This short documentary shares the voices from the indigenous coalition formed at Saramurillo, the landmark protest uniting peoples from 5 river basins affected by oil activity in Peru’s northern Amazon.
For more, read the story on the blog.
A film of the Indigenous Federations United in Saramurillo
Direction, Videography & Postproduction: Sophie Pinchetti
Additional Footage: Radio Ucamara
Graphics: Sophie Pinchetti
Sound: Sophie Pinchetti
This short documentary gives an inside look into the challenges faced by indigenous student organization OEPIAP, which represents over 120 indigenous youth from 15 peoples of the Peruvian Amazon. Filmed in early 2016.
Direction, Videography & Postproduction: Johannes Vanneste
Sound: Johannes Vanneste
This video portrait tells the inspiring story of Floida, a young Kichwa woman and indigenous student in the Peruvian Amazon. Leaving her far away community in the Putumayo river to come to the city of Iquitos and pursue her dream of higher education, Floida’s story is one of perserverance, hope and success in a reality where indigenous youth face unequal opportunities and multiple challenges.
STAY TUNED! We will release the full video portrait “Floida” at the end of 2017.
For more, read the story on our blog.
Protagonist: Floida Tangoa Noteno
Direction: Sandra Vanessa Soto Yafac
Production: Sandra Vanessa Soto Yafac, Natalia Power Morán
Videography: Patrick Murayari Wesemberg, Carlos Marín Tello
Sound: Natalia Power Morán
Editing and Post Production: Mijail Vásquez Ruiz, Carlos Marín Tello
Music: “Melodías Kichwas en Pifano” by Joaquín Coquinche; “Cumbia del río” by Los Wemblers; “El encanto de la selva” by Los Wemblers
This film was created as part of the “Amazonian Documentary 2017” workshop by the Amazonian School of Cinema (Escuela de Cine Amazónico).
Text by Adam Andros
Photography by Sophie Pinchetti
In order to inspire and empower our neighbors to diversify their income and sustenance opportunities, the Chaikuni Institute recently collaborated with the prestigious Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (IIAP) to facilitate a workshop focused on rural fish farming. Fish farming is an important economic activity for low-income rural caserios and villages of the Peruvian Amazon, as a complement for or an alternative to the ubiquitous and soil depleting monocultures of yucca or plantain upon which most communities depend.
The main objective of our workshop was to provide a solid grounding in both the theory and practice of rural fish farming, guided by academic experts on the field. It was aimed at both beginning and experienced fish farmers, providing a space where difficulties and challenges could be addressed in a pragmatic way by the experts, while also promoting group cohesion and strengthening the bonds between the villages and The Chaikuni Institute.
The workshop took place in the community of Tres Unidos, a mestizo caserio just outside of the Temple of the Way of Light, with the participation of 13 people from the surrounding villages, two facilitators from the Chaikuni institute (including our wonderful forest engineer Silvia) and 1 principal instructor from the IIAP, the biologist Manuel Soplin.
The main points discussed during the workshop centered around notions of self-sufficiency and income diversity. Fish farms were presented as opportunities to secure a steady source of quality, clean and delicious protein that also provides income opportunities by channeling surplus into the local market. Furthermore, we dedicated time to the presentation of good practices and troubleshooting, anticipating the difficulties new farmers may encounter.
In order to do so, we examined and outlined the desired characteristics of the terrains allocated for the construction of new fish-farms, we established standards for fish density, fish nutrition, hygiene and care and provided solutions to protect the fish from predatory animals. Our intention always is to strike a balance between sustainability, ecology, viability and production.
Our friend Manuel Soplin, biologist for the IIAP, also arranged for our community members to have free access to gamitana (Colossoma macropomum) fish fry, in order to help the new entrepreneurs kick start their enterprises with the right foot. We want to extend our gratitude and appreciation to Manuel and the whole team at the IIAP for their generosity and dedication.
After a fascinating and engaging theoretical presentation by Manuel and Silvia, and a simple and delicious lunch, we went on an excursion to visit the land that had been designated for the construction of our neighbor Mr. Marcelo Tenazoa’s new fish farm. It was an opportunity for Silvia and Manuel to assess the location of the pool, provide insights into the building process and offer some guidelines and recommendations to secure the success of this new project.
After answering questions and clearing doubts, we also visited the fish farms of another neighbor, Mr. Eder Baneo. Our friend Eder has been farming fish for a while, and is currently facing difficulties getting rid of a parasitic plague that appears to be hindering the development of his prized fish. Our friend from the IIAP, Manuel Soplin, kindly collected samples from the pools in order to have the analyzed in the laboratories of the institution.
We are extremely happy for the dedication and commitment of our neighbors in Tres Unidos to sustainable development and abundant living systems. We are looking forward to see how these new projects develop, and are happy, as always, to have our team of trained and willing workers at the disposition of the village in order to implement novel community projects in order to further and strengthen the reciprocal relationships between Chaikuni , the Temple of the Way of Light, and our wider Amazonian family and community.
