To Denounce, not Celebrate: The 40th Anniversary of Oil Production in Loreto, Peru

Converging here like the rivers they represent, indigenous leaders from throughout the region of Loreto gather in Iquitos this week to testify publicly to the consequences of 40-years of oil exploitation in Loreto, the largest region in the Peruvian Amazon, and present their own alternative visions of balanced and sustainable development.

The 17th of November marks the 40th anniversary of oil production in Loreto so leaders from Achuar, Kukama, Quechua, Urarina, Kandoshi, Kichua and Matses peoples are meeting this week in Iquitos to denounce oil exploitation on the main river systems of Loreto (the Pastaza, Corrientes, Tigres and Maranon) that have been heavily affected by oil contamination. They represent an alliance of indigenous peoples unifying in defense of their territories, communities and cultures.

“We believe that understanding the history of hydrocarbons in the northern Amazon is a strategic issue, not only for those who have been affected already, but together as a whole with communities who face new oil projects today,” organizers declared before the event. “[Understanding] this is not only a requirement for justice and dignity, but should be a prerequisite of developing any new activity indigenous territories of the Amazon.”

Since the early 1970s the oil industry has damaged the water, wildlife and plants — the sources of life and health for the native and other ribereño people.

The millions of dollars that oil production in the Amazon has brought to Peru is mostly siphoned off to the cities, leaving behind conflict-torn communities, corrosive boom-to-bust development, and environmental degradation at every stage from the trail clearing and detonations of exploration, construction of roads and infrastructure, disposal of toxic chemicals during production and frequent spills of crude oil.

Nearly three quarters of the region has been leased to oil companies, mostly foreign, for exploration and production. And officials in the Humala Administration have said they plan to more than triple the foreign oil and gas investment of the previous regime – attracting $20 billion in the next five years from previous administration’s record $6.2 billion. Aurelio Ochoa, the head of Peru’s lease-granting agency, Perupetro, and the man Humala put in charge of granting concessions to oil and gas companies, says he plans to “aggressively promote exploratory drilling in Peru.”

Brought together in Iquitos earlier this year by the urgent need to push indigenous issues to the forefront of the newly elected Humala’s agenda, many of the indigenous leaders participating this week formed an alliance they called PUINAMUDT — Pueblos Amazonicas Unidos en Defensa de Sus Territorios.

PUINAMUDT represented an unprecedented unification of peoples and rivers from throughout the region. After key leaders they presented the political agenda to administration officials and members of the national assembly in August, the leading four federations representing the most effected river basins have returned to Iquitos this week to demonstrate their unity and recruit allies.

Federations include FEDIQUEP of the Rio Pastaza, ACODECOSPAT of the Marañon, FECONACO of the Corrientes, and FECONABAT from the Tigre as well as representatives from the Putamayo, Napo and other connected watersheds. Peru’s national-level indigenous federation, The Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest, or AIDESEP, and other indigenous groups are expected to participate.

“This issue, at this time, has the potential to reach the conscience of the country. For the government, this issue is a national shame,” said Jorge Tacuri, attorney and president of the Program for the Defense of Indigenous Rights — PDDI by its Spanish acronym, supported by Alianza Arkana.

After federation meetings, the public is invited to a round table discussion on a range of themes each day from 3-6 p.m., followed by an oil-related film to be shown each night.

On Monday 14th, during the first roundtable discussion at the auditorium of the Vaticariato Apolostolico de Iquitos, renowned anthropologist Alberto Chirif will speak on the impacts of oil production in indigenous territories, followed by the federation leaders who will testify to the own conditions and aspirations in their communities.

Deborah Rivett, Monday, 14 November 2011

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