Indigenous People of the Pastaza Intensify Pressure to Claim their Rights

After a 40 year struggle against oil exploitation and contamination in their traditional territories, indigenous peoples of the Pastaza, Corrientes, Tigre and the Marañon river basins in Loreto are pushing the government to finally take action. After a massive mobilization in June last year, the multisectorial commission was given the task to investigate the extent of contamination in the area.

Government officials took soil and water samples in October in the Pastaza, and test results were released in January, proving shockingly high contamination levels. Almost two months after the release of the results, the government institutions finally announced a visit to Nuevo Andoas on the 15th and 16th to present findings directly to the affected communities.

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The communities of the Pastaza, including Quechuas, Candoshi and Achuar, led by the indigenous federation FEDIQUEP, assembled two days prior to this visit to develop a common strategy and discuss their demands to the government and Pluspetrol S.A., the Argentinian oil company operating in this area since the year 2000 (Previously, Occidental Petroleum held the concession for nearly 30 years).

Today the Assembly’s made a clear decision; the state must declare an environmental state of emergency for the Pastaza to rapidly and effectively address the pressing environmental, social and health issues faced in the area. Moreover, they firmly stand by the conditions previously set out to the government that must be met before any prior consultation process can begin.

A delegation of the multi-sectorial commission, headed by its president Wilwer Vilca, arrived on the 14th March with water filters to be distributed to all households in the affected communities over the next few days. The delegation admitted that this is not a permanent solution, but should temporarily alleviate the drinking water problem.

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It was also explained that the filter solely eliminates coliforms (bacterias and faeces identified in several of the drinking water samples). It does not, however, filter hydrocarbons, which the results show are present in many water bodies, and even in drinking water. This type of contamination can cause cancer, genetic mutations, nervous system disorders and in some cases even death.

The FEDIQUEP assembly was categorical; temporary measures are not what are needed, nor have they been developed in a way culturally adapted to this area. The assembly still awaits the arrival of state functionaries to present their results. This is a familiar scenario, as previous government visits to the Pastaza have been delayed or cancelled. The delegation was supposed to fly into Nuevo Andoas on the morning of the 15th, on an airplane leased by Pluspetrol. However, Pluspetrol denied the officials permission to board the plane,  under the false pretext that they lacked sufficient documentation.

One and a half days later, the people of the Pastaza and their assembly are still awaiting the delegation´s arrival; waiting, once more, for their rights to be respected and acted upon, while they live with the daily reality of contaminated rivers, soil, and food.

Nevertheless, there are some positive signs: the representative of the Multisectorial Commission has indicated that an environmental state of emergency is, finally, likely to be declared in the course of the following days. Either way, the unified Assembly of the Peoples of the Pastaza is determined to continue the struggle until their rights are finally respected.

Stefan Kistler, Saturday, 16 March 2013

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