Photography Michal Chochol & Text Sophie Pinchetti
Cacao might be grown worldwide nowadays, but it is likely here in the lowland rainforests of the Amazon River basins of South America that the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) first originated. Prized amongst Amazonian peoples since time immemorial for its richness in nutrients and deep flavour, it is no wonder that in Latin, cacao translates to “food of the gods”. While cacao became a key export during Colonial times, in recent times, local, community-managed and sustainable cacao production initiatives are showing promise as a source of income and, when combined with other enterprises, part of an alternative to extractive projects.
With this in mind, we recently led our first-ever Cacao Fermentation Workshop in the community of Tres Unidos in the Nanay River, located a stone’s throw away from our Permaculture site. Led by British artisanal chocolate expert Rory Wilkinson, who has been traveling around Latin America giving cacao fermentation technique workshops based upon his work experience with artisanal chocolate factories in Europe, the workshop took place over one week. It was attended by both our permaculture staff and five local people, including two local ladies, Viviana Tenazoa and Griselda Canayo, who run the local stores in Tres Unidos and make cacao delicacies (combining cacao, mani and honey) which are then sold to the guests of our sister organization, The Temple of The Way of Light.
This workshop aimed to test which fermentation techniques would give the best results for the quality of taste of their confections. Typically, Viviana Tenazoa and Griselda Canayo have been fermenting the cacao seeds with the juice, a fairly quick process. During this workshop, Rory presented the classic fermentation technique used by artisanal chocolate makers. This fermentation technique, which involves using a box with holes, allows the juice from the seeds to drain out and promotes the presence of a special type of bacteria which is essential for the cacao to then release a richer taste.
After placing the cacao seeds into the fermentation box, the box was then visited each day in order to monitor the fermentation process and to ensure that the temperature raises to the proper level. In this instance, and perhaps owing to the warm Amazonian climate, the process happened naturally after six days. “It was interesting to learn a new technique to ferment cacao…it seems like something innovative. But I’d like to do some modifications to the technique so that the process lasts 3 days instead of 6”, comments Viviana.
After roasting and grinding the seeds and eventually making small samples, we then led a tasting session with cacao made using Rory’s fermentation process and cacao made using the ladies’ usual fermentation process. Opinions were 50/50 though it was noted that Rory’s fermentation process resulted in a fuller-bodied taste: “The cacao has a better color, flavor and aroma”, affirms Viviana.
In the past, numerous collectives stimulated cacao production around the Nanay River. But today, many of these cacao farms are little used, and many cacao fields are overgrown. By speaking with locals of Tres Unidos, the potential to revive cacao production has become clear, as is the opportunity to find a market for cacao made using the fermentation technique shown during the workshop. Unexpectedly, and as a result of learning the fermentation technique, the idea then arose for two new potential products using the fermentation juice: a unique cacao vinegar and cacao liquor. These special and unusual creations could then be marketed to guests of The Temple of The Way of Light, offering a further economic opportunity to the community.
Photos by Bryan Parras, Liana Lopez, Clement Guerra and Sophie Pinchetti
Text by Sarah Kerremans, Executive Director of The Chaikuni Institute and José Fachín, indigenous advisor to the Five River Basins
Oil block 192, Peru’s most important oil block, extends over different rivers and affects the territories of different indigenous peoples such as the Achuar, Kichwa, Kandoshi, Urarinas, Kukumas. Besides the cultural wealth, this zone hosts a fabulous biodiversity. Oil company activity in this zone started in the Seventies. After over four decades of oil company activity, indigenous peoples who live in the direct and indirect surroundings of oil block 192 (formerly known as oil block 1AB) have been organizing for over a decade to make their voices heard have their demands met.
The last protest mobilization against the oil contamination began on September 1st, 2016. The community of Saramurillo on the Marañón river had a central role in these protests. During the protest, different indigenous peoples from five places in the Amazon basin (some of them living in oil block 192) were united. Together, they managed to strongly defend their territory for 117 days.
Neither the urban society from Loreto, nor the national civil society in general has given these indigenous peoples and the way they defend their territory the support or recognition they deserve. To say that what happened in that part of the Loreto region is terrifying and without any doubt criminal would not fully cover the truth. Indigenous grandfathers, fathers and mothers, as well as ‘city people’ (inhabitants of Iquitos, Lima and Andinos included) and others who worked in oil block 192 can testify as to what what occurred and is still happening in that remote zone.
The large exposure to toxic materials and the disproportionate impact on specific groups of the population has been named ‘slow violence’. It is a type of violence extended in time and space, which causes certain groups and places to become destined to be “sacrificed.”
The slow and systematic violence that has been going on for over more than four decades will be revealed by the designated Truth Commission. This Commission will need to be implemented according to the agreements of Saramurillo, signed by the Peruvian state in December 2016.
