For over a decade, Amazonian indigenous peoples in Peru’s Loreto region facing these terrible impacts have been organizing to present their demands to state authorities and companies through peaceful protests and participating in dialogues, roundtables and negotiations. Indigenous coalitions and alliances have been made and unmade, and different processes have been instigated, one of the most recent and significant of which began during a 117-day protest at the native communities of Saramuro-Saramurillo on the Maranon river in fall 2016, uniting Achuar, Kichwa, Kukama, Quechua and Urarina indigenous peoples hailing from the watershed of five major Amazon tributaries (Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes, Marañón, and Chambira). This uprising resulted in a high level political intercultural dialogue on indigenous territory, where 39 agreements were signed between indigenous peoples and the Peruvian state.
little has been done in the way of addressing indigenous peoples’ demands for justice.
“We want the government to solution the problematic in all of the river basins. To this day, the oil spills continue and this is our big worry because we don’t want any more deaths. We need the state to resolve the entire platform of demands. All of Loreto is affected by this contamination. We will continue to fight until we see our grave”, says Fernando Chuje Ruiz, Kichwa leader from the Tigre river.
Little has been done in the way of addressing indigenous peoples’ demands for justice. A multitude of different promises and commitments have been signed by the state, only to remain mostly on paper. “Like previous processes and attempts, the Sararmuillo case reveals once again how strategies are put in place to demobilize the movement and to not really solve the problems”, says Sarah Kerremans from Peruvian non-profit association Chaikuni Institute, which partners with indigenous federation FECONAT. In effect, a conscious strategy for the delay of the implementation of agreements can be observed from the state: tactics involve endless dialogues, roundtables, bureaucratization, and attempting to fragment the movement through divisionism, defamation, criminalization and the spreading of false information by different actors.
The links between the petroleum industry, socio-environmental conflicts and the violation of indigenous people’s fundamental right to clean water in the Peruvian Amazon cannot be underestimated. Over 80 per cent of the Peruvian Amazon has been concessioned off to international oil companies without consulting with affected indigenous peoples and with no adequate measures taken to ensure the fulfilment of the basic human right to live in a healthy environment with water tables and food chains safeguarded. As contamination and abuses are left unresolved - and even more worrying, that they carry on in total impunity, it is no wonder that so does the probability of new social conflicts and protests.
The leaking and rusty North Peruvian pipeline operated by state company Petroperu stretches a massive 854 km from the Amazon to the coast to transport oil and was built in 1977. Four-plus decades in the acid waters of the Amazon have corroded the pipeline and increasing ruptures warranted the pipeline to be shut down in 2016 for over a year. One of the most important Saramurillo agreements calls for an independent investigation of the North Peruvian Pipeline as well as for other pipelines that cross Blocks 192 and 8, with the participation of indigenous representatives. It was due for the first half of 2017. Little advance has been made.
Photo: The North Peruvian Pipeline near Cuninico. By Sophie Pinchetti /Chaikuni
Important evidence supports this demand and came to light at the end of 2017 in an investigation led by a parliamentary commission from the Peruvian Congress on the latest oil spills from the North Peruvian pipeline. The report highlights “evidence of possible crimes and acts of corruption or at least intolerable incapacity of Petroperú officials” and that “no reasonable indications have been found to establish native communities as being responsible for the oil spills”. It concludes that “to continue with the current state of things will only guarantee the failure of the pipeline and other important investments being made […] it will also continue to contribute to the serious issue of corruption in the country.”
Photo: The North Peruvian Pipeline. Instituto Chaikuni Archives
Who is responsible for cleaning up the thousands of contaminated sites across oil blocks 192 and 8? No effective remediation has yet taken place despite the urgent necessity. Many remediated sites have been covered with a layer of dirt, and in the Amazon lowlands, the oil spreads to the surface sooner or later. While the state promised “remediation of sites impacted by oil operations to begin in 2017”, consultancy companies are only just beginning to work on remediation plans for a couple of sites. The initial seed funding of 50 million soles is hardly enough to start making 32 remediation plans for 32 prioritized contaminated areas in oil lot 192. Affected indigenous peoples have also demanded to be included in participatory mechanisms but nothing new has been implemented.
