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Witness

Law of the jungle

A Peruvian indigenous leader fights against the destruction of the rainforest -- and accusations of murder.

Last updated: 18 Jun 2014 13:22
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Editor's note: we no longer have the rights to show this film online.

In 2008, the Peruvian government divided 70 percent of the country into more than 100 blocks, and sold the rights to exploit this land - much of it rainforest - to multinationals. The more inroads made by these companies, the more the rivers were polluted with oil.

In protest, a group of indigenous people occupied the airfield used by oil giant Pluspetrol. But when a policeman was killed, a group of indigenous men were jailed, and accused of murder and terrorism. 

This is the story of their struggle led by young leader José Fachin Ruiz, to clear their names in a courtroom where everything is stacked against them, including a corrupt police force. Their only hope lies with an impassioned defence lawyer and an eyewitness too frightened to testify.

Filmmaker's View

By Michael Christoffersen

In 2008, two Danish filmmakers travelled to Peru to investigate what happened when an indigenous community demonstrated against an oil company, and a police soldier was killed. Days before leaving, someone slipped some video tapes into the hands of the filmmakers and quickly vanished.

Indigenous people getting ready to go to court in Iquitos, Peru

At that point, the indigenous people had been charged with murder and violence, charges that would put them behind bars for up to 23 years. This was normal procedure for when the government dealt with indigenous activists people in Peru.

Back in Denmark, the film-makers showed me the footage and it was clear that though violent and at times shaky, the recordings documented a different story to the one the government was telling.

At that very moment we were inspired as storytellers.

We sensed that this time, the indigenous people of Peru were not prepared to be the victims, at least not without putting up a fight.

Not only had they collected video footage as evidence, they had also got an astute lawyer from the capital, and they were ready for battle in the courtroom, which was to take place in Iquitos, a noisy metropolis in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon.

One of the instigators of the demonstration against the oil company is the young leader Fachin Ruiz, who lives as a hunter providing for his family. He also writes and speaks Spanish and has worked in the Peruvian Special Forces. He said he had had enough of the murderous lies the oil company insisted on telling. And if anyone was aware of the consequences, he was.

Indigenous leader Fachin Ruiz speaking to media

We did not know where Fachin Ruiz and the story would take us, but bit by bit, he and the other accused men revealed what had really happened when the police soldiers attacked them whilst peacefully occupying the oil company's airstrip.

Throughout the court process, the accused indigenous documented the real price they paid for living next to the oil company's contaminating outlet.

With the aid of modern tools such as video cameras, the Internet, and the development of communication strategies, the indigenous community fleshed out the truth whilst growing up and out of their hunter and gatherer community. Their case ignited an indigenous uprising all over Peru.

That was the reality of it. That is the reality of it. We were there filming it, a story sparked by cameraman Hans la Cour, one of the film-makers who'd received the original video tapes. Hans la Cour was due to have co-directed this film but he had to leave the production prematurely due to a terminal illness. He was the first one to realise that this story could indeed have a surprise ending.


Witness  can be seen at the following times GMT: Wednesday: 2000; Thursday: 1200; Friday: 0100; Saturday: 0600.

Click here for more  Witness  films.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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