viernes, 12 de junio de 2009

The Obscure Chant of Protest: Bagua and Democracy

The recent popular follow up to the massacre in the Peruvian Amazon in Bagua is exhibiting a startling parallel to the American resistance to the occupation of Iraq in its ideological contents. The following passage from Zizek’s “Resistance is Surrender” provides the key to the issue:

“The big demonstrations in London and Washington against the US attack on Iraq a few years ago offer an exemplary case of this strange symbiotic relationship between power and resistance. Their paradoxical outcome was that both sides were satisfied. The protesters saved their beautiful souls: they made it clear that they don’t agree with the government’s policy on Iraq. Those in power calmly accepted it, even profited from it: not only did the protests in no way prevent the already-made decision to attack Iraq; they also served to legitimize it. Thus George Bush’s reaction to mass demonstrations protesting his visit to London, in effect: ‘You see, this is what we are fighting for, so that what people are doing here – protesting against their government policy – will be possible also in Iraq!’” (

What lessons if any can we draw from this strange complicity of resistance and submission to inform what is happening grosso modo as our resistance to the massacre in Bagua? The answer to this question can be suggested through another question: what if the exclusion from democratic liberties and the effective neglect of the political agency of the natives is but the obverse of their inscription as aborigine victims, the victims whose worldview must be safeguarded by the majority and whose liberties we must secure by our skepticism against the State's intervention? What if the form in which we protest the State in favor of the excluded rights of the victims in Bagua is effectively a stage, a fake protest, analogous to the populist trap which Zizek (2009) has recently imputed as the standard populist impase. Here we must look at the concrete contents of the popular reaction to Bagua, in which the general opinion contends the peaceful lives of the Aguarunean people peacefully protesting for a democratic solution was abruptly interrupted by the State's armed intervention which resulted in the explosion of violence and confirmed the State's negligent political agenda as having marginally left the Amazon out of the proper democratic dialog. It is in this general diagnosis that we can apply Zizek's formula for populism, in which the public uproar begins in conceiving the necessity for action as rooted in the disturbance of some preceding or projected balance:

"Populism is always sustained by some kind of frustrated despair, by a cry: 'I do not know what is going on, I just have enough of it, I cannot go on, it must stop', an impatient outburst, a refusal to patiently understand, the exasperation at the complexity, and the ensuing conviction that there must be someone responsible for all the mess, which is why an agent who is behind and explains it all is needed... Here what fetish gives body to is precisely my disavowal of knowledge, my refusal to fully assume what I know." ('Notes Towards a Definition of Communist Culture' Masterclass
Institute for the Humanities, Birkbeck College, 18. June 2009;

And doesn't this formula describe precisely the discursive contours of the popular reaction in Bagua? The reactionary mass of appalled moralistic chants, from the congress to the streets, consisted in making the concrete legislation over the Amazonian territory and the rights of its people the simple failure of the State to achieve a proper democratic dialog, where even the Aguarunean blockage is reduced to having been the demonstration of their resentment to the lack of a proper democratic dialog for integrated policy. This way, the complexity of the Situation which links the difficult connection between the natives' right to entitlement to the land against the State prospect of industrialization becomes blurred into a simple excess of authoritarian violence: the killings in Bagua are nothing but the extension of the failed diplomacy of the State. At the core of the choice of protesting to the violation of democracy in favor of the natives’ urge for democratic dialog, protesters effectively choose in favor of ignorance by obscurely supplanting the ruse of authoritarian excess to our very impotence and unwillingness to think the exclusion of the natives as constitutive of the liberal market policy. So the first thing that surprised about Bagua is how in a first stage, when the State reported the murder of twenty policemen in the event of the riots, the masses were at large immobile, save for the obvious State homage to the heroic police for having put their lives at risk in the fulfillment of their duties. Only once the truth about an exceeding number of victims among the natives was reported did the masses congregate causing anarchic uproar.

Everyone found the route towards indignation once it had been known that State policemen opened fire against the natives; it didn't matter that the succesion of the events which initiated the shootings was unclear in every way possible. First, the obvious direct involvement of the Nationalists (rendered factually in their complicity with foreign powers in effecting insurgence at the preceding congress) did nothing but feed the antagonistic masses up to their ridiculous communal boycott at congress, singing conjointly the national anthem to be finally suspended from parliamentary action. This of course was immediately disgusting as a gesture, since those who were also the intellectual authors of producing the insurgence which resulted in the murders were not only assigned no responsibility for their deliberate political manipulation, but they hypocritically joined the band of humanitarian protestants against the vices of authoritarian violence perpetrated by the State.

