Interview with Alberto Pizango

"Perhaps our only crime was to carry the voice of the people"

Alberto Pizango

On May 14th in the city of Bagua, the trial will start for 53 people accused for the regrettable events that happened there on June 5th, 2009. Among the indigenous leaders to be judged is Alberto Pizango, president of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon – AIDESEP – who is facing a prison term of 35 years to life.

Several days ago we spoke with Apu Alberto about this issue which not only concerns his family, who have been horrified by this situation, but also the indigenous peoples who believe in what they are doing and continue their actions from AIDESEP, in addition to national and international public opinion which are following closely what has happened over the last five years.

Q: What expectations do you have for this judicial process that's going after you and 52 indigenous leaders for what happened in Bagua?

A: Good afternoon. Expectations... I have two expectations: one that this process should start and be over with as soon as possible. Two, that the Peruvian State should assume its responsibility for all, that the indigenous protests were just and that there necessarily needs to be compliance with the historic demand of indigenous peoples in land titling, recognition and the right to free determination. This is the perspective I have. I'd like to reiterate that I'll respect the decision taken by the judicial powers because it's a historic event. It's an event with a lot of historic significance – there will be 53 indigenous leaders on the bench of the accused, responding to questions perhaps we didn't anticipate. As such I'd reiterate that I'm respectful of justice, of the judges and the laws. I hope that this case is solved as soon as possible and that we take a step forward toward true democracy and development, as wished for by indigenous peoples.

Q: We approaching the five-year marker after the events that happened on June 5th, 2009. What evaluation would you make as an indigenous leader?

A: There's a "Before Bagua" and an "After Bagua". A before in which the Peruvian State didn't want to and didn't know how to listen to the proposals of indigenous peoples. This exacerbated the situation until things came to what happened, which unfortunately took so many lives unnecessarily. I'd say an "After Bagua" because thanks to the Amazonian mobilizations I can say that today the indigenous agenda is not only inserted in the national level and within the State, but on the international level. At the same time the ILO convention 169 should be an instrument of action for the Peruvian State in compliance with the rights that indigenous peoples and Peruvian citizens are demanding.

Q: Do you think that this process that's gone on for five years because of what happened at Bagua is a way of punishing or criminalizing the protest?

A: In reality no, this is my humble reasoning. I don't think in a sanction, I think instead that the Peruvian state hasn't lived up to its role or function of promoting a respectful dialogue around indigenous peoples' proposals. I reiterate it wouldn't have come to these regrettable events if the Peruvian State had complied with its function of promoting, listening to and helping indigenous peoples in line with the great proposals we have and which we have always brought forward.

Q: Between what happened in Bagua in 2009 and the present, do you think indigenous peoples are in a different scenario? Has their situation changed?

A: In reality it has changed. I'd say it has changed in the follow sense. Today Peruvian society has seen the reality of indigenous peoples and has learned or has been better informed about what the Amazon means. People who used to think that Peru was just Lima now know that indigenous peoples live in the Amazon and understand that Peru is a multicultural country.

Q: To finish up, what message or reflection would you send to the other indigenous leaders who, like you, will be tried starting May 14th and to public opinion both nationally and internationally?

A: I'd just say to the indigenous peoples and my indigenous brothers who are being tried for these regrettable events that they should stay firm in continuing to lift up the voice of indigenous peoples. All we have done is comply with our role as being the official spokespeople and work to insert in the national public agenda the different claims as mandated to us by our peoples. I'd reiterate to my brothers that they should stay firm in the significance of indigenous peoples rights. We're going to overcome these accusations, we should be conscious of the fact that we haven't committed any crimes. Perhaps our only crime was to carry the voice of the people, which is what we'll be judged for starting May 14th. As such I'd ask that the judges listed to us and make the decision to absolve us.

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