means they had no legal standing. It didn’t matter if one part was good and another bad.

Q: You reached the Curva del Diablo only minutes after the break-up of the roadblock, like a number of your Awajún companions. Did the fact that you were on the scene on Jun. 5 help you in the search for the truth of what happened there? A: I was not in the previous meetings that the demonstrators held with the police, because I arrived later. But what I can confirm is that there was a disproportionate use of fire power by the police, because of the 200 people injured, 82 had bullet wounds, and it is the authorities themselves who say that.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

berthoud library