Abujao River Communities Unite Against Oil Threats in their Territories

On Friday, September 21st, approximately 70 leaders and community members from 15 different communities on the Abujao River met together in the native community of Santa Rosa de Tamaya Tipischa to discuss the imminent threat of oil exploration in their lands by two different oil companies, Pacific (from Canada) and Petrovietnam.

The people of the Abjuao River are just a handful of the communities that will soon be affected by a new wave of oil development, which divides 75% of the Peruvian Amazon into oil lots. The event, hosted by Alianza Arkana, Earth Rights International, and the Indigenous Organization of the District of Masisea (ORDIM), aimed to unite the inhabitants of the Abujao River Basin, both indigenous and non-indigenous, exchange experiences, inform them of their rights, and explain what to expect from oil companies. This was a follow-up to an event in August, in which 28 indigenous leaders were invited to discuss this new wave of oil development.

In addition to oil companies, the Abujao River inhabitants are also threatened by growing informal mining activity, illegal logging, as well as the mega-project IIRSA, a proposed highway running from Brazil to Pucallpa, which would cut through their territories and farm land.


The event began with a presentation from Lizardo Cauper, current vice president of ORAU – the Ucayali Regional Branch of AIDESEP (the national indigenous organization of the Peruvian Amazon), who is from the Shipibo community of Canaán de Cachiyacu, which is currently gaining international attention for the taking of nine oil wells on their territory belonging to the integrated energy company, Maple PLC. Cauper explained the different phases of oil development, while giving his own experiences in Canaan over the last 40 years.

¨Many people in my community wanted the oil company to enter because they thought there would be work and a future for their children. But up until now, no one in my community has a job working with the oil company…. We have no drinking water, and our rivers are filled with oil. You can no longer fish, hunt or plant in my community from the contamination.¨

He also spoke of the division within the community created by the oil company and the erosion of cultural values. ¨Before, we helped each other. Now, an uncle has to pay his nephew to cultivate his yard. We no longer have community work days (mingas). We have lost the cooperation and reciprocity that are values of our culture.¨

He showed photos of oil spills, and the clean-up thereafter, in which community members, contracted by Maple, clean crude oil from their rivers without any safety equipment, including gloves or shoes. ¨Brothers, the oil companies will tell you that they have new technologies, and that this won´t happen in your community, but this is not the truth,¨ he warned.

pic2Break-out sessions dealing with human rights and oil activity.

Following his presentation, Javier Jahncke from FEDEPAZ and Lily La Torre from Earth Rights International gave a crash course on human rights. In groups, participants discussed basic human rights, obligations of the State, how one can demand their rights, etc, followed by presentations and discussion.

At the end of the meeting, all participants expressed their concern and their desire to remain united. They said that by the end of September they expect the entrance of Pacific in the headwaters of the Abjuajo River. Petrovietnam has completed exploration in the area using seismic studies – itself an environmentally disruptive process – and the communities are waiting to hear if they will proceed with production. The meeting was a first step towards building unity amongst the inhabitants and to inform them of their basic rights when it comes to oil activity in their territory.

Deborah Rivett, Wednesday, 26 September 2012