Carrying photos of oil contamination on their rivers and shouting “down with the oil companies!” at least 200 members of a dozen different indigenous federations marched for miles through the streets of the river port city of Iquitos this Wednesday denouncing the contamination of their rainforest homelands by multinational oil companies and warning the half-million people of Iquitos that Canadian oil driller Gran Tierra now threatens them.The march followed an historic unification of tribes and federations from across the Peruvian Amazon. Leaders from the major indigenous federations of the Corrientes, Tigre, Napo, Marañon, Pastaza, Yaquerana, Curraray, Urarinas, Chambira and Putamayo rivers – including federations of Achuar, Urarinas, Quechua, Kichwa, Secoyas, Matses, and Kukama Kukamillia – rallied hundreds of people at the Gran Otorongo auditorium in the first ever forum against oil in Iquitos, explaining the consequences of up to 40 years of oil exploitation in the Region of Loreto and announcing their unification as a block against the transnational oil companies.
“Here we are, different peoples with different ways of thinking, different languages and different ways of encountering the Western world, or the first time uniting with each other to fight together in defense of our Madre Tierra, the Amazon forests, for life and for the defense of our territory,” said Alfonso Lopez Tejada, head of the Kukama federation ACODECOSPAT.
“I denounce the company Talisman,” said a defiant Andres Sandi Macashua, leader of the federation FECONACO, which represents mainly Achuar peoples of the Corrientes, one of the most polluted rivers in the Peruvian oil lands of Loreto.
“No more oil companies!” Sandi said.
The leaders assembled for the original “Indigenous Peoples In Defense of the Amazon” forum against oil contamination in Iquitos, which was sponsored by Alianza Arkana and organized by partners PDDI, the Program for the Defense of Indigenous Rights. Amazon Watch also contributed to the program.
The leaders said there has never been such unity among the tribe against a common foe.
“We will no longer struggle for only our own federation. We will no longer just fight for our own river, my brothers,” Sandi said, demonstrating the new spirit of solidarity forged last week during a milestone workshop in which nine of the leaders drafted a common political agenda for the region’s tribes which they read out publically at the forum this week. They plan to present this “Declaration of Loreto” to the new President Ollanta Humala when he takes office on July 28.
The nine-point declaration includes demands for the recognition of indigenous communal territories under the Peruvian Constitution and under international conventions, including Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization and similar agreements Peru has made in the United Nations regarding the rights of indigenous peoples.
The agenda is loaded with demands for cultural recognition of indigenous peoples’ cosmo-vision, connection to the water and the land and Suma Kausay – well-being.“
We do not want to repeat the history of the periods of … [rubber and hardwoods], gold, silver and, now, of oro negro, oil, which is the blood of our motherland,” the draft document reads. “Because these types of activities uphold our impoverishment not only materially, but culturally, and destroy our relationship with our natural environment…. We will create our own efficient and balanced plan for our natural environment based on our ancestral knowledge, our relationship with the forest and our plant spirits.”
Among the speakers at the forum were forestry experts, former government officials, anthropologists, a biologist, educators, human rights lawyers and other experts who testified to the destructiveness of the oil industry in the region.
“I am worried about our territory, our land…” began Pastaza Quechua leader Aurelio Chino Dahua, relating the experience of extreme dependency in the Plus Petrol oil town of Andoas on the Rio Pastaza. “What development is there in our communities? Bars on the corners. Loud music [blasted out of speakers powered by noisy generators instead of traditional music. Beer instead of traditional drinks. Escalating food costs – everything is now much more expensive than it used to be. Only short term jobs for a very small number of people]. This is not development,” Chino said. “There is no health center – although they are building one now after much protest. After more than 40 years of contamination, of abandonment [by the state], of condemning our brothers to poverty, they continue extracting thousands of barrels of oil that means millions of dollars for the country while we remain the same. This is not acceptable.”
Each leader is expected to take the draft declaration back to his people for further revision. A commission of the nine core leaders of the new alliance will finalize the document and chose a delegation to present it to President Humala during his first month in office with the help of members of his transition team.
Along with human rights attorney Jorge Tacuri of PDDI, the leaders called for a moratorium on new oil concessions and on new drilling and said they will ask the incoming government to revise the existing contracts with oil companies operating in the Amazon. They also said they stand firm against the attempts of the previous administration to divide their communally held territories into individual, private parcels of land.
Core leaders of the new alliance – tentatively called Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon United in Defense of their Territories, or PUINAMUDT – will meet again in September to assess their next move based on reception by Humala.