Alberto Pizango and 51 others have been on trial for the last two years in Peru charged with rebellion, sedition, murder and conspiracy against the state.
They face life in jail for their part in a movement against the pillage of the Amazon rainforest by multinationals and Peru’s government.
New documentary film When Two Worlds Collide is the gripping story of that resistance. It closely follows Alberto, a leading indigenous activist in Peru.
The tensions at the heart of the battle are clear. Alberto insists “the earth is borrowed—it’s not given to you to do what you please. We must hand it to the future generations in even better condition.”
Many of his neighbours suffer lead and cadmium poisoning from an oil spill, which contaminated the water supply.
The villain is former president Alan Garcia. He strikes a free trade deal with the US in 2007 and urges bosses to “bring your factories here. Come!”
This capitalist “development” is a threat to indigenous people and new laws undermine their collective rights to the land they live on.
Garcia calls them “savage” and their rights a “waste”, his racism barely disguised.
The state rides roughshod over indigenous rights and Garcia attempts to whip up the rest of society against them.
But Alberto is a powerful advocate and is more than a match for Garcia.
“The accumulation of money and wealth—we call that kind of development ‘savage’,” Alberto said. “Why isn’t Alan Garcia selling his palace? Let him extract oil from there,” he tells a public meeting in the Amazon as the resistance builds to Garcia.
Politicians attempt to draw Alberto into their world. But he cuts a
principled figure. And, as he repeats often, he is not the leader but the mouthpiece for the struggle of indigenous people—they make the decisions.
Their only demand is to repeal the laws and they insist the 50-day road blocks across the Amazon won’t be lifted until it is met.
Promises are reneged on and parliamentary manoeuvres are quickly followed by police violence as the state moves to “restore order”.
This results in a bloody confrontation in 2009 at a remote, scrubby expanse called Devil’s Curve, where the Andean foothills meet the Amazon jungle.
Some 150 indigenous people were wounded and ten killed—but so were 23 police officers in the two-day battle that ensued. In another dramatic response to the state killings 38 cops are taken hostage.
Alberto has to flee as he is blamed as the “instigator” but later returns to continue the struggle.
When Two Worlds Collide is on limited release, which is a shame as it deserves to be seen by a wide audience. As Alberto warns, “The ambition to exploit every single natural resource is blinding humanity.”