Servicios en comunicación Intercultural

Peru: What People from the Marañón River are saying about Pluspetrol (photographic testimony)

By Father Miguel Ángel Cadenas and Father Manolo Berjón

I. Only... photos? (Communities of the District of Nauta)

R.S.I.S. 9 years old (September 12, 2010)

S.C.C. 51 years old (September 10, 2010)

A.V.M. 16 years old (September 10, 2010)

M.M.V. 2 years old (September 10, 2010)

J.C.Y. 1 year 5 months (September 8, 2010)

D.M.M. 20 years old (September 8, 2010)

© Photos: Manolo & Miguel Ángel

II. "Regarding the Pain of Others"

"No ?we’ should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people’s pain."

Susan SONTAG, Regarding the Pain of Others, Santillana, Madrid 2003, 8.

These photos do not leave us feeling indifferent. We know their names, their communities, their way of life. They are humble, but, as they say along the Marañón River, they are "gente" or respectable people. They have their own stories. They drink water from the river. Some of them work on the small farm, others at the school. They play soccer and listen to tropical music. They see spirits in the river and can heal a snake bite with icaros , just to name a few characteristics. Photos have been included because the West prefers visual aids, but for the indigenous people the itch, tickle, burning and irritation are extremely intense to the touch at the moment.

Effects

It starts with intense itching. Adults cannot resist the itching, just imagine the children. Bumps that look like a skin rash begin to appear. In the area of the Marañón River, this is referred to as "caracha" or scabies, and when they disappear, spots remain on the skin. When this affects children, the first stages are accompanied by fever. At night, they cry. Their parents are powerless and resigned. They have to work the next day without having rested.

On this occasion, they did not cause the spots, nor did an animal (capybara); they did not change their diet. According to one lady: "They ate that food from the Company: noodles and canned food."

Causes

People use two arguments to explain their health condition. Both have to do with Pluspetrol.

1. The river water

2. The tuna donated by Pluspetrol due to the emergency resulting from the river pollution

The first of these points considers bathing as a factor for the skin problems. It is not a trivial argument. The river is a source of life for some people. Their existence revolves around the river. Polluting the river causes serious harm that is difficult to undo.

In the tropics, the daily bath is one of the most important requirements and can be considered a social factor: refreshing the skin, keeping the body clean and preventing people who are nearby from having to smell bad odors. Smell for the Kukama people has nothing to do with what Westerners think. Their sense of smell is heightened. They can track an animal that has passed through an area a few days prior by smell. Being afraid of bathing, as it may occur in some cases, affects their ability to socialize.

Children are first to bathe. As night falls, it is the adults' turn. Bathing, with the possibility of skin problems, is a high risk activity for many people right now. (There have been cases of people with kidney pain who have not drunk water out of fear that the river water would harm them and because no drinking water was available.)

The second argument takes into account the very late and problem-ridden response carried out through the delivery of the following food to the affected families: noodles, rice, oil, tuna, water, among other items. More than a month ago, cases of people with skin problems began to surface. The Pluspetrol doctor has seen these "patients" and has treated them. Nevertheless, Pluspetrol continues to donate the same food one month later. They are so concerned about their image and continue to distribute food to the victims. It does not matter if the food harms them or not. The only thing that matters is that the world sees Pluspetrol donating food.

A dietary change of this kind has long-term consequences. Let's not be mean: the tuna is of good quality and is in good condition. What Pluspetrol did not consider was the population to whom it is donating: the Kukuma indigenous people. With its assimilated Western thinking, it did not foresee the side effects. Let's just say that Pluspetrol does not care; it is only worried about public opinion (where indigenous peoples are virtually excluded).

Despite knowing that these problems have been going on for more than a month and a half, it has not changed the diet. This explains why some families have sold the tuna to merchants. If it makes me sick, I would prefer to exchange it for money in order to help with other needs. People that are not used to eating tuna suddenly find themselves with tremendous amounts that they would have never dreamed of having in their life. Some families have eaten more tuna this season than ever before.

Although they support the tuna donation, they complain. If Pluspetrol had not polluted the river (this is not the first time), the locals would be fishing quietly and would be eating much more healthily. Mosquitoes are biting now because the fish have declined considerably in number, and the indigenous peoples have to eat the tuna that causes them harm.

And the Peruvian State...

Although it has almost been three months now since the spill, many people have not received medical treatment. No doctor has approached the communities, and they stoically resist the itching attacks. Everyone tolerates their pain and suffering patiently as if was fate.

Of course, if the Ministry of Health ordered a state of emergency, it was barely noticeable. It seems that the Peruvian State does not care about its people living along the Marañón River at all.

The Peruvian government should get a rash. Instead of defending its citizens, it favors the oil company (see the unfortunate statements rendered by the Ministry of Energy and Mines a few days after the spill). Bodies such as the Head Office of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, which did not say anything, should feel the itch, not to mention the agency in charge of supervising the contingency plans of Pluspetrol and Petroperú, which continue to operate in spite of not having such plans approved, treating them as if they were mere formalities on paper (since they are not complied with and the people of the Marañón River have to pay for their negligence), not to extend ourselves to other entities involved that also remain silent as if it was always holy Saturday.

Father Miguel Ángel Cadenas, Santa Rita de Castilla Parish Church

Father Manolo Berjón, Santa Rita de Castilla Parish Church

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