A Peruvian judge has shelved charges including sedition, conspiracy and rebellion against indigenous leader Alberto Pizango in connection with fatal clashes over government investment decrees two years ago that left 33 people dead.
Pizango, the President of the Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Amazon, or AIDESEP, had received asylum in Nicaragua after the charges against him were filed. He returned to Peru in May 2010 to stand trial.
A Lima judge shelved his case in late June and those of four other indigenous leaders in connection with clashes in the Amazon town in Bagua on June 5, 2009 between police and indigenous protesters over a series of decrees that would fast-track investment projects on native lands without residents’ approval.
“The court’s decision will come as a great relief for the Indians and all those who have fought for their integrity,” said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, an international indigenous rights organization. “But the underlying problems at the root of this terrible event remain: Indian land is still being targeted for development projects without their consent.”
The violence in Bagua opened up a heated debate in Peru over how to balance economic growth with the long-ignored rights of indigenous peoples who inhabit the areas the government and corporations are often most interested in developing. Many of the indigenous protesters argued the decrees — some of which have already been knocked down — would mean industry with high levels of pollution such as mining and oil drilling on their lands.
A multi-sector report approved by Peruvian lawmakers in mid-June, before Pizango was cleared, found former Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas, ex-Foreign Trade and Tourism Minister Mercedes Aráoz, then-Cabinet chief Yehude Simon and ex-Defense Minister Ántero Flores-Aráoz politically but not criminally responsible for the 2009 clashes.
Pizango and other activists have called for incoming President Ollanta Humala, who takes office on July 28, to press charges against the authorities they say are responsible for the clashes.