Quechua Leaders and Oil Company Disagree on Historical Timeline As Company Agrees to Pay for Use of Quechua Land

In the Pastaza River Basin of the Northern Peruvian Amazon, a lengthy meeting on Friday between indigenous Quechua leaders and Argentine oil giant Pluspetrol Norte concluded with the oil company agreeing to provide financial compensation for its long-term use of Quechua ancestral land.

Since 2000, Pluspetrol Norte has operated in the storied oil Lot 192 (formerly known as Block 1-AB), an area of approximately 500,000 hectares that overlies the historic territory of the Quechua, Achuar, and Urarinas indigenous people. Pluspetrol Norte currently extracts 17,500 barrels of oil daily from Lot 192; the oil pumped from the lot accounts for 11.7 percent of the country’s total oil production.

Lot 192 has been the site of oil drilling and accompanying oil spills since 1971, when Occidental Petroleum (OXY) began exploration and pumping there. Reckless pollution revealing egregious disregard for human life and environmental standards has been common practice in Lot 192 since the early 70s, and the indigenous people living in the area have suffered the grave health consequences of exposure to the toxic compounds contaminating the soil and waterways they depend on. In addition to suffering decreased yields of fish, diseased game and diminished agricultural production, communities living with the presence of barium, arsenic, lead, and TPH (Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons) experience devastating health problems- amongst them cancer, neurological disorders, skin rashes, respiratory illnesses and impaired development.

On the 12th of July, Apus (community leaders) from FEDIQUEP led hundreds of indigenous people from the Upper Pastaza on a march to Pluspetrol Norte’s facilities in Nuevo Andoas to demand that the company address its irresponsible exploitation of the land and provide remuneration to the communities for the use of their legally recognized ancestral territory. The result of the July 12th demonstration was the roundtable discussion held Friday in the Quechua community of Nuevo Porvenir.

In attendance at Friday’s meeting were representatives from FEDIQUEP and from Pluspetrol, joined by representatives from the Office of Dialogue and Sustainability, the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, the Public Ministry, and the Management of Indigenous Affairs of the Regional Government of Loreto.

FEDIQUEP and Pluspetrol Norte agreed on a timeline for the months of September and October, during which both parties will find appraisers to evaluate the amount to be paid by the oil company. FEDIQUEP and Pluspetrol Norte will reconvene on the 26th of August to evaluate the progress of the process. Currently, the oil company is offering to pay compensation for operations since 2001, when it inherited Lot 192 from OXY.  FEDIQUEP is requesting compensation for the past 42 years oil activity endured by the Quechua.

Last year in June, Aurelio Chino Dahua, the president of the Quechua federation FEDIQUEP, led residents from at least 17 Quechua communities in a week of peaceful protests that resulted in the Peruvian government sending a commission of experts from national environmental agencies into the Pastaza and three other key river basins to assess oil contamination. The commission is also tasked with creating a comprehensive program to address health concerns and carry out environmental remediation. When the results of the commission’s testing in Lot 192 were released in March, the levels of oil related compounds were so catastrophically high that the Peruvian government declared an environmental state of emergency in the zone.

Deborah Rivett, Monday, 29 July 2013