It is not only the total lack of support for these groups that is an issue, but even worse, the fact they have been publicly called out as terrorists and blackmailers. Several leaders have been persecuted, and they risk punishment as well. The public opinion seems to be convinced that the demands of these groups have been answered through different types of negotiation, dialogue and agreements. In this way, the ongoing dialogues and signed agreements portrays an image of strengthened or renovated relations between the state and indigenous peoples. But that image is false.
It is necessary to inform the urban society better about the completed processes, so they understand the claims of the indigenous peoples and the permanent conflict in the Loreto region. Unfortunately, the result of more than five years of dialogue between the State and the indigenous peoples from oil block 192 is even more distrust.
Likewise, it is correct to say that the process of ‘prior consultation’ carried out between May and August 2015 contributed to an increase in the distrust. Just because of that it cannot be used as an antecedent, a good practice of intercultural dialogue and respect of indigenous peoples’ right to prior consultation.
A sui generis process, affected by various elements
The process of prior consultation that was held in oil block 192 in 2015 was a very unique process (or sui generis, which is Latin for “unique in its own right”). This has been confirmed by Ex-Vice Minister of Interculturality Patricia Balbuena (from here onwards referred to as Ex-Vice Minister Balbuena): the case of this process of prior consultation of oil block 192 is a unique case, because it was the first one since oil exploitation began and was preceded by social conflicts. Moreover, these conflicts were channeled for four years through a negotiation board chaired by the National Office of Dialogue and Sustainability from the Presidency of the Ministers Council (ONDS-PCM) (Balbuena, 2016). She adds that not only the responsible sector had been summoned, but also others: “In the case of oil block 192, the Peruvian Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) called different sectors to participate in this process, and their representatives signed agreements they committed to within their competency framework. Nevertheless, as pointed out before, this is a ‘sui generis’ case”.
It is therefore necessary to complete and clarify the reading of Ex-Vice Minister Balbuena and we will do this based on our experience and our presence during, before and after the prior consultation process of FECONAT (Federation of Native Communities from the Upper Tiger River), the organization representing Kichwa people since the Nineties.
This process of previous consultation was not only unique because of the aforementioned reasons, but also because it took place in different spaces with different representations – in fact there were different processes – and it ultimately led to the signing of two acts of prior consultation with two different groups. The state decided suddenly that the process was concluded, without any agreements having been signed by the other remaining groups.
The process was also negatively affected by various other elements. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we will now mention some of them. First of all, the impact of the past has not been properly taken into account during the process, secondly, the process was affected by the parallel process of the Commission on Development, thirdly, it was disturbed by the parallel process of the new auctioning of the contract of oil block 192, and finally, the regulations of the process of prior consultation have not been respected.
Affected by the past
The case dealt with a first process of prior consultation from the indigenous peoples living in oil block 192 who had already been affected by oil company activity for more than 45 years. To put it differently: the potential future effects were not discussed, but rather of the already accumulated effects of oil activity in the past. During the process, FECONAT stated that the consultation for oil block 192 must take into account the fact that the area had been declared an environmental and sanitary emergency. Furthermore, the Kichwa people pointed out their great worries about the fact that there was no approved abandonment plan for the impacted zone. This of course caused more uncertainty about their land and villages. They indicated that it would be impossible to talk about future effects without taking into account the lack of solutions for the devastating effects of past oil activity. Accordingly, they demanded a new debate to be organized and talks to be started about the root causes of the accumulated effects, considering that ‘any activity within the context of a new exploration or exploitation would only worsen the already existing impact on our collective rights and our rights to live’ (Act of internal evaluation by the Kichwa people). This process of prior consultation in oil block 192 was thus held in a pre-existing context of years of suffering, contamination, protest and criminalization of the protest (several leaders of the Kichwa del Tigre people are legally prosecuted).
Ex-Vice Minister Balbuena (2016) wonders whether the communities are waiting for an answer from the State, if this would solely depend on extractive activities. Additionally, she wonders which institution can be expected to answer to the claims of other rights which arise from the processes of previous consultation. In the specific case of oil block 192, the claims did not originate from the consultation process, nor were they ever separated from the extractive activities. The claims have existed since much longer, as evidenced by the conflict situation and the negotiations from previous years. In this case, different answers were needed for the respective claims regarding land titling, intercultural education, intercultural health, etc., precisely because of the past impact of years of oil company activity (overlapping of rights, environmental contamination, etc.).
As the analysis did not take into account the previously accumulated effects, we can say that the quality of the analysis is debatable. And finally, it is also safe to assume that the state lost its opportunity to give an adequate response here, which could have been a start to fundamentally address these problems.
Affected by the parallel process of the Commission on Development
This leaves another particular matter to be brought to attention: the fact that there was a close link between the process of prior consultation and the negotiations around previous demands. These negotiations were carried out in the framework of the two Multisectoral Commissions (2012 and 2014). The negotiations dealt with by the last of the two Commissions, the so-called Commission on Development of the four basins, took place at the same time as the process of prior consultation did.
