Social Media and Online Technologies for Indigenous Rights in Peru

Regions: Peru

Issues: Corporations and human rights, Corruption, Discrimination, Environment, Freedom of opinion & expression, Indigenous peoples, Mass killings, Minorities, Police brutality

Tags: blogging, consent, corporate accountability, environmental justice, indigenous, land rights, mapping, Media, twitter

*This is the first post of a weekly series we'll be doing in September on Indigenous media.


Since April 9, about 50,000 Amazonian Indigenous people from territories all over Peru have been on strike to protest trade laws resulting from the US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement. These decrees, pushed forward by Peruvian President Alan García, aim to open up Indigenous ancestral territories to exploitation by multinational extractive industries such as oil, gas, lumber and mining. In May, one month after the strikes began, President García declared a state of emergency in an attempt to quell blockades and protests. In the region of Bagua, about 2,500 Indigenous people had been blockading a road for 56 days when, on June 5, police were sent to clear the way armed with guns, helicopters, tanks, and tear gas bombs. Violent clashes led to deaths on both sides, though the official number of casualities still remains unclear, as eyewitnesses have accused police of disposing of bodies.


The video above, produced by the national Indigenous organisation AIDESEP (Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo De La Selva Peruana/Peruvian Jungle Interethnic Development Association), contains eyewitness footage of the events in Bagua, as well as an interview with Alberto Pizango, Indigenous leader and AIDESEP President. Whereas before these images may have not been captured at all - or portrayed only by one side of the story - now videos such as these are being distributed by bloggers such as Peruanista (see more below) and spread on YouTube. Though this video is in Spanish, much of its content appears the DemocracyNow! video below, which includes English translations of portions of Pizango's statement. 


After the Bagua clashes, Alberto Pizango accused President García of "genocide."  Pizango has since been charged with counts of sedition and has sought asylum in the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima. (For further details on this, see the video on the left, starting at the 1 minute mark).


According to independent reports, mainstream media has shown signs of racism, misinformation and even terrorist profiling when reporting on the Indigenous struggle.  For example, Peruvian national newspaper El Correo deemed Indigenous protestors "savages" and suggested they should be bombed with napalm. The government also suspended 7 Indigenous Congress members for taking part in protests, including Congresswoman Hilaria Supa Huamán, who tells her story below:



Additionally, independent radio station La Voz de Bagua was shut down after it offered support to injured protestors and allowed citizens to make announcements about the attacks on air.


Even a few years ago, a government's efforts to silence dissent or to restrict freedom of information could have effectively cut off communication about an event like this from the rest of the world.  However, in today's current media environment, governments' attempts to sideswipe the rights of Indigenous people are becoming increasingly difficult.  The spread of information regarding the "Bagua massacre" (as it's been called) is one example of how Indigenous activists are using social media and online technologies to spread the word about human rights abuses.


Social/Online Media for Change in Peru:


From the beginning of García's allocation of Amazonian lands for development, activists in Peru and abroad have been using video, social media and online activism to spread information. YouTube, blogs and Twitter have made it possible to share eyewitness accounts and videos of the attacks, as well as testimonies by human rights activists.


According to the blog Peruanista, Peruvian bloggers make up one of the most thriving blogospheres in Latin America, with more than 10,000 active blogs. However, according to a recent report on Global Voices, two popular Peruvian bloggers - Carlos Quiróz of Peruanista and Francisco Canaza of Apuntes Peruanos - had their blogs or YouTube channels taken down after the Bagua clashes for reasons that are suspicious but still unclear.  Bloggers have fought back by reposting content, enhancing their security precautions, and creating reflective vlogs and posts. In this vlog, Quiróz discusses the importance of blogs for free information and political change in Latin America:



Twitter has also played a role in building global solidarity, which strengthens the potential for successful campaigning.  For example, the organisation On Q-Initative (started by Hollywood actor Q'orianka Kilcher, of Quechua and Swiss heritage) has gathered support on Twitter for its new Youth For Truth campaign, which makes video cameras, media training and editing technology available to young Amazonian Indians in Peru. Q'orianka's Twitter campaign is prolific and widespread within the Indigenous Twitter community, with thousands of re-tweets by advocates and activists. Popular hashtags include: #bagua #peru #indigenous.



Since the Bagua clashes, solidarity marches have been taking place all over the world and have been mapped by Chilean indigenous think-tank CEPPDI. In a comment on our Indigenous media page, Carlos from DigiActive recently reflected on the potential of geomapping for Indigenous struggles:

"I think it is a great idea to increase the use of maps, a lot of the issues for indigenous causes seeking solidarity to their struggles are due to the lack of geographic information: people in other places have no way of relating spatially to the causes because many times general purpose maps ignore remote areas were many of these struggles happen. Mapping is central to educating and gathering support"


Video and social/online media has enabled Indigenous activists and advocates to bring the violence in Bagua and Peruvian Indigenous struggles to international attention.  As a result, people are watching, and President García is now facing enormous pressure.


According to the North American Congress on Latin America, a poll in July stated that 92% of the population in Peru support the Indigenous struggle. On September 2, the UN issued a statement condemning Peru's failure to obtain consent from Indigenous people for development projects.


For the Indigenous people that have been protesting, there have been some recent victories: in July, the government announced a 90-day suspension of the Amazon decrees; in September, a commission was established to investigate the Bagua clashes and Indigenous rights group AIDESEP is now bringing a legal claim before the country's Constitutional Tribunal.


Though the battle for Indigenous rights in Peru is still being fought, video and online technologies have made it much more difficult for governments to act without obtaining consent and cover their tracks.


LEARN MORE about how Indigenous groups are using media in our special Indigenous Media section.


Related Resources:

• New DigiActive guide to Twitter in Spanish!

Indigenous peoples protect the rainforest with hi-tech tools

• So far about 500 children in the Puno region of Peru have died from cold temperatures

Inambari people threaten government with "another Bagua"


Reports re: codemnation of government repression

Here are some interesting reports on international Indigenous solidarity with Peruvian Amazonian Indians' struggle:

"World indigenous leaders condemn Peru's Amazon repression"

"Repression of Amazon Indian Movement Codemned Worldwide" 


--Teague SchneiterWITNESS Intern

Climate change puts Peru Indians' farming life at risk

Check a new video on the Hub about how climate change is affecting Quechua Indians in Peru:

Fourth World Eye

Thanks, Teague. I've linked to your project on our blog Fourth World Eye:

"Another company faces eviction from the Amazon"

I wanted to point out a recent blog from Intercontinental Cry regarding Indigenous leaders in the Cordillera del Condor region of Peru who on Aug 25th issued an "ultimatum" to the Canadian gold mining company Dorato Resources Inc. - giving them 15 days to exit their territory for failing to obtain consent.

Read more here:

Teague Schneiter