Indigenous Amazonian communities in Peru intend to block new oil bids failing immediate government action to solve problems of four decades of exploitation and contamination.
In many Amazonian indigenous cultures, if you are a lazy or disobedient child your parents will move you to action with the stinging barbs of nettle. Last week, indigenous women brandishing large nettle batons sent a clear message to visiting government officials: If there is no real movement toward solutions to the appalling contamination in their territories, then there will be no more bidding on the oil under their territories.
The statement came after three frustrating days of negotiations between government representatives1 and indigenous federations2 from four severely contaminated river basins, where people are living in environmental crises zones with no humanitarian relief. Emerson Sandi, a Kichwa leader, clearly stated that “while we are not attended to, the oil should stay under the ground where it bothers no one.” The united position is that without tangible solutions, the prior consultation process will not be permitted, thereby barring the new bidding round for oil block 192-1AB from going ahead.
Water is Life
The impatient voices of Kichwa mothers rose and fell throughout the meetings – yelling, crying, and calling out for justice for the innumerable deaths and illnesses of their children caused by the
poisoning of four decades of oil contamination. Julia Chuje Ruiz lamented that in “meeting after meeting we hear the same lies, the same unfulfilled promises. It’s incredible that government representatives come so far to have a chat, and then merely tell us there is no money to fulfil our just demands. So many resources extracted from our territories, so many millions of Nuevo Soles3 that go every year to our local governments. Under these conditions how can we possibly allow another round of bidding for our oil? This has all once again produced distrust of the government.”
Additionally, the state remained indifferent in the face of people’s most urgent need: water. As officially declared environmental and health emergency zones, specific state ministries4 have a legal obligation to provide access to water fit for human consumption. However, no one could provide adequate information about the provisional 2-year plan for acquiring water filters – leaving the questions of when, where, how, and what kinds of measures will be taken completely unanswered and putting the whole process on hold until satisfactory information about effectiveness is provided. Concerns about long-term plans for beyond the provisional period, when President Ollanta Humala’s elected term will be over, were completely overlooked.
Like a Turtle Walking on Two Legs
Feelings of disappointment and injustice were grew increasingly palpable each day. The government was clearly not moved by the letter sent in August by the four federations claiming serious problems in the negotiation processes, citing logistical and coordination issues; lack of transparency and access to clear information; and failure to implement agreements made. The government’s response was insufficient and invalid, demonstrating negligence and utter inability to articulate the path forward. “This Commission is a turtle, walking on two legs,” expressed Carlos Sandi, president of the Achuar federation, echoing the feelings of many.
One particularly controversial goal of the federations is to ensure the right to self-determination by implementing participatory mechanisms in the formulation of local governments´ development projects. A serious evaluation and modification of the canon laws would have to be undertaken to ensure that the benefits of extractive activities in their territories are actually respected, as stated in article 15.2 of the Convention 169 ILO. Clear answers to demands for an independent consultancy on remediation and compensation for l
and use were avoided by postponing the topic for a series of sub-commission meetings scheduled for next week in Lima.
By all appearances the government is only engaging in this over-bureaucratized dialogue process in order to prevent social conflict in the lead up to regional elections next month, with no apparent willpower to find solutions. As the negotiations ended once again in a stale-mate, the federations reiterated their warning that they are prepared to harness the collective power and frustration of their people to either permit or prevent the prior-consultation process, thereby sealing the fate on the next bidding round for oil in their territories.
What can you do?