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Peru: The Amazon and the Diversion of the Huallaga and Marañón Rivers

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon

All links in this post lead to Spanish language sites unless otherwise stated.

On July 21, 2011, Law 29760 – also known as Corina Law, previously approved by Congress – was published in newspaper El Peruano, and states: “Act declaring as a public necessity and of national interest the project which includes the diversion of the Marañon River [en] and the damming and diversion of the Huallaga River [en] for hydro-power and agricultural purposes “. In the text, the law adds that the surplus waters from these rivers will flow into the Santa River [en].

In September of last year, this project, which is known as Corina Project, was announced during a drought period that was seriously affecting the Amazonian rainforest. In that moment the blog Warmiboa pointed out:

Aparentemente este proyecto fué planteado por un tal Guido Muñoz hace 40 años. Recientemente, el congresista Wilder Calderón (APRA) tomó la iniciativa declarándo el proyecto de “necesidad pública”. El 16 de mayo de 2009, el congreso de la República aprobó el proyecto de Ley Nº 1824/2007-CR que declara de necesidad pública la construcción y ejecución del encauce de los ríos Huallaga y Marañón a la costa peruana, según la web de Calderón. Pero, al momento, no encontré muchas opiniones al respecto, salvo la de este blog

Apparently this Project was devised by someone called Guido Muñoz 40 years ago. Recently, the member of the congress Wilder Calderon took the initiative by stating this is a public-need project. On May 16, 2009, the Congress approved the Nº 1824/2007-CR draft declaring as a public need the building and execution of a channel in the Huallaga and Maraño rivers, according to the Calderon webpage. However, I did not find many opinions about it, except in this blog.

Nonetheless, people did comment on the Warniboa blog. Although the opinions seem to be more in favor than against this project, it can not be affirmed that there is a consensus against this project. For instance, Ronald states:

Señores pensemos en el Peru, que le conviene a nuestra nacion, tenemos grandes cantidades de terrenos desertico en la costa que serian muy productivas con el agua que se esta dejando ir al Atlantico, asimismo el represar las aguas en la sierra beneficiaria a la gente de esa zona, haciendo que se tecnifique su agricultura y que se tenga agua todo el año

People, think about Peru, what is convenient for our nation. We have so many deserts in our coast regions that would be very productive with the water heading to the Atlantic Ocean. Building a dam in the mountains would benefit the people from that area, developing their technology regarding agriculture, providing water the whole year.

And Shafis asserts:

Abran sus ojos y cerebros señores. Solo se trasvasaría 11,000 MMC de los 611,000 Millones existentes o sea nada.

People, open up your eyes. Only 11,000MMC out of the 611,000 existing millions would be diverted from the river. That is to say: nothing.

Warmiboa gathers conditions set by an APRA [en] politician that he believes should be met in Loreto before the project is approved:

Primero, garantizar que la ejecución del megaproyecto no tendrá un impacto ambiental negativo ni tampoco consecuencias sociales; segundo, que el gobierno nacional se comprometa en un plazo que no exceda del 2013, a financiar la ejecución de la interconexión de Loreto al sistema eléctrico nacional y de los ramales que lleven la energía a todos los pueblos de Loreto; tercero, que la energía generada en las centrales hidroeléctricas que deben construirse con el trasvase tenga como prioridad dotar de energía eléctrica a Loreto; y cuarto, establecer el cobro de un canon hidroeléctrico que se destine a proyectos ambientales y de infraestructura económica y social en Loreto.

Firstly, guarantee that the execution of the megaproject will not have an environmental impact nor social effects. Secondly, the national government would have to commit in a short term before 2013 to finance the interconnection of Loreto to the national electric system as well as the branch lines that transport energy to all Loreto towns. Thirdly, the energy produced in the hydro-electric stations that must be built with the diversion must have as a main priority providing Loreto with energy. Four, establishing a hydro electric payment aimed at environmental projects and the social and economic infrastructure of Loreto.
Image by Juan Arellano

Image by Juan Arellano

The project has already been approved without taking into consideration those conditions; neither did they consult, as it was discussed, the Amazonian regions. It is known that the project includes two hydro-electric stations that will produce 10 thousands MW. Although it seems to be a rather small quantity, if we also take into account the Marañon project, that considers 20 hydroelectric station buildings along the bed of the Marañon River, we are already talking about several projects that will have a great environmental impact, even though the government denies it.

There is a wide opposition against this project in the rainforest area, mostly in the Loreto region, even though mass media has barely talked about this issue: Politicians and authorities, like the President of the regional government, Ivan Vasquez, who was against this project during a certain time, the regional government Counselor, Pablo Casuso, the former national Counselor, Hector Minguillo, the Mayor of Iquitos, Charles Zevallos, the Head of Frente Defensa y Desarrollo de la Provincia del Alto Amazonas (Defense and Development Front of the Alto Amazonas Province), and the CNI Iquitos teacher, Jose Manuyama who has proposed a demonstration against the so-called Corina Law.