And yet, the demands of the peoples were successfully answered to. In its report (Executive Overview, November 2015), the National Office of Dialogue and Sustainability from the Presidency of the Ministers Council (ONDS-PCM) which chaired the Commission pointed out that “the negotiations in the Commission on Development have played a role in coming up with solutions for various issues, including environmental remediation, land titling, and providing basic services, as well as clean water”. However, in reality, things have been problematic for more than two years now. For instance, the water provided by water plants does not meet the basic standards, environmental remediation has not taken place yet, and the process of land titling hardly advances due to formalities and technical issues.
The fact that the ONDS does not mention any demands that are still unanswered or unfinished plans in its last report certainly stands out. Those plans included compensation for use of land and compensation for damage. The report also contains a faulty statement: “Dealing with these issues has also made it easier to carry out the process of prior consultation in oil block 192 (then called oil block 1-AB), which is operated by Pluspetrol Norte”. This statement is at odds with the facts: not a single contract has been signed during the process of prior consultation in oil block 192 by the groups who did previously sign the Final Act during the negotiations (Act of Lima, March 10th, 2015). That is why these groups resorted to protests, seeing as the state seemed to have decided on its own that the process of prior consultation was a finished matter. Furthermore, it can be gathered from these statements that worries exist that compliance with the Act of Lima interfered with the process of prior consultation. Likewise, it could be concluded that the negotiations of the Commission on Development were an obstacle to the process of prior consultation.
Affected by the parallel process of the auctioning of oil block 192
The process of prior consultation was also heavily affected by the very auctioning of oil block 192 and the parallelism that came with it. Less than four months before the culmination of Pluspetrol Norte S.A.’s contract (on August 29th, 2015), Perupetro S.A., a state-owned agency which takes care of promoting investments into hydrocarbons, decided to sell the concession rights of oil block 192 through public bidding. This occurred on May 14th, 2015. This decision was made before any plan could be approved or any agreement in regards to prior consultation could be set up. By July 2015, the following companies were qualified and authorised to participate in the bidding: Perenco Perú Petroleum Limited Sucursal del Perú, Pluspetrol Norte S.A., and Pacific Stratus Energy del Perú S.A. (the latter will be referred to as simply ‘Pacific’ from this point onward).
But at the end of July 2015, in the middle of negotiations during the process of prior consultation, Perupetro announced that the auctioning would not take place after all. None of the companies had come up with a proposition. Later, around the beginning of August 2015, Perupetro announced that it was considering setting up a contract for the extraction of hydrocarbons in order to continue production in oil block 192. This contract was being negotiated directly and could be set up either temporarily (2 years) or definitively (30 years). At this point, the uncertainties reached a new high point: to what end were the consultations being held? The members of FECONAT (more than 200), who had been negotiating with the state in Iquitos, considered that the ongoing process of prior consultation should be suspended.
Even though talks resumed a few days later in Lima (with far fewer representatives of the Kichwa peoples present), the lack of information in regards to the way that the prior consultation would be carried out caused more uncertainties and unsteadiness. After all, the consultation had been started up with different information in mind, and the possible implications, impacts, and consequences of the new situation (involving the direct award of temporal service contracts for a duration of only two years) were not properly cleared up.
According to the office of legal and procurement support of the Peruvian Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) (Report N°150-2015-MEM/OGJ, September 30th 2015), the process of prior consultation covered both the setting up of a temporal service contract and the previous license or service contract for the extraction of hydrocarbons in oil block 192.
At any rate, it is remarkable that the Vice Ministry of Interculturality (VMI) expressed its opinion before the MEM did. The VMI pointed out that the termination of the 2-year service contract for the extraction of hydrocarbons in oil block 192 would not have to be an a priori reason to start up a new process of prior consultation (Letter number 309-2015-VMI-MC, August 29th, 2015). The VMI was completely aware of the issues that were encountered during the process, especially concerning the lack of information about the way the consultation would take place, as well as the motivations, implications, and consequences.
Affected by a lack of compliance with the regulations
This brings us to a fourth point: it can be debated whether the regulations as described by Law 29785 and its Bylaw were fully respected during this process.
Article 12 of Law 29785 states: “State-owned bodies should provide information to the indigenous peoples or natives and their representatives, from the beginning of the process of prior consultation until the expected end of said process. This information should cover the motivation, impact, and consequences of the respective legislative or administrative measures taken”. Article 12 is relevant because of the aforementioned lack of provided information in regards to the way the consultation would take place, which caused confusion, uncertainties, and unsteadiness.
Article 15 was not complied with either. It stipulates that the agreements bring along certain obligations with them. Groups who signed agreements with the state two years ago are now complaining because the state does not comply with these agreements.
