Kichwas in the Tigre region protesting Pluspetrol. Photo: David Hill.
By Ximena Warnaars
14 February, 2015. An agreement has been reached between indigenous federations of four river basins in Peru´s northern Amazon, the National Government, and Pluspetrol, the Argentine oil company currently operating in their territories. While this kind of agreement is unprecedented, indigenous groups throughout the country continue to protest, occupy oil wells, and raise their voices against the oil company.
The Minister of Energy and Mines, Eleodoro Mayorga, announced that the Government will make an initial investment of one hundred million soles (approx. 33 million US dollars) directed towards the communities. The money will go to various projects in Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes and Marañón river basins, in the Loreto region, and will include environmental clean-up, potable water systems, electrification, land titles as well as health and education projects.
Indigenous peoples have been demanding compensation, remediation and reparation for environmental damages they have sustained because of over 40 years of oil exploitation in the region. Even though the negotiations between the four federations, the government, and Pluspetrol have been going on for almost two years in the context of the concession lease ending in August 2015, there have been few results until now.
The communities, frustrated with conversations that were leading nowhere, decided to take action in hopes to be heard and taken seriously. In the community of Pampa Hermosa along the Corrientes River, more than 400 Achuar indigenous people paralyzed over a dozen of Pluspetrol’s oil wells. The Achuar are currently talking to government officials aiming to come to a final agreement. Pluspetrol is estimated to lose over 3000 of barrels of oil per day as protests continue.
Along the neighbouring Tigre River, hundreds of Kichwa indigenous people blocked a major Amazon tributary for almost a month, barring the river with cables to stop oil company boats from passing through. Their protest is suspended temporarily.
The claims of the federations are not new and in fact reveal a much longer history of struggle against oil giants over the years. The Achuar peoples of Corrientes pushback lead to the Dorrissa Act in 2006, an agreement with Pluspetrol and the government consisting of approximately fourteen million dollars for environmental clean-up and health and nutrition programs. A year later the Achuar filed a class action suit against Occidental Petroleum, the previous operator of Lot 1AB in northwest Peru. The Achuar peoples in the Pastaza River have successfully fought off Burlington, Talisman, and Occidental Petroleum, among others, and prevented them from encroaching on their territories.
That said, this was the first time in the history of indigenous movement in Peru that communities of such a vast area of the Amazon have united with common goals and are close to reaching agreement of this magnitude with the government. It is also the first time that the contamination of the four rivers in question have been publically acknowledged by the government, and declared an environmental emergency. It even seems that the previously uninterested general public in Lima is finally taking notice of the environmental and health impacts of people living in that region.
ERI has given some support to the federations by providing legal advice to the leaders and contributing to developing strategies. We may not have participated directly in the negotiations, but it is certain that our case against Occidental Petroleum has inspired and strengthened indigenous leadership to keep fighting.