Lending their bodies and voices to a chorus of songs and chants, hundreds of Peruvian students, union workers and other residents marched alongside indigenous activists through the streets of the river port city of Iquitos Wednesday demonstrating the growing opposition to destructive oil drilling along the tributaries of the Amazon River. (See video of the demonstration)
The traffic-jamming mobilization marked a departure from previous protests, which were mostly limited to the indigenous people affected by the contamination and divisive political tactics of the oil companies operating on nearby rivers in the region of Loreto.
Now, however, as a consortium of American and Canadian companies prepares to drill along the headwaters of the Rio Nanay – the main source of drinking water for the some 400,000 people of Iquitos – apathy is turning to activism; many from the general public are now joining in.
“Listen Loreto! The water is in danger!” protesters shouted in Spanish through central Iquitos Wednesday, displacing several blocks worth of midday traffic. “Listen Loreto! the Nanay is in danger!” they yelled.
Wednesday’s march dovetailed with national protests spurred on by the pivotal conflict over Peru’s largest-ever gold mine, the nearly $5 billion Conga project in the northern highland region of Cajamarca. The Conga project was ground to a noisy halt by massive protests late last year. The American-owned mining group plans to destroy lakes, streams and natural aquifers and replace them with manmade reservoirs – a proposal rejected by the local people and by local and regional leaders.
Thousands of people marched in Cajamarca and in the capital, Lima, Wednesday to declare that “Water is Life!” – the theme of Wednesday’s march in Iquitos, which was led by the regional indigenous federation ORPIO. Protestors blocked roads in and out of the Conga site and Yanacocha mine, another mine owned and operated by the Newmont Mining in Cajamarca.
As the national campaign for clean water gains momentum, the recent swell of indigenous organizing against the oil companies in the Peruvian Amazon now has a channel to reach the national stage.
“In this way the original peoples of the Amazon join in solidarity with mobilizations happening across the country in defense of water, life, and the rights of indigenous peoples to self determination,” Jorge Tacuri, director of the Program in Defense of Indigenous Rights – PDDI – declared in a blog about the Iquitos event Wednesday.
Tacuri and PDDI are the legal partners of Alianza Arkana, representing leaders and indigenous groups on the major rivers throughout Loreto, including the Pastaza, Marañon, Nanay, Chambira, Corrientes, and Tigre rivers.
“The leadership of ORPIO, under [recently-elected] president Emerson Sandy Tapuy, declares that the actions initiated by the people of Cajamarca represent the struggle of all the people of Peru against the denial of rights by extractive companies, whether they be mining companies or oil companies,” the organization declared Wednesday.
More protests are expected soon in Iquitos, particularly to express growing public concern over plans by notorious American driller ConocoPhillips, and Canadians Talisman and Gran Tierra, to drill near the headwaters of the Rio Nanay.
Thursday, 02 February 2012