When Two Worlds Collide: The Battle of Bagua

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When Two Worlds Collide
Directed By Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel
2016, Peru
Spanish with English subtitles
Human Rights Watch Film Festival
Walter Reade Theatre, NYC, 16 June 2016
[Film Website]

In December 2007, President Alan Garcia of Peru signed a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. The following June, Garcia’s administration pushed a number of legislative decrees through the Peruvian Congress, including a new Forest and Wildlife Law (DL 1090) and another law, DL 1064, which made it possible to convert state forest lands into private agricultural lands through administrative re-classification. These laws essentially opened Peru’s Amazonian rainforests for the wholesale extraction of natural resources (oil, gas, lumber, etc.) by foreign (primarily U.S.) corporations. The government, however, did not consult with the indigenous people who lived on the 45 million hectares affected by the legislation, in violation of the Peruvian constitution and Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), to which Peru was a signatory.

Indigenous organizations led by La Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP) responded with a series of strikes, protests, and road blockades through June 2009, when Garcia’s administration ordered the national police to forcibly remove protesters in the Amazonas province of Bagua. A small, heavily armed troop of officers fired on nearly 5,000 protesters and the ensuing battle left 33 dead (10 protesters and 23 policemen, with another officer missing and presumed dead).

The government revoked DL 1090 and 1064, AIDESEP lifted the strike, and Peru’s first prior consultation process began, which the government and some NGOs declared a success while AIDESEP and others maintained was plagued by “irregularities, lies, manipulation attempts, and a lack of a consensus in the end.” More than 100 protesters were charged with crimes including murder and sedition, notably among them Alberto Pizango, then chairman of AIDESEP. [1]

Filmmakers Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel open When Two Worlds Collide following Pizango as he hunts and fishes on his ancestral lands, awaiting the outcome of his trial. They expand to document firsthand accounts of indigenous people throughout Amazonas, who reveal how their water, land, and wildlife have been contaminated by extractive industries and how they hope to conserve what remains in a country where they are vastly outnumbered and a world where international investment and trade laws overwhelmingly support corporate rights over all others (environmental, indigenous, human). Contemporary news footage shows President Garcia and his cabinet as they propagandize for extraction and belittle the indigenous protest movement as jungle savagery run amok. Raw video captured by handheld cameras on the scene by local journalists, protesters, and police show the escalation from confrontation to lethal violence, and resulting corpses and funerals.

When Two Worlds Collide effectively integrates storytelling, investigation, and advocacy in a remarkably measured and balanced approach to a potentially explosive subject. While focusing on Pizango and the protesters, the filmmakers open the narrative to include the father of the policeman whose body was never found, who seeks news of his son in Amazonas, and the family of Captain Miguel Montenegro, killed during the conflict after attempting to keep the confrontation peaceful.

When Two Worlds Collide won a World Cinema Documentary special jury prize for Best Debut Feature at Sundance, and will open in NYC at Film Forum on August 17, 2016. The film is scheduled for release in Peru in August-September.

1. Historical summary based on “Box II: Peru’s New Forestry and Wildlife Law” (Environmental Investigation Agency, 2016).

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