DA confirms Bagua indigenous protesters were not armed

Amazonas region District Attorney Oswaldo Bautista Carranza has confirmed that indigenous protestors involved in a deadly clash with police last June were not carrying firearms.

“Our preliminary investigation has led us to the conclusion that the indigenous protesters were not carrying any type of firearm,” said Bautista in comments to daily La República.

Before dawn on June 5, 2009, violence erupted on a remote jungle highway in the Bagua province of Amazonas department, after army helicopters, soldiers strategically positioned atop hills, and police began to throw tear gas grenades directly into the crowd of 5,000 protesters. The tear gas caused panic and angered the protesters, who responded with violence. Police accused protesters of firing first, but the tribesmen denied having guns and said they only carried their traditional spears.

Though Bautista’s official report now proves otherwise, then Peru Police Chief José Sanchez Farfán told Canal N on the day of the clash that “a thousands natives appeared and opened fire.”

In the worst crisis since President Alan García took office in 2006, the violent confrontation left six natives, four Bagua residents and 11 police dead, as well as one officer missing and hundreds of people injured.

Bautista also reported that local DAs – scheduled to supervise the police’s highway evacuation operation – did not make it to the “Devil’s Curve” until 7:30 AM, though they should have been there at 5:00 AM.

The police had agreed to take us to the site by 5:00 AM, said Bautista, but the helicopter was delayed and then dropped us off more than 5 kilometers away from the area where the operation was taking place.

“We arrived so late because the police did not help us,” said Bautista. “We should have been there to monitor the operation.”

For almost two months prior to what is locally referred to as the “Baguazo,” the Interethnic Association for the Development of Peru’s Jungle, or Aidesep, and other Amazon groups demanded the repeal of several Executive decrees enacted last year to provide attractive investment conditions for the Free Trade Agreement signed with the United States, as well as other laws they contend infringe on their own territorial rights. Decree 1090, also known as the Forestry and Wildlife Law, is one of the most contentious, as it allows land to be sold if determined to be “of national interest.”

This decree, and several others written by the Executive last year, have been declared unconstitutional by two different Congressional commissions and the Public Ombudsman’s office, on the grounds that there was no prior consultation held with the indigenous communities who will be affected by the laws, contrary to the ILO’s Convention 169 on indigenous rights.

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