Ex-Vice Minister Balbuena admits that there are issues with the compliance. She mentions the following obstacles: “In a decentralized country, the central sector can only comply with the agreements as much as the regional governments allow it to, as they hold the power to implement them and can come across difficulties in doing so. A concrete example is oil block 192, where agreements concerning health and land titling depend on their respective implementation through local management. The series of formalities that need to be dealt with is complex, and the connection between the national and local level is difficult to maintain, even with the help of resources.” (2016). The question is whether these arguments are enough to justify the lack of compliance with the agreements.
Additionally, the guiding principles of good faith and non-conditioning were not respected (article 4 clause c of the Law, article 3 clause of the Bylaw). In their last report on oil block 192, the state argues that the process of prior consultation of oil block 192 has taken place according to the norms. It states that agreements were signed with one group, and that all possible steps have been taken in order to keep the negotiations with another group going (according to the state, this group impeded the negotiations). This statement shows the inequalities between the various parties during this sort of process, as the state itself also impeded the process at important moments. A moment that stands out is August 14th, 2015, when the topic of direct profit sharing was discussed. All various groups were present (and this was the only time this happened during the whole process) in the House of Peruvian Literature in Lima, together with, among others, Rosa Ortiz, who was the Minister of Energy and Mines at the time. The state proposed to create a social fund, which would be supported through regular contributions made by the contractor. The contributions would equal to 0.75% of the total worth of the fiscalised production. They would be deposited into a private trust. This needed to be included as a clause in the agreement, which is why the Minister declared that the proposal could not be further negotiated – it was take it or leave it. According to her, the negotiations were suffering too much under time pressure (the license of operator Pluspetrol Norte S.A. was about to end), and it was technically feasible to sign the agreement at that moment. One group (including the Kichwa from the Tiger river) accepted the proposal. They felt their right to direct profit sharing was being respected through this deal, regardless of the amount of money that would go into the fund, and that was the most important aspect for them. However, another group had its doubts about the proposed percentage and asked for another day in order to further consult themselves. But the state did not accept this request. A few days later, the process of prior consultation in oil block 192 was concluded, when two acts of prior consultation were signed by two groups. And yet, not all of the groups had signed. It is important to highlight the fact the state had impeded the negotiations by simply creating different groups and different forums for dialogue.
What happens next?
Some groups have already signed agreements about the process of prior consultation, while others have not. In any case, all groups have their reasons to demand that the state respects this process, which has been going on since 2015.
Those who have already signed the agreements should take note of what ex-Vice Minister Balbuena has stated: “At the moment, we cannot foresee the effects of a legal process like this, one that makes it necessary for the terms of the agreements to be complied with. The administrative channel does not provide any clarity about the system and the procedures that would be used either. And yet, the obligations that these agreements bring with them are precisely what makes them so powerful in the context of the process of prior consultation. As a result, the process is different from any other participatory forum” (2016).
In other recent news: two years have passed since a temporary service contract has been signed by both Perupetro and Pacific. However, said contract was only valid for two years. The indigenous peoples of oil block 192 have recently demanded that a new process of prior consultation should be started, seeing as the new contract is set to be valid for 30 years. (Petition from FEDIQUEP to MEM with N°2694268 on 4/4/2017; Addressed to MEM from ORIAP with N° 2684956 on 1/1/2017, unnumbered letter to MEM, Vice Ministry of Interculturality, and Perupetro from FECONAT and ORIAP on 2/8/2017. Note: FEDIQUEP, ORIAP, and the already mentioned FECONAT are all organizations representing indigenous peoples).With all of the aforementioned cases affecting them, there are more than enough arguments for the peoples to demand a new process.
The MEM formulated a response through its department of Directorate of Environmental Energy Affairs (DGAAE). They stated that research will be conducted to determine if the process of prior consultation was carried out properly, but only when the current temporary service contract has ended. (Letter number 1044-2017-MEM/DGAAE on 9/6/2017; Letter number 1045-2017-MEM/DGAAE on 9/6/2017).
But especially in this current situation, there is a lack of transparency surrounding this temporary service contract. In May 2017, during a meeting held in the city of Iquitos, Perupetro informed FECONAT and other organizations of the fact that the service contract with Pacific (which is now called Frontera Energy) would not end on August 30th, 2017 as originally planned. According to Perupetro, only 6 months of their contract have passed, meaning 18 more months will have to be accounted for once the North Peruvian pipeline is operative again (the North Peruvian pipeline is Peru’s largest oil pipeline). Due to the fact that the pipeline has been inoperative since 2016, the months since then were not counted as part of the 24 months described in the contract. Legally speaking, this is put forward by the company as a case of ‘force majeur.’ The company was able to continue production on February 16th, 2017, albeit only in a very limited manner. As a result, Perupetro claims this period could not be counted as part of the 24 months either. This means that the temporary service contract will likely end only in 2019, but this still depends on when the ONP will be active again. (Hill David, 2017) Regardless of the official statements on the matter, it has been noted that the production in oil block 192 has been increasing considerably.
