Between April and June 2009, Peru was thrown into chaos, as indigenous communities joined forces to protest against laws which they argued threatened the Amazon rainforest and their unique way of life. Despite negotiations, no settlement could be reached, and eventually violence ensued. One key law – Forestry Law 1090 – was subsequently repealed, but not before both sides found themselves accused of instigating the tragic bloodshed. When Two Worlds Collide follows these dramatic events.
From the opening shots, where we are dropped straight into the Amazon rainforest, with humming insects and gently chirping birds, it is hard not to by awed by the vast, untouched natural landscape. Immediately, these shots are juxtaposed with a speech by former President Alan Garcia, calling for more foreign investment to help with the exploitation of Peru’s natural resources. We have met the film’s ‘villain’.
On the opposing side is Alberto Pizango, indigenous leader and President of AIDESEP (Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest). Reminiscing about his youth, when he could swim in a nearby pond with river dolphins before they, along with many other animals, disappeared, he shows us around the rainforest. ‘I love the Amazon, because this is what I know. This is where I’m from,’ he proclaims. Sadly, this now includes the leaky North Peru pipeline, the likely cause behind significant levels of toxic metals such as lead and cadmium now found in the blood of many indigenous people. ‘You kill the rainforest, you kill a culture,’ he reflects. ‘You kill an entire people.’
Through archive footage and minimal commentary, we travel back to 2009 when, in the aftermath of an historical free trade deal President Garcia had struck with the USA, tensions rise over what Pizango and AIDESEP perceive as discriminatory laws towards indigenous communities, where their land becomes up-for-sale without any consultation with those people living on them. People congregate, and proceed to march, blocking roads and bridges to raise their point.
Negotiations follow. Pizango and his followers demand the government ‘Repeal the laws!’, a seemingly empty statement which predictably fails to make progress. When they eventually do focus their message – to get rid of Forestry Law 1090 – Garcia and his party block the debate, citing fears it could have on the new US free trade deal. This prompts angry outbursts in congress and, the following day, violence on the streets. Protestors and police forces reluctantly but increasingly clash and, on one horrifying day in the village of Bagua, several on both sides are wounded and killed. Footage (from camera phones, or the press? It’s never quite explained) of horribly wounded bodies leaves the viewer in no doubt of the brutal and aggressive escalation of this conflict. Pizango is blamed for the deaths, and flees to asylum in Nicaragua.
The way the documentary is edited, it is hard not to feel some sympathy for both sides. Pizango’s complete and utter guilt, assumed among many in the government, seems harsh for someone nowhere near the fighting. Yet the initial reluctance of the police to engage with the protestors, combined with Pizango’s stubborn attitude, and his insistence that ‘his people’ had the right to attack the police as a form of self-defence, makes him also not seem entirely innocent. Although we see far more of Pizango’s side of the story, there appears to be a fair quantity of bipartisan editing at play. Credit filmmakers Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel for including these alternatives perspectives.
Not, however, for President Garcia, whose every action appears designed to further fan the flames of anger and sense of betrayal among the indigenous communities. Even as we discover the controversial Forestry Law 1090 has been repealed in the wake of the violence, new laws (or simply a lack of enforcement) mean the heavy industry encroachment into the Amazon – both deforestation and mining – continues unabated. The tragic events of Bagua appear to have achieved nothing.
Finally, we see modern-day Pizango returning from Nicaragua to face trial for supposedly inciting the 2009 protests and police attacks, a verdict which remains outstanding. He speaks of the grief he feels for the fallen, on both sides. Never is this better illustrated than through our meeting with Felipe Virgilio Bazan Caballero, the father of Major Felipe Bazan, a police officer who went missing at Bagua. Suddenly, the political becomes intensely personal, a man desperate for information about what happened to his son, whether he is still alive, and the course of events which led to this point. ‘What’s wrong with this world, when oil or a piece of gold is worth more than a human life?’ he despairs.
While the action in this film centres firmly on Peru, and primarily on the dramatic events of this short period of time, the questions it highlights can apply across a far broader range of environmental issues. ‘The ambition to exploit every single natural resource is blinding humanity,’ states Pizango. There certainly appears a futility as the great Amazon rainforest, shown at the start of the film to be so vast and stuffed full of life, ends as depicted by piles of timber and desolate cleared land.