Photo: Oil Spill, indigenous community of Monterrico. By Alex Kornhuber
Every few months, a new oil spill hits the headlines and 2016 scored the highest on record with over a dozen oil spills. Indigenous peoples are also worried about uncertainties over an upcoming negotiation round for a new 30-year contract in oil block 192.
Photo: Oil Spill near the indigenous community of Santa Rosa. Photo Sophie Pinchetti/Chaikuni
After 15 years of appallingly irresponsible activity in Peru’s largest and most prolific oil block 192, Dutch-Argentinian-Chinese oil company Pluspetrol left in 2015 in total impunity and noncompliance with its commitments. It is estimated that between 2000 and 2009, Pluspetrol dumped 1.1 million barrels of toxic production waters a day directly into the rivers of block 192 (former block 1AB). Despite the awful track record, Pluspetrol was granted a free right to land use. Indigenous peoples affected by oil block 8 where Pluspetrol has a contract until 2024 demand transparency and more importantly revision of the company’s current obligations in order to ensure that collective and individual fundamental rights are not being violated by the company or state decisions.
Pluspetrol handed over the contract to indigenous groups and revision is pending.
Photo: Indigenous women at Saramuro. By Sophie Pinchetti/Chaikuni
Indigenous peoples know their territories better than anyone. Due to the large distances in the Amazon, the remoteness of communities and lack of attention from the state, many indigenous groups have organized independent community-based monitoring programs to gather evidence of contamination. In Saramurillo, indigenous peoples demanded a law to recognize this work, in order to enable them to hold authorities and companies to account and to advocate against further pollution.
Law proposals have been presented but there is still no recognition of the monitors’ work.
Photo: Kichwa environmental monitors in the Tigre river. By FECONAT
Looking towards the future and a post-oil period, indigenous peoples’ claim to their right for compensation to reflect damages caused by 4 decades of oil exploitation comes in the form of an extraordinary investment plan integrating projects for infrastructures, water, sanitation, health, education and sustainable projects such as fish farms “in order to replace oil activity and end our economic dependency”, says Kukama leader Miguel Manihuari.
So far, the state has pledged an investment of 186 480 000 dollars in order to provide basic services such as water, electricity, sanitation and the building of schools for the districts of Urarinas, Parinari, Andoas, Trompeteros and Tigre in Loreto. Indigenous peoples stress that that normal state obligations and contributions cannot be included nor considered as part of the extraordinary attention that affected people demand.
Photo: Oil barrels at Saramuro on Petroperu's station. By Sergi Rudgrand/Amazonia Resiste
Truth Commissions are part of a larger process for justice and truth, and arise when systematic and serious violations of human rights have taken place, promoted or tolerated by the state against a particular demographic. One of the main objectives should be to guarantee this does never happen again. This important Saramurillo agreement aims to investigate, report and analyze the impacts of over 4 decades of irresponsible oil activity in oil blocks 192 and 8 through the establishment of a Truth Commission involving the government, indigenous organizations and oil companies in order to identify the improvements that can be made.
To date, little advance have been made to implement the Truth Commission.
Photo: Kichwa mother Julia Chuje Ruiz. By Bryan Parras
Criminalizing protestors is a conscious strategy of the state to silence spokespeople, dismantle movements and stifle opposition to big businesses. The U.N recently called out Latin America for abusing indigenous rights, and the region is now one of the most dangerous parts of the world to be an environmentalist.
Despite the Peruvian state pledging to not unjustly persecute indigenous protestors, at least two indigenous leaders are facing criminal charges since the 2016 protest of Saramurillo.
Photo: Saramuro. By Ginebra Penya