Needless to say, the band of political opposing forces did nothing but squeeze this event to their fullest capacity to gain popular support at cost of denouncing the State.Now a second series of protests and insurgences are set to begin in the south (Cusco and Puno), after the government's approval rates sunk dramatically after the sequence in Bagua, seeking to weaken the State even further. No great positive project nor intellectual riot was needed: one merely enjoyed repeating incessantly how democracy was violated by an abuse of power, how the State showed its incompetence and violent ways, and how we must protect the democratic rights of those who live by ancestral heritage of the Amazonian land, letting their voice be heard. Bagua perhaps offers us the clearest index of how the dialectic of democratic freedom in communitarian protesting ultimately enacts a perverted simulacrum, an obscure institution of an avowal for freedom against the profound political difficulty dividing those marginally excluded from enjoying democratic freedom and the dark empire of the law.

The utter hypocrisy shared by the civilian protesters and the Nationalists is evident, they simultaneously enact the conditions for the natives' exclusion while exculpating themselves from responsibility, which is left to the horrific deeds of the State. The preceding facts were on the meantime discarded; the Nationalists and international influence with Pizango and the natives’ manipulation, the planning of the insurgence at the Andean congress, and the persisting road blockage which mobilized over 3,000 people under the belief that their land was about to be taken from them or that the State shouldn't in principle intervene in their land without marking their interests. The deaths of the policemen in the first stage of the conflict, presumably caused by the natives (it is not important to us whether this is false or true) could not stir the mass reaction, nor the political opposition. Of course, since facing the prospect of a hypothetical killing at the hands of the natives one couldn't exactly gripe against the violation of human rights against the policemen or the violent ways of the Baguan people. Only once the basic formula of State abuse became potentially applied to the case, the slothful humanitarian ruse began to echo in the cities and provinces.

So how does the language of protest operate in this dark complicity announced by Zizek at the beginning, and shared by the political opportunists? What strikes in the protesters' discourse is a direct generalization of the dialectics of responsibility, from the particular events of the massacre, to the hermeneutically legitimized origin of deficient dialog between the State and the people. The general reaction by the public thus emphasized how the tragedy of both policemen and natives was finally the responsibility of the State, and not shared or of different agent. So the political manipulation of the Aguarunan people by other political forces into misunderstanding decree 1090 / 1064 and rendering a road blockage was entirely passed over, as was the direct question about the origin of the shootings and the agents involved. It was also painfully clear that the Aguarunan people were not so much opposing decree 1090 as they were persuaded in that the State had no right to impose its will on their land. The obvious pathetic aftermath where the central government insisted on that this was a misunderstanding of the decree, only played in favor of those accusing them of incompetence. But of course, as the majority of protesters, the natives were at large not protesting any particular aspect of decree 1090; the former reacted against the State intrusion, the latter against the State apathy.

In the end whether the natives and political opposition had any responsibility in the course of the massacre was sadly obscured by the protester’s complicity in the escapist chant of 'freedom for the natives!' and for democracy. One shouldn't flinch in asserting that this patronizing gesture precisely coincides in the conception of the natives as poor victims integrated in a natural cosmovision, ruined by the corrupt government. But this general level of dialectical stupidity was easily answered to by the more agile governmental voices. They simply indicated how supporting the suspension of 1090/64, in 'respect' for the natives' reactionary fear against the privatization of the Amazonian land coupled with their insistence in preserving traditional land right as part of the native's cultural customs was reactionary to the natives' own benefit, and wide scale national interest. To the prospect of giving the natives the possibility to voice their own inadequacies against the State, being in a modernized socio-economical situation to incorporate themselves to the political process in which they don't depend on the cities for the mobilization of their political existence, the natives' call was in fact different from the protesters in the latter's insistence that there should be democratic dialog for the benefit of the excluded.