The fact that the ONP is inoperative now is attributable to severe and persistent crude oil leakage in recent years. These cases of leakage have caused (and still cause) damage to the environment and the locals across various locations in the Peruvian Amazon. Oil transport through the North Peruvian pipeline is one of the responsibilities of Petroperú, the state-owned oil company. A Commission of Inquiry was set up by the Congress of the Republic in November 2016, for a period of 120 days. Recently, an additional 90 days have been added to this period. This Commission’s task is to find the causes for the oil leakages and to determine who is responsible for them. Thus, the Commission was aptly named “the Multi-Party Commission of Inquiry to determine the responsibility of Officials, Legal Persons, as well as Public and Private Institutions for the oil leakages that have occurred in the North Peruvian pipeline.”
It is also worth mentioning something about one of the most important agreements signed in Saramurillo in December 2016 between the State and the indigenous peoples. As a matter of fact, this agreement stipulates that the MEM is obligated to contact an independent company in order to perform an international study of the North Peruvian pipeline, as well as the pipelines of oil blocks 8 and 192. During this process, the company will be assisted by a commission of ten representatives from indigenous peoples.
The question is whether the ONP being inoperative really is a case of ‘force majeure’ or not. This is a (translated) definition of ‘force majeure’ or ‘fuerza mayor’ from the Spanish Legal Dictionary:
1. General. A set of circumstances which cannot be foreseen nor avoided and has an effect on the terms of an agreement. Exceptional natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, lightning strikes, etc., are all typical cases of ‘force majeure.’ ‘Force majeure’ cancels out any contractual or extra-contractual liabilities that might otherwise present itself with private agreements or public administration.
“As stated many times before, for a case to be named ‘force majeure’, it not only needs to fit the criteria of being unforeseeable and unavoidable, like a fortuitous event, but its causes also need to be independent from the influence of the actions of the acting parties […]. Consequentially, examination is needed in order to verify if the situation is truly exceptional, unavoidable, or unforeseeable. If this is not the case, the situation is considered foreseeable to a certain extent, enough so that measures could have been adopted in order to have avoided the damaging results, or so that the policy measures for guaranteeing the continuation of all processes could be labelled as inadequate” (Statement by the Supreme Court of Spain, 3.ª, 31-X-2006, Resource. n.º 3952/2002).
2. Public International Law. A set of circumstances which cancels out any illegality an action carried out by a state or international organization that is not subjected to any international obligations may have. This is only the case if the action is caused by uncontrollable forces or unforeseen events, over which the state or organization does not hold any control, and if it ultimately makes it physically impossible to comply with the obligations in the context of the case.”
So, the real question is whether the poor state of the North Peruvian pipeline and the fact that it is inoperative can really be considered as an unforeseeable and unavoidable situation, as something out of the control of the State and other parties. In other words: could the cases of leakage truly not have been foreseen/avoided? That is the current position Perupetro finds itself in. The company struggles to defend itself from this position, but the Commission of Inquiry and the international study of the North Peruvian pipeline will without a doubt grant some clarity as to what caused the leakages and who is responsible for them. A few hypothetical causes include missing parts of the maintenance plans, poor use of the tools for environmental management, cases of corruption, etc.
Another key subject can be mentioned as well: the activities of Petroperú in oil block 192. Because of the rewriting of law N°30357 in October 2015, Perupetro was authorized to enter into a contract with Petroperú (the latter has the power to summon strategic partners). This contract would allow for the exploitation of hydrocarbons in oil block 192 – after evaluation and direct negotiations beforehand, at least.
At the end of July 2017, Perupetro informed Petroperú of the fact that it did not qualify for the contract regarding the operation of oil block 192. A few months earlier, during a meeting in May 2017 with indigenous peoples, Perupetro claimed that if the contract with Petroperú would not be established, oil block 192 would be sold through international competitive bidding to another oil company. Moreover, according to indigenous organisations, Perupetro already hosted on site-events in the communities of oil block 192.
However, at the beginning of August 2017, Petroperú and Frontera Energy formally put forward a proposition to start up a 30-year contract with Perupetro. According to Petroperú, they will not await the closure of the current temporary contract. Was this a violation of the right to prior consultation?
Indigenous peoples of oil block 192 demand more information and more clarity. They arranged an emergency meeting in the region in order to ask the State to clear up the situation. They demand their rights to be respected, and especially their right to prior consultation in the context of this new 30-year contract.
Text by Sophie Pinchetti
Photos & Video by Sophie Pinchetti & Contributors
The right to free, prior and informed consent is one of indigenous peoples’ fundamental collective rights. Yet in the northern Peruvian Amazon rainforest, on indigenous lands in an area known as Block 192 – the country’s largest and most important oil field, this right is now at risk once again.
