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Peru: Amazonian Indigenous Communities Protest Against Oil Pollution

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

[All links lead to Spanish language pages, except when otherwise noted.]

In early June 2012, Petroperú president Humberto Campodónico announced that site 1-AB, an oil reserve currently operated by Pluspetrol Norte, will be put up for auction sometime before July 28. This site, just like others whose contracts will expire between 2013 and 2015, is part of a group of hydrocarbon reserves in which the state-owned Petroperú plans to drill for oil again, with up to a 49% share in partnership with a private company.

This issue, which might seem merely contractual and part of business procedure, put the people of the Pastaza river indigenous communities on alert.

Cocha Ushpayacu, Batería Capahuari sur, Cuenca del Pastaza

Lake Ushpayacu, South Capahuari oil reserve, Pastaza river valley. Photo: courtesy of FECONACO

These indigenous communities have been in negotiations with Pluspetrol for compensation due to the contamination of Lake Atiliano, located in site 8, which is another of the sites that this company will cease operating. The negotiations have taken place both in the Pucacuro community and in the city of Iquitos. But this is not the only case of pollution in the jungle.

Site 1AB, San Jacinto oil reserve. Photo: courtesy of FECONACO

Site 1AB, San Jacinto oil reserve. Photo: courtesy of FECONACO

An inspection was planned last week by a parliamentary working group from the Commission of Andean, Amazon, and Afro-Peruvian People, Environment, and Ecology of Peru, who investigate the pollution from oil operations that have been carried out for 40 years in the river valleys of Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes, and Marañón. However, the visit did not happen due to congresswoman Verónika Mendoza resigning from the ruling party [en].

This at first raised suspicions, since it could have been an attempt to “hide all the environmental impacts to help the bidding”, but then congresswoman Mendoza explained that the visit did not occur because her resignation had caused her to be removed from the aforementioned commission.

However, the Apus [Apu is the Quechua word for leader of a community] of the indigenous communities indicated that they will declare a peaceful demonstration and demand the establishment of round-table discussions for the communities of San José de Saramuro (Kukama indigenous group), Nuevo Andoas or Alianza Topal (Quechua indigenous group of the Pastaza river), Nuevo Jerusalem (Achuar indigenous group of Corrientes), and 12 de Octubre (Kichwa indigenous group of Tigre).

Shashococha, Capahuari Sur oil reserve, Pastaza river valley. Photo: courtesy of FECONACO

Shashococha, Capahuari Sur oil reserve, Pastaza river valley. Photo: courtesy of FECONACO

Congresswoman Mendoza posted on her blog the issues which the round-table discussions would deal with:

- Realización de un proceso de consulta previa antes de la anunciada licitación para julio del lote 1AB, en el marco del Convenio 169 de la OIT.
– Realización de una auditoría internacional independiente en los aspectos ambientales y de salud antes que se concreten nuevos acuerdos de exploración y explotación.
– Cumplimiento de las remediaciones ambientales necesarias y sinceramiento de los pasivos ambientales existentes.
– Cumplimiento de las compensaciones por el uso de tierras así como las indemnizaciones por derrames de petróleo y otros daños ambientales.

- Fulfillment of a prior consultation process [recent Peruvian law giving indigenous communities more control in decisions] before the announced July bidding period for site 1AB, within the framework of agreement 169 of the OIT [International Labor Organization]
– Completion of an independent international audit of the environmental and health aspects before new exploration and drilling agreements are made.
– Completion of the needed environmental remediation and clean-up, and honesty about the existing environmental liabilities.
– Fulfillment of compensation for land use as well as for oil spills and other environmental damages.
Contaminated lake, site 8x. Photo: courtesy of FECONACO

Contaminated lake, site 8x. Photo: courtesy of FECONACO

However, bases of the Quechua Indigenous Federation of Pastaza heading towards the Andoas oil field, in the province of Datem del Marañón, have reported that the government has militarized the area, which they say will make any possibility of dialogue difficult. In that regard they have issued a statement that, among other things, says:

- Exigimos un proceso de Consulta Previa e informada en las mejores condiciones e incluso que se haga un inventario de los actuales pasivos ambientales contaminantes y el registro de los que no se encuentran hasta el momento en algún plan o programa de remediación.

- Rechazamos la presencia de contingentes militares en Andoas, los cuales tiene el único objetivo de reprimir con balas y fuegocualquier expresión legítima de descontento. Nuestras comunidades no son cuarteles. No queremos que se repite lo que sucedió en Andoas el año 2008 en donde la muerte, la tortura y la cárcel nos golpearon profundamente.

- We demand a prior consultation process reported under the best conditions, and also demand that an inventory of the existing environmental contaminating liabilities is made, while recording which of those are not yet found in any plan or program of remediation.

- We reject the presence of military contingents in Andoas, which only have the objective of suppressing any legitimate expression of discontent with bullets and fire. Our communities are not barracks. We don't want to see that which happened in Andoas in 2008 happen again, when death, torture, and imprisonment affected us deeply.

Well 6 foundation (overflows with rain), Bartra oil reserve, Tigre river valley, site 1AB. Photo: courtesy of FECONACO

Well 6 foundation (overflows with rain), Bartra oil reserve, Tigre river valley, site 1AB. Photo: courtesy of FECONACO

On June 12, the demonstration was in the area of Alianza Topal, located in the province of Datem del Marañón. On the website of AIDESEP (Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Jungle), they reported:

Según anunciaron los Apus, las comunidades que la integran continuarán movilizados hasta que el gobierno central atienda sus demandas y para mañana tienen previsto realizar una asamblea en la que se decidirá las acciones que tomarán en los siguientes días, donde también estarán los jefes de las comunidades de la cuenca del Tigre, quienes han anunciado que se sumarán a la movilización pacífica de los pueblos indígenas de Loreto y se unirían -en los próximos días- los pueblos Achuar y Candoshi.