If anything, Garcia and the APRA was justified in pointing out this was first and foremost a resistance against the State, and not a particular discrepancy about how 1090 was fair, non practical or harmful. That the interests geared there were obviously not aimed towards helping the natives themselves can be said about the entire legal agenda of parliamentary politics, so the opposition was smart to concentrate on the banalities. The government finally signaled that opposition to 1090 blindly was reactionary and against the prospect of emancipation. ( This was in fact Garcia's posture: his recent declarations signal how the opposition to the legislation which opens the Amazonian territory to the liberal market prospect of industrialization and foreign investment in favor of the protection of the interest of the locals is reactionary and regressive with respect to the national interest to promote economic development. The same principle applies to those which react against these policies in protesting the violation of the native's legitimate rights to the Amazonian land. In the end, the governmental reaction can be to simply lay claims to being misunderstood, since the decree 1090 (as Minister Cabanillas, and the entire APRA parliamentary representation claims) is in the interest of the natives themselves, so that the land becomes productively used in the competitive scheme of national economy. Since modernization will allow the natives to gain unforeseen opportunities, against the reactionary fear of change in favor of preserving their exclusion, the opposition's demands can be said to coincide with the call for the integration of the communities and preoccupation about their socio political exclusion. This insistence by the president has been missed in its scope, as it was underlined for example in this much discussed piece by Bartolome Clavero's anti-governmental rant "Who Committed Genocide in Peru?" (

The governmental agenda to mobilize the Amazonian land for industrial purposes in potential intrusion to the rights of ownership of the natives has been made well explicit by reference to a concrete clause in decree 1090 ambiguously legitimizing the excepting of normal rights of propriety by recourse to the concept of ‘national interest’ (Rosa Maria Palacios was agile enough to point this out at the Start of her interview with minister Cabanillas). Of course, the ultimate paradox of this imbroglio is that the State is able to conflate the opposition's rejection of the unwillingness to grant democratic rights to those excluded with the rejection of the laws which would guarantee this emancipation. This has been the ground of the posterior attempt to save political face by the entire central government (from the ministry of interior, to Del Castillo, to Garcia himself…) by claiming this exception did not apply to the territory owned by the natives. That effectively this ‘national interest’ is nothing but the expectation of exploiting Amazonian resources (oil, agricultural produce…) for exports and edge in the competitive liberal market and not for the natives gets entirely passed over, and is of course, not the proper subject of ‘the debate’ (as reports show, three quarters of the Amazonian territory would be confined for the extraction of oil

On the other hand, the protesters at large feel morally exorcised after the placebo of the public vociferation of insubstantial chants, since doing so they were included within the ranks of moralist declaration of horror against those in power. In the end, nothing substantial changes, and we still indulge on our merely virtual indignation. In other words, the seduction of the protesters can in fact be indexed in complicity with the State’s false emancipatory economical measures as the obverse side of a profoundly reactionary vision. The mass media reporting on the ‘poor communities’ and the bulk of their opposition allows this by positioning the natives under the patronizing gesture of avowing those integrated in the natural worldview, not yet contaminated by the hubris of the cities and the industrial-centered politics of the government. What this scope misses is how the very form of this discourse affirms the maintenance of the victims to the economical conditions which lead to their political inexistence; the skeptical resistance to the overturn of communal customs in favor of integrated policy submits the natives to permanently being the object for the pity of those who from the highly modernized cities have the means to protest in favor of democracy and against the violation of the cultural pristine life of the natives.

The catch is of course that the protesters achieve their mass support through technological means (internet chains, forums, media...) while at the same time resisting or not proposing any positive program for the natives to achieve the emancipation which would allow them to participate of this process, which invariably requires the intervention of the State into the life and land of the Amazonian territory. Thus the rejection of the decree 1090 is not supplemented by the protesters with any sort of project or proposal, nor even a hint of what a possible reformulation or different decree could look like; it remains confined to the negative rejection of the State activity, the violation of the natives' rights, and the triumphant affirmation of 'democracy' in the form of protesting. The decree which presumably would achieve this marvelous synchrony between the State and the preservation of the natives is but the ruse of those who, in hypocritical slothfulness, avow the suspension of the decree 1090 not having read it, or not even being in a position to begin proposing a possible solution. In fact, isn't it unsettling how these protests have finally more to do with those protesting than the actual victims of the conflict, or how the latter are used for moral exorcism or political opportunism? As far as proposals, guidelines, substantial opposition and the like goes, the protests remain sterile, with no positive discourse except the all too obvious call for integration, dialog and respect for freedom and life. On the other hand, the affirmation of the act of pacific protest as a democratic one is repeated endlessly, as are the slogans of democracy and freedom, in a vicious cycle of destructive opposition to the State. A great example of this perverse logic was exhibited by the general popular uproar to Bedoya Ugarteche's racist slants against the Aguarunan people in the press, which culminated in an ironic call for President Garcia to ready the napalm to bomb these violent natives.

The point is not to repeat the all too obvious moralist indignation against racism, but to realize how protesters act in complicity to it: the protesters' humanitarian ruse is effectively nothing but the vociferation of the general democratic slogans against the article, obscuring the situation (it's not about the 'law' but really about the cosmovision of the natives being endangered as a sign of totalitarian violence, of which the racism if a prime example, etc). One has to be suspicious at Ugarteche's article, if anything, because it seems too easy a target; it appears designed as an opportunistic attempt to gather clichéd polemics in the very heart of the situation, thereby extracting popular interest from the matter itself. Non surprisingly, a dozen replies to his article appeared immediately, insisting on the horrific display of racism in Ugarteche's writing and linking this ignorance to the State indifference to the situation of the Amazon. This 'hermeneutic temptation' is thereby easily reproduced to leave matters in the very comfortable surface of apparent disagreement. We should therefore insist in that this apparent emancipatory gesture of laying claim to the general platitudes of democracy and tolerance is in fact the tacit enacting of its very opposite; it is the smoke screen required for the slothful not to deal with the minute rigor required for internal politics, extracting it to a general example of mindless blather and obscuring the subjective agents, and exculpating them from the objective violence of their own complicity in this reactionary discourse. (

The other catch is of course that the sought synchrony between the natives in their worldview and the State integration is in fact formulated as an impossible demand. Since the natives do not oppose 1090 as much as fear State intervention into their land as a result of political manipulation (the Nationalists insisting on how the State seeks to exploit their land and property for the industrial prospect of the TLC with the United States…), so the rejection to the law is in fact generally political and not based on legal disagreement. Of course the turn of the screw provided by the protesters waters down this dark complicity in affirming that the natives are ultimately enraged at the lack of willingness of the State to discuss matters democratically, hypocritically allying to this outrage while they never appeared in the conflict before the conflict. This succeeded in shifting the axis of public attention to make the natives not so much concerned with the actual effects of State intervention and their obvious fear at the explotation of their land, as much as with following the correct democratic procedures. So in the end the pathetic condition of the people which are in no position to enter into the democratic dialog are reduced to allies of the democratic tenet of democratic equality. Sympathetically, the preservation of the Amazonian culture heritage was publicized as the chant of those excluded. But this of course obscured the deadlock of the natives’ insurgence itself in its contents. If the fear was directed against State intervention then, one must ask, how can we begin to think of a diplomatic procedure which could accomplish the sought for integration of natives and the Amazonian territory into the economic process of our liberal market economy? How can the multitude of tribes and people in the Amazon be incorporated into the formal demands of a paralyzing legal project, with infinite bureaucratic difficulties. The point is of course not that we should give up on including the Baguan people, but that by thinking of their indignation as being based on the claim for democracy we pass over the more fundamental tragic impotence in the Amazonian people to even address the law in its contents. It is thus remarkable how the opposition to decree 1090 at large has nothing concrete to say about the contents of the decree itself and how not single proposal has been made as to how to think this delimitation: the opposition, from the Nationalists to so called liberal protesters on the streets, rely on the ambiguous rejection of privatization and the call for dialog with no further specification of which politico-economical measures to take.

The retarded charges of 'genocide' and the New-Age avowal of nature and culture do nothing to penetrate the real separating people and politics. In the end, the protesters remain within the neo-hippie ethereal confines of platitudes which, like liberty and democracy, culture and nature, merely leave people where they are. The support for the rejection of the privatization of the land for the interests of national liberal market economy in favor of the non-privatization of these areas and the protection of the native rights ironically misses how the natives’ position also relies on the avowal of the privatization of this immense territory to their whims, or that of their own communities (if in fact the 12,000 hectares designated in decree 1090 for the 316,000 Amazonian people are not sufficient, but that the Amazonian territory in principle should not be subjected to this process of privatization). What are we to make of this all too obvious provincialist resistance? The ‘infuriated’ protesters can lay their support on the natives’ position even if this compromises at large the modernization and economic expansion of the country since, of course, their own vociferation lacks any substantial content to propose a different rule. It is difficult to find what these protesters effectively think should happen, probably because they just do not think a whole lot. A good example of this patronizing pity against the natives is perfectly rendered in this short article by Bartolome Clavero:

“The governmental declarations are situated in this line. While blood was being spilt, the President of the Republic, Alan Garcia, made some heated declarations in which, among other hurtful occurrences, he contraposed the selfish interests of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people against that of millions of Peruvians, as if the former where indigenous to their own land, as if the Peruvian State did not have the international responsibility of defending their human rights, those of its people, communities and indigenous communities. It is effectively interests against rights. Interests against people are those of the concessionary franchises encouraged and safeguarded by the government. Right facing private interests are recognized by indigenous peoples by International Human Rights linking of course Peru.” (

Coupled with the hypocritical avowal of the manipulated anxiety of the locals against decree 1090 and the conservative resistance to modernization is of course the humanitarian supplement of the protesters in their denouncement of the acts of violence occurred in the armed confrontation leading to the massacre, This pathetic ‘rejection of violence’ can be a clear example of how democratic liberal discourse’s explicit rejection of subjective violence (which leads to a clear agent, from individual to State) camouflages the objective violence which results from the normal functioning of the economy and its political discourse, State members and protesters alike. Here we have a prime example of this insipid disguise from this past 7th of June emitted by the General National Coordinator of Human Rights:

“We express our profound indignation against the use of violence, no matter where it comes from. We repudiate the excessive use of force from the police against the civil manifestation and the civil population, and with the same rigor we condemn the aggression and kidnapping of policemen from those who protest…” (,

The massive opposition in this reactionary motif can thus feel exculpated from the moral complicity with the true difficulty of clarifying the situation; the actual succession of events in Bagua of course remains obscure, as is the direct part of the State: we do not know if the police or natives attacked first, or if the police forces acted under direct orders (whose orders?), we ignore whether the insurgence began in fact from a deliberate misunderstanding of the proposed decree by the manipulation of the local leaders (Pizango being exiled in the Nicaraguan embassy), or the source for the native’s indignation (leading to a prior congress of the communities presumably in the presence of foreign powers).... One must notice this not so innocent shift from apparent democracy to a concrete partial index: for example in Clavero’s apparent democratic plea to not distinguish the deaths of policemen and natives, indexing the responsibility directly to the ‘government’ assigns responsibility to an ambiguous ‘general’ agent (who in the government is directly responsible?) obscuring the specificity of those responsible:

“Let us not confront figures of victims between natives and policemen. Let us not make the distinction… there are more and all victims of genocidal government” (”

Of course what is missing in this sea of generality is the action of concrete agents: the manipulation of the natives leading to their misinformed rejection, the international call for insurgence in complicity with Pizango and the inefficiency of the State to avoid its influence, ignorance about the explosion of the massacre and the origin of orders if existent. The ascription of ‘government’ as the tyrannical purveyor of genocide is but a more sophisticated extension of the obscure appeals to freedom and other general platitudes rather than tackling the real issue, in an ego-trip to present one’s position as in conformity with the benevolent ranks of democratic liberal ideology. None of the pending issues about Bagua are yet clear; the political responsibility of this massacre, and the enormous difficulty which presents the construction of a new path towards the integration of the native communities to our socio-political world, or the vision of a different world altogether, remains untouched in this pathetic sequence. This ridiculity was only reproduced by the idiotic carnival at congress in charge of the Nationalist parliamentarians this past June 11th, which resulted in their (justified) suspension, only serving to petrify the very much needed parliamentary action, in favor of political exhibitionism to create uproar and stir mindless followers (nothing was more emblematically stupid than their communal singing of the national anthem while the country demands an answer to these tragedies)

Without answers to these questions, we have no means to assign responsibilities and fight towards a new constructive path. The dead disappear at the margins of a constellation in which the self-indulgent belying of the State in the light of democratic liberty camouflages the responsibility of concrete agents, and the necessity for concrete measures. What we must understand is that this apparent resistance obscures the relation between State and civilians, between the law and its excluded, the State in general and its particular agents (who gave the orders?), between the international powers and the regional governments, etc. The protesters finally can project the form of indignation to protect their own privileged position from the distance, and avow the democratic power in a frivolous march. That this does not mean anything but that a period of false failed diplomacy will follow, and nothing will change, is only too obvious. For it wasn't about 1090 from the start. After congress announced the dissolution of 1090 and 1064, the natives still remain blocking the road. And congress will still interpolate Minister Simon and Cabanillas. In fact, the APRA had no choice but to support the derogation at Parliament, as Mauricio Mulder claimed ‘for State reasons’ (political pressure). It wasn't about the rights of the dead or those of the living either. It was about how the lack of rights for the dead could serve as a platform for political propaganda, for reactionary obscurantism, and an excuse for democratic celebration. Our reality is to sacrifice the dead to the mindless chant of moralists and humanitarians. These are the voices which gather in parties to discuss their progress in college while they merrily march with lit candles in 'homage to the dead', the minimal gesture given when they can no longer simply look back in apathic slothfulness. Empty words and fading candles. Is that what our democracy is made of?