“In Block 192, violations of our collective rights and the right to life and subsistence are not a possibility, they are a certainty”, tells us Fernando Chuje, indigenous Kichwa leader from the Tiger river and President of indigenous organization FECONAT. Like many other indigenous peoples from river basins across the Loreto region, Chuje has spent his lifetime fighting for his rights and people and enduring nearly half a century of irresponsible oil exploitation.
Back in 2011, Peru vowed its commitment to honour indigenous peoples’ right to prior consent and adopted it as part of its constitution. The law requires governments to seek consent from indigenous people before approving any development plans that might affect them. But what happens when the context is an environment in which so-called development projects have already been abusing indigenous peoples for decades? “The situation in Block 192 is one of accumulated impacts, not just possible impacts”, states Chuje.
Putting the law into practice has been a thorny issue to say the least, with foreign investors and high level interests often being placed above the law and getting the last say. Block 192, which harbours 13 billion dollars of proven reserves of crude oil, is one of the many oil and gas concessions created on ancestral indigenous lands since the Seventies. These concessions cover over 80% of the Peruvian Amazon and most were never consulted with indigenous communities. The alarming environmental and social situation warranted the attention of the United Nations’ Special Rapporteurs on hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, and on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, who both called the government’s efforts to remedy oil spills to be “grossly inadequate”. “Peru must protect and respect the rights of indigenous peoples to their land, territories and resources, as well as to consultation in accordance with relevant international standards,” the experts said, emphasising that the government “has an obligation […] to hold companies accountable for any failure to respect human rights, before re-licensing the land.”
The stakes are now higher than ever. Block 192 was recently swept by a new series of peaceful protests by Achuar and Kichwa people in the face of a lack of transparency about the current 2-year concession and the inevitable future concession for 30 years or more, for which the right to prior consultation should be respected. Another 3 decades of oil exploitation? Not another drop of oil without our say, was the resounding cry from indigenous peoples and their organizations who took direct-actions between the months of August and October 2017 seizing oil facilities and shutting down oil wells, effectively paralyzing oil production. “People have a firm position”, says Wilmer Chavez, indigenous Kichwa leader and President of ORIAP. “In the event that there is no prior consultation, we will definitely shut down oil activity. There will be no oil.”
Currently operating on Block 192 is Canadian oil company Frontera Energy Corporation (formerly known as Pacific Exploration & Production), which was granted a 2-year contract following an 2015 emblematic prior consent process between indigenous organizations of Block 192 and the state. The contract, which was due to expire end of August 2017 was extended to February 2019. The state cited “force majeure”, arguing that the company was unable to use the Northern Peruvian pipeline for 18 months as initially expected, as the pipeline was shut down by order of the Supervisory Agency for Investment in Energy and Mining of Peru (OSINERGMIN) after suffering repeated spills that dumped thousands of oil barrels into Amazonian rivers.
“The state must consult with indigenous peoples with due anticipation, as there is just over a year left until the current operator Frontera concludes the extension of its contract”, emphasizes Jose Fachin, indigenous Kichwa leader and advisor to FECONAT. “We at FECONAT question the state’s argument that due to force majeure the pipeline didn’t operate correctly. Although proper maintenance of the pipeline was recommended by OSINERGMIN, it was never done adequately. So we are faced with a situation of irresponsibility on the part of the company, the ruptures in the pipeline were caused by corrosion and were therefore predictable”, says Jose.
With so much contamination still to be cleaned up, leaking and poorly maintained pipelines in oil lot 192 itself, and too many unfulfilled pledges by the state to provide basic services such as education and health, patience is running out. “We are not opposed to oil drilling, but the state must take into account everything that has happened,” says indigenous Kichwa leader Fernando Chuje. “After four decades, block 192 is in a state of abandon. No concern can be seen from the state, much less from the company.” In the past two years alone of Frontera Energy Corporation’s operating time in Block 192, about 40 oil spills have been documented by the OEFA Supervision Department.
Indigenous organizations from five river basins, allied with both FECONAT and ORIAP from Lot 192 as part of a coalition formed during the landmark Saramurillo protest on the Maranon river last year, express their solidarity with the struggle. “We support the organizations of oil lot 192 and their demand of respect to their prior consent right in lot 192. We declare ourselves indefinitely mobilized, we will not permit more abuses to our collective rights”, states the coalition.
The government of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski initially stated that the 2015 prior consultation process was still valid for a new contract. In late October 2017, due to the ongoing protests, the government affirmed its commitment to respect the prior consultation when there is a Supreme Decree to be adopted for a new long term oil drilling contract. The question is if other mechanisms could be pushed forward to find a new operator to try to bypass the prior consultation legislation and commitment. Indigenous peoples will have to be on the watch.