As the Apus announced, the communities that form it [the Quechua Indigenous Federación of Pastaza] will continue demonstrating until the central government meets their demands, and plan to hold a meeting that will decide the actions to be taken in the coming days and will gather the heads of the communities of the Tigre river valley, who have announced that the indigenous villages of Loreto will join and that, in the coming days, the villages of Achuar and Candoshi would join.
Chemical waste dump, Capahuari Sur oil reserve, Pastaza river valley. Photo: courtesy of FECONACO

Chemical waste dump, Capahuari Sur oil reserve, Pastaza river valley. Photo: courtesy of FECONACO

The indigenous communities in these areas have been condemning the effects of contamination on their ancestral lands and on themselves for years, as CINDES (Indigenous Center for Sustainable Development) Peru reports in its blog:

“Todas las plantas se están secando, los árboles se están secando, están haciendo una desgracia a nuestra comunidad” refiere el Apu de la comunidad Nuevo Paraiso.
“El 66.21% de la población infantil está contaminado con plomo y el 99.20% de la población adulta está contaminada con cadmio” señala un estudio de la Direccion General de Salud (Digesa)
“Han engañado sistemáticamente a casi todos los apus de la cuenca del río Corrientes, y del Pastaza y del Tigre también, haciéndoles firmar documentos que no reflejaban los acuerdos establecidos en la asamblea comunal”, denuncia

“All the plants are drying out, the trees are drying out, they are making a disgrace of our community”, comments the Apu of the Nuevo Paraiso community.
“66.21% of the infant population are contaminated with lead and 99.20% of the adult population are contaminated with cadmium”, a study from the General Directorate of Health (Digesa) states.
“They've systematically deceived almost all of the Apus of the Corrientes river valley, and of Pastaza and Tigre as well, making them sign documents that don't reflect the agreements established in the community meeting”, they report.
Site 8x, Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Photo: courtesy of FECONACO

Site 8x, Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Photo: courtesy of FECONACO

While the contamination from oil activity has been happening for 40 years, which is a liability for the current companies that extract oil, the fight of the communities to preserve their environment and the life that they are used to living within it has also been going on concurrently, and not all of the affected communities have received compensation. Recently, Observatorio Petrol Sur wrote in their blog about the negotiations between oil companies and the communities:

Finalmente, aquí no se negocia asuntos relevantes como: si es viable la extracción de hidrocarburos, si hay formas menos dañinas de realizar esta faena, […] Los resultados de la mencionada negociación es a fin de cuentas la misión principal de lo que llaman Responsabilidad Social Corporativa (RSC), apaliar y minimizar daños con la clara intensión de crear paz social que permita seguir trabajando en las condiciones más favorables económicamente. Por tanto, lo que se negocia es la derrota, la enfermedad, el plomo o cadmio en la sangre debido a las prácticas de extracción, o bien la pérdida de las formas de subsistencia tradicionales recibiendo a cambio muy poco, un premio de consolación o a veces incluso nada, como el caso de la gente del Bajo Nauta, quienes habiendo sufrido el derrame no se les considera impactados por estar muy alejados del punto del derrame como para entrar dentro del círculo de los que algo recibirán.

In the end, relevant issues are not being negotiated, such as: if the extraction of hydrocarbons is viable, if there are less damaging forms of accomplishing this task, […] The results of the negotiations are, after all, the main objective of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), to mitigate and minimize damage with the clear intention of creating social peace that allows you to work in the most favorable economic conditions. So, what is negotiated is the loss, the sickness, the lead or cadmium in the blood due to the extraction activity, or the loss of traditional livelihoods, receiving in return very little, a consolation prize or sometimes even nothing, as in the case of the people of Bajo Nauta, who, having suffered from the oil spill, are not considered affected because being very far from the spillage removes them from the circle of those who will receive something.

Lastly, the aforementioned CINDES blog is sharing the following documentary “Concerning 40 years of pollution in the Corrientes river valley” [es]:

Original post published in the blog of Juan Arellano.

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


  • What a shame! The Peruvian Government is involved in the destruction of the Amazon rain forest. In RIO-20…. Humala read his little paper of lies and misrepresentations to the world.In the same way he did to be elected president of Peru.

    • Cyberjuan

      You’re right Lucy. Yesterday Humala conducted a decentralized Minister session in Iquitos, the main city in peruvian amazon. Let´s see what comes of this.

  • Thank you for reporting this very important story.  Our good friends at Alianza Arkana have also reported on this. The indigenous people have made it clear, they are concerned about their environment and livelihood, as well as the continuing failure of the government to adequately consult them when leasing their lands to oil companies. Will share this article!

    • Cyberjuan

      Thanks for your interest Peter, I got to do some research to see how this issue has evolved.

  • […] Peru: Amazonian Indigenous Communities Protest Against Oil Pollution, Juan Arellano, English translation by Alan Bailey (español aquí): The announcement that hydrocarbon reserves currently used for oil drilling will be put up for auction has put the people of the indigenous communities of the Pastaza river, in the Peruvian Amazon, on alert. For years, these indigenous communities have been condemning the effects of pollution on their ancestral lands and on themselves. – El anuncio de que se licitarán de nuevo yacimientos de hidrocarburos ya en explotación petrolera ha puesto en alerta a la gente de las comunidades indígenas del río Pastaza, en la amazonía peruana. Durante años estas comunidades indígenas han estado denunciando los efectos de la contaminación en sus tierras ancestrales y en ellos mismos. […]

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