Peru: Hugo Blanco -- My arrest

Hugo Blanco. Photo Caretas.

By Hugo Blanco

Cuzco, Peru, October, 3 2008 -- First, I would like to express my profound gratitude to all of the people and institutions who, upon hearing of my arrest, demanded my liberation.* Every one of those was important. But among those that touched me most, I should mention the pronouncement made by my Canadian brothers and sisters with whose support I am able to continue publishing Lucha Indígena the call from the Conacami (The Peruvian National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mines) with whom I share the anxious desire for a political project that emanates from the indigenous, campesino and grassroots organisations; and the support of Wilbert Rozas, the mayor who instituted the indigenous communities’ municipal government and went immediately to Paruro after learning of my arrest. Thanks to this solidarity, I was quickly—though temporarily—released.

My connection to this case dates back to my childhood in Huanoquite, Paruro, Cuzco, when I first heard that the ranch owner Bartolomé Paz had branded his initials, BP, into the buttock of an indigenous campesino. Naturally, Mr Paz was not arrested; this was simply not done to a respectable person such as he. It is very likely that this event marked me for life. Now, Rosendo Paz, who inherited the ranch, has snatched lands from the Markhura annex of the Tantarcalla indigenous community, and has even put up a corral on these lands into which he puts stolen cattle, according to denouncements made.

The community has documents that prove their ownership of the land. In 2006, some of this community’s resident came to the Cuzco Campesino Federation, of which they are members, to request that federation delegates be present for the members’ upcoming land distribution ceremony. I was assigned to the task by the federation; I carried out my orders, immediately communicating this all to the local police station. The police did not object to my presentation.

Subsequently, the ranch owner ordered the Huanoquite police under his control to assault the community members, an order which the police immediately complied. Since the community members had the imprudence to resist the attack, they were beaten—women and crying children included—until driven back to the town and then to the city of Cuzco. I was not present when this incident took place but was called to testify. Naturally, those classified as criminals were not the aggressors, but rather the victims of aggression.

When, upon my arrest, I was told that I was being charged with “Violence and resisting authority”, I thought it had something to do with the incident during which I was not present. I was wrong, the judge graciously clarified. The crime of “Violence and resisting authority” was for having presided over the land distribution ceremony, during which there was neither violence, nor any state authority present.

I understand. We are in a country in which parliament, abdicating its responsibility, authorises the government to legislate in its place when it comes to “organised crime”. Alan Garcia used this authorisation to legislate against the calls of the organised population, thus criminalising protest. Victims of this magical twist on language are the hundreds of prisoners or accused throughout Peru who demand their rights. These comrades have the misfortune of not being well known and for this reason have no one crying in protest on their behalf, as I was fortunate enough to have and to which I owe my freedom. I therefore call on those voices of solidarity whose quick action pulled me out of prison, to join me in defending all victims of protests’ criminalisation. It seems as if Conacami has already initiated this campaign, so let’s join it. I will hold on to the contact info of those who freed me with their voices in order to invite you to organise in defence of the other victims of repression.

In terms of my legal case, it is not over yet. The system gets used to letting Damocles’ sword hang in mid air as it descends on the heads of those who protest, with the tacit threat that those who do not improve their behaviour and shut their mouths, will feel the sword soon complete its fall.

The esteemed judge handed me an ambiguous document in which I supposed to show in court on November 21, a date “… which should be met irrevocably, the official orders for his detention remaining legally valid”. It’s ambiguous because it does not say that I will be arrested should I not show, it simply says “the official orders for his detention remaining legally valid”. This thus leaves the interpretation of the phrase to the repressors to carry out depending on the political necessities.

It is this kind of document which is now the norm and which means: “If you shut up, nothing will happen to you, but if you continue protesting, you will end up in jail.”

How can they explain that two years after the event at hand, I was captured by surprise without having been notified that I was due in court, when in the course of those two years, I had already been subpoenaed, appeared and testified in court on a separate matter?

The explanation is that two years ago, they were minimally bothered by my presence. But now, heated attack on indigenous communities put the entire countryside in turmoil, various organisations across the country are inviting me to debate the attack and coordinate a defence. The prime minister has started calling me a “night owl” and my activities are clearly upsetting them.

I promise to continue in the five-century-old struggle against the oppression of our people, until I draw my last breath.


* On October 1, 2008, Periodico Lucha Indigena, the newspaper Blanco edits, reported:

This morning, in the Poroy comissary, Hugo Blanco was detained for failing to appear in Paruro court after having been subpoenaed and was taken to Cuzco's Palace of Justice holding facility. The court case at hand has to do with land stolen from campesinos by the son of a former hacienda owner in Huanoquite. The police took the side of the son, accusing the campesinos of "resisting authority." (The campesinos however were not accused of illegally occupying the land because in reality they were only taking back land for which they have legal title, but that had only been partially restored to its legal owners).

Among the accused was Hugo, for having supported the campesinos despite the fact that he was not even present the day the incident took place. Hugo was thus charged with resisting authority, but was not notified. He therefore did not appear in court as mandated and the judge ordered his arrest. Tomorrow, he will be taken to Paruro to testify. We call on all grassroots organisations, press outlets and human rights defenders to join in solidarity and spread this news. Let's hope that this case is settled soon and that it will sirve as a stinging denouncement of the abuse against this community of campesinos, the legitimate owners of the land at hand.