One of the first people reacting against this law was an English priest who lives in Iquitos, Paul McAuley, who writes in the Red Ambiental Loretana:

Lo impresionante son los conceptos de “interés nacional” y “aguas excedentes”, además de la llamada a los Gobiernos Regionales de “adoptar las acciones necesarias”. Se abre un debate urgente.

What is impressive in all this are the concepts “national interest” and “excess water”, and also encouraging the Regional Government to take the necessary measures. It is necessary to start a debate on this issue.

Roger Torres Chujutalli from the blog El Amazonico also comments on this topic and asks:

¿Qué estamos haciendo? ¿Que decimos los amazónicos ante esta pretención legal de quitarnos el río huallaga? Alerta autoridades y Frente de Defensa.

What are we doing? What do we say, the people from the Amazon, about this legal intention of taking the Huallaga River away from us? Pay attention to that, authorities and Defense Front.

Alerta Peru spoke to Antonio Zambrano, Coordinator of the ‘Comisión de Energía del Movimiento Ciudadano frente al Cambio Climático’ (Energy Commission of the Citizen Movement on Climate Change), MOCICC, who asserts this law should be done away with since it is authoritarian and it has not been discussed with the people from the region. He adds:

El texto de todos los documentos dice que no se pretende reducir el caudal de agua que afluye hasta el río, sin embargo, lo que sí se reduce radicalmente es la masa de nutrientes que fluye a través del río y que alimenta la vida a través de los valles. {…] Hay que recordar que la mayoría de conflictos sociales o cerca del 50% de conflictos sociales en el Perú son por grandes inversiones en el territorio y fundamentalmente por conflictos socioambientales, es decir, el impacto de los grandes proyectos de inversión en el territorio genera daños y perjuicios a las poblaciones que viven alrededor de ellos y que en muchos casos no desean que se les cambie su modo de vida

The text states that its purpose is not to reduce water flow going to the river, however, what will be radically reduced are the nutrients flowing in the river that contribute to the settlements through the valleys. […] It is important to remember that most of the social conflicts or at least 50% of the conflicts that take place in Peru are due to the large investments in the territories and mostly to social-environmental conflicts, that is to say, the impact of the large project investment in the country inflicts damages to the populations living in the neighboring areas. Those people do not want their way of living to be changed.

Then Antonio Zambrano himself in an article for Alerta Peru, besides mentioning the increase of methane gas emissions due to the death of vegetation, shows his suspicion about the economic effects of the hydro-electric project:

En primer lugar, la evidente triplicación de nuestra capacidad energética nacional instalada (el proyecto Marañón generaría 12430 Mw de energía) con el fin de exportarla o venderla en el mercado libre nacional, impactando “de taquito” en al menos siete regiones del país (Amazonas, Loreto, Cajamarca, San Martín, La Libertad, Ancash y Huánuco) tanto a su población como a su medio ambiente. Lo que no es tan fácil dilucidar, pero que se puede leer con un poco de agudeza, es el tipo de faenón de enormes proporciones que se podrían concluir entre Odebrecht, Electrobras y el gobierno García para privatizar el agua, la energía y expropiar tierras en grandes cantidades.

First, the evident triplication of our established national energy capacity (The project Marañon would generate 12430 MWTT) in order to either export or sell it to the national free market, having an impact on nothing less but seven Peruvian regions (Amazonas, Loreto, Cajamarca, San Martin, La Libertad, Ancash and Huanuco) both in the population and in the environment. What is not so easy to tell, but you can see it with a bit of sharpness, is the daunting task that could be concluded by the Odebrecht, Eletrobras and García government to privatize water, energy and land expropriation in large quantities.

In addition to that, Georges Bocanegra from the Loreto Nostrum blog comments on people's perception of the rainforest as a region isolated from the rest of Peru, saying that people from the coast just remember this region to take advantage of it:

Que recuerde la historia, desde la demarcación de nuestro territorio en Lima siempre tuvieron el facilismo de ceder los enormes territorios de la selva porque nadie llegaría hasta estos confines según ellos, sin pensar que aquí también hay Peruanos. […] Hoy se acuerdan de la selva. […] En este Perú, el gobierno no hace inversión pública de magnitud como en la costa que invierte en carreteras, energía, infraestructura para el desarrollo, no, aquí no lo hace, aquí deja que los loretanos nos friamos con nuestra propia manteca pagando todo con nuestro canon que es una compensación por el Recurso llamado Petróleo que aportamos al otro Perú

Remember history, ever since the establishment of our boundaries, in Lima they easily gave up huge areas of the jungle because according to them no one would get here, forgetting that there are Peruvians here too […] Today they remember the jungle […] The government does not invest significantly in this Peru, like it does in the coast in which it invests on roads, energy, and infrastructure for development. No, it does not do that here. The government has left us people from Loreto on our own while it pays everything with our canon that is a compensation for a resource called Oil that we grant the other Peru.

While the coastal region eagerly awaits this project, people from the Amazon are not happy at all with it. A demonstration against the Corina Law was announced for July 30, while people from Yarimaguas are waiting for information to do the same, and people in San Martin have already demanded the abolition of the law. It seems that this will be one of the problems that the new president, Ollanta Humala, will have to face.

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon

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