The ceremony opened with the national anthem, sung by two rows of Peruvians standing face to face. To the one side, a plethora of government representatives* and spokespeople from Pluspetrol and Perupetrol, to the other more than 50 indigenous leaders, amongst them Achuar, Kukama Kukamiria, Kichwa, and Quechua. One indigenous president asked for a minute of silence to commemorate the countless deaths caused by the near half century of oil contamination. In that silence rang the irony of indigenous peoples singing the song of a state that has knowingly and indifferently failed them and continues to do so.
May 27th marked the inauguration of the Commission for the Development for the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes, and Marañon rivers, one that has been charged with bringing real and immediate solutions to the many problems caused by more than 40 years of oil exploitation in the Peruvian Amazon. Sadness and uncertainty hung heavily over the party: could an agreement be reached and trust rebuilt to cobble the decades of mistrust and exclusion?
The indigenous federations’ participation was due in large part to the agreement they had reached after days of negotiations with government representatives to establish the Commission rules. It had been assured that all parties would be required to sign on to the rules after the official ceremony. And yet Pluspetrol insisted on changes to the agreement, with their spokesperson behaving so badly that even government officials called to suspend the meeting a day.
Indigenous leaders returned to the table the following day, eager to reach a peaceful solution but only under the condition that Pluspetrol sign the agreement. But after a meeting behind closed doors with the four federations, it was clear that Pluspetrol had no intention of signing the agreement.
As Aurelio Chino Dahua, president of FEDIQUEP, stated, “No signature from Pluspetrol means no participation from us and we will resort to other measures. My people are already mobilizing.” Emerson Sandi Tapuy, president of Kichwa of the Tigre, put it this way, “Why should we allow a renter to set down the rules in our own house? We will take radical measures. The leader of the Achuar community, Jose Ollaya, had a harder approach: giving the company 24 hours to leave his territory. These leaders have seen this show before over.
* including the President of the Council of Ministries, the Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Mining and Energy, and representatives of the oil companies Perupetrol and Pluspetrol
Reported and Compiled by Sarah Kerremans.