“When Two Worlds Collide”
In the Peruvian Amazon
Directors Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel bring us a partisan look at the clash between indigenous Peruvian minorities and government interests bent on “opening up” protected tribal lands to multinational-corporation mining, drilling and clear-cutting. That conflict became contentious, with highly publicized strikes and violence in 2009. The film begins with scenes of the pollution left behind by industrial “progress” in Amazonian rainforest areas, that destroyed both the environment and the local residents’ traditional ways of life, “When Two Worlds Collide” begins with Peru’s then-president Alan Garcia’s 2007 invitation to foreign (especially American) companies to invest in Peru’s natural-resources riches. Most of those resources (steel, natural gas, oil, etc.) required extraction from constitutionally protected lands belonging to native peoples who have lived there long before the arrival of Europeans. Garcia and his allies managed to push through legislation that auctioned off such rights without consulting the occupants of those “communal lands” and it is no surprise that those occupants were irate.
The principal figure here is Alberto Pizango, a leading advocate of Peruvian Indigenous Amazon self-determination who became chairman of AIDESEP (Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest), an umbrella group. He headed a hard-line stance that demanded the government not merely revise but wholly repeal laws passed without input from native groups so that related negotiations could begin anew.
When that request was ignored, locals began blocking roads to industrial sites and gained control of two privatized facilities. As police and then military were sent in to disperse the protestors, violence broke out that resulted in injuries and fatal casualties on both sides. The footage that we see here is hair-raising footage here and puts us right in the middle of the June 2009 armed conflicts, shot by not only the filmmakers but also indigenous and uniformed state personnel as well.
Pizango and company insisted the locals retaliated only after being fired upon but Garcia’s coalition and allied national media outlets painted the Indios as bloodthirsty “savages” who were mindlessly opposed to any economic progress on lands that belonged not just to them, but also to the entire populace. Ultimately Pizango was forced into (brief) Nicaraguan exile. While some concessions finally were won (and Garcia left office, at least for the time being), the documentary suggests the government has skirted around its own laws, selling mining and other rights to offshore concerns on native lands.
Felipe Virgillio Bazan Caballero, a retired Lima police officer comes across as conciliatory toward indigenous interests even when his quest to discover what happened to his son (the lone cop unaccounted for after 2009’s mayhem in Bagua) ends in a horrific discovery. By contrast, the high-ranking political figures interviewed here seem to be too inclined toward inflammatory rhetoric as a means of justifying government putdowns of protests and commercial exploitation of rainforest lands. The film makes its case powerfully and the many parallel situations in which private commercial interests continue to loom over environmental ones worldwide makes that viewpoint seem valid.
In July 28, 2006, Alan García was sworn in to office for his second term as the President of Peru, 16 years since his first stint ended with social unrest and severe hyperinflation. In 2007, he delivered a televised address in which he invited American entrepreneurs to invest in Peru. On June 5, 2009, García ordered Peruvian police and military personnel to forcibly prevent protestors from blocking the major road that is used for accessing the country’s fertile Bagua region causing many indigenous people and government troops to be killed in the ensuing riot, and many more would die in the violence that was the result of that initial clash. No political conflicts, indeed.
This is all captured in “When Two Worlds Collide,” a strikingly present documentary debut that traces how the friction between a government and its people can metastasize into a dangerous state of insurgency.