Racism and Discrimination against the Indigenous Movement in Loreto
Despite being an environmental and social disaster, Block 192 has been hugely profitable for the national economy, and the one of the main drivers of the Loreto region’s economy. This dependence set the scene for a crisis, and sure enough in 2015 the oil price dropped, taking with it the infamous oil royalties the region relied upon, and sending unemployment rates skyrocketing. Amidst worsening poverty over the past two years, public discourses against indigenous peoples have also alarmingly intensified in their racism and aggravated by negative portrayals of indigenous peoples in national and regional media, which regularly blame indigenous peoples of being “extortionists”.
Although the contaminated waters of rivers in Block 192 drain into the waters of Iquitos, few members of urban society regard the issue of the corroded pipeline to be their problem or concern, and solidarity with indigenous communities’ plight is rare. On social media, comments on a Facebook post about protests in Block 192 published by a page dedicated to Iquitos testify to the racist and hateful attitudes of most local people: “Those shitty natives don’t protest because they care for or love their forests, but because they want money. Those shitty bums want everything for free”, says one Facebook user. “They like to make easy money,” says another, “That’s why they cut the pipelines. They don’t realise they’re contaminating our environment, our rivers. These natives are sons of bitches, it’s been years that I want to exterminate them”.
Amazonian indigenous organizations from five river basins and indigenous student organization OEPIAP mobilized last month outside a local radio station to denounce discriminatory broadcasts insulting indigenous peoples. “This is a clear strategy to discredit the indigenous movement”, say the organizations. “Indigenous peoples are on the frontline protecting the water, rivers and forests, and demanding respect of their rights after over 40 years of oil contamination on their ancestral territories. Justice is necessary for the systematic violations of individual and collective rights of the rainforest’s peoples and nature itself”, declare the organizations.
Consultation, Yes! Abuses, NO! FECONAT’s New Publication
With the aim to inform indigenous communities in the Tiger River and the Peruvian public on the current situation in Block 192, we recently launched with our indigenous ally and partner FECONAT a publication entitled “Consultation, Yes! Abuses, NO!”, featuring photographs by The Guardian’s David Hill. The publication notably highlights a list of numerous commitments made to Kichwa communities between 2015 and 2017 by various government entities which have not been fulfilled. The publication has been distributed to 26 communities along the Tiger river and is also available to read online (in Spanish).
Text by Sarah Kerremans & José Fachín, indigenous advisor
Photographs from the Chaikuni Institute & FECONAT Archive
On June 12 2017, the selection process for the Public and International Tender N°01-2017-FONAM for consultancy services to elaborate Rehabilitation Plans for 32 sites impacted by hydrocarbon activities in the basins of the Pastaza, Tigre and Corrientes rivers was nullified. None of the companies that presented themselves (Consorcio Tema Litoclean, J.Cesar Ingenieros & Consultores S.A.C. y Hidrogeocol-Ecuador CIA LTDA, Consorcio Ecodes Varichem, Seacrest Group Peru-NSF Envirolab S.A.C. , Domus Consultoria Ambiental) were deemed qualified enough to initiate the important work of designing rehabilitation plans for effective environmental remediation in these Amazonian river basins so heavily impacted by oil activities.
The tender opened on April 20 and was meant to lead to the selection of a company capable of designing these remediation plans in no more than 270 days from the date of engagement. The plans ought to describe the characteristics of the 32 prioritized impacted sites, evaluate health and environmental risks, and propose rehabilitation methods with a calculation of their costs. The elaboration of the rehabilitation plans is prior to the start of the remediation activities. However, the government promised to initiate remediation activities in 2017. With the public tender currently nullified, responding to one of the most pressing demands of the communities in the river basins of Loreto is once again being delayed. Moreover, there is the just worry that the government may now lower the minimum requirements for the public tender process, enabling a less adequate company to be signed on to carry out this highly specialized work as a consequence.
In addition, what will happen to other contaminated sites, which are not included in clean-up plans? In oil concession 192 alone, there are approximately 2 000 impacted sites. Will petroleum be aggressively exploited in lot 192 in order to make the North-Peruvian Oil Pipeline (ONP) profitable and increase state revenues from royalties, which will lead to a pretended social agreement between the communities and the state? Clearly, cleaning up 32 sites will neither resolve the pending demands nor the latent social unrest.
Proposal of aggressive petroleum extraction in Loreto
On May 19th this year, the government Commission for Amazonian, Andean, and Afro-Peruvian Peoples, Environment and Ecology, led by congresswoman Maria Elena Foronda, summoned a decentralized public hearing in Iquitos by request of the indigenous organizations affected by petroleum activity in Loreto. Besides debating the urgency and necessity to approve the proposed indigenous and local environmental monitoring law, the commission presented the advances of the Investigation Commission into the oil spills of the North-Peruvian oil pipeline (ONP). Congressman Cesar Villanueva, who is heading the Commission, stated that they had been able to identify two major problems: neglect of the maintenance of the pipeline and corruption. For the ONP’s future viability, strong investment is needed. For this