“It is a step forward for defenders, it is a step forward against the transnational corporations that want to impose mega projects without consulting and respecting the rights [of the communities]. It is a beautiful opportunity to legitimize the justice of the ronderos and the defense of the defenders.” – Pablo Abdo, EarthRights International lawyer

EarthRights International defended 12 ronderos (defenders who organize to maintain social order, administer justice, and protect the interests of their villages, communities, and territories) who belong to the rural community of Yagén, in the Province of Celendin, Cajamarca, Peru in court last week. The criminalization of the defenders of the Marañón River began in 2014 as a result of the mobilization and public denunciations made by the community in response to the approval of the construction of the Chadin 2 hydroelectric project intended to dam the Marañón River.

“This type of complaint that companies make is to intimidate people so they do not act. In the case of Chadin 2, which is a hydroelectric plant in the Marañón River, which is one of the main rivers of the country and one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, aims to flood the various lands and displace communities to generate a cheap energy not for us, as the media says, but for the mining.” – Milton Sanchez, Plataforma Interinstitucional Celendina (PIC)

The criminal proceedings against the defenders lasted more than four years. During this time, the Public Ministry of Celendín filed charges for the crime of “Aggravated Kidnapping” (Conf. Art. 152.11 of the Peruvian Penal Code), requesting a penalty of 30 years in prison for each rondero. At the oral trial stage, three witnesses, who were former Odebrecht employees, recanted their initial statement and said that they were not held against their will, they were not victims of any type of injury by members of the community, and they had not been kidnapped.

“I am one of the criminalized ronderos. Today we are liberated, we had been sentenced for having allegedly committed the crime of kidnapping. It would have been 30 years of jail, more than 32,000 (soles) of civil reparations, which as rural campesinos, most of us do not have.” – Santos Waman, criminalized rondero

On the legal defense side, statements by the ronderos were included on the record that demonstrated the innocence of the defenders, the lack of justice and rigor on the part of the authorities in the investigation, and the persecution of Odebrecht against communities who oppose their interests. This is demonstrated by the statement of one of the witnesses, who said he had “been commissioned by the company to testify in the investigation against the ronderos of Yagén.”

“Really, we are facing a monster, it’s like we are in another world that is the Odebrecht company which wants to condition us through the authorities so that they can enter our territory, abuse, destroy our Marañón, our environment, our province of Celendin.” – Santos Waman, criminalized rondero

After years of criminal prosecution, stigmatization and the search for justice, on September 28, in the oral trial stage, the Prosecutor of Celendín withdrew the charges before the Court, considering that in the process it was proved that the ronderos acted in full legal legitimacy of their jurisdictional functions and that there was no proof of any type of crime. Thus, the First Supraprovincial Collegiate Court of Cajamarca decided to absolve the 12 ronderos of all criminal charges, definitively dismissing the case.

Although a favorable ruling was reached and legal justice was obtained in the face of Odebrecht’s unfounded allegations, it is important to mention that throughout this period many of the members of this community have suffered stigmatization, threats, and violence for legitimately opposing a project that violates their human rights and the environment.

“In these years we have felt badly, like dead men walking, we could not go out because of the provocations it might cause, because of the motives of the judge and the company. The Odebrecht company. The same company that owns a percentage of [the hydroelectric project] Chadin 2.” – Elmer Seldaña, criminalized rondero

We hope that this case will serve as a precedent for the continuation of the defense of the territory and the Marañón River, and for the defenders in Peru to stop suffering the serious consequences of the stigmatization and criminalization against them. In addition, the case allows us to reflect on the right to communal justice that the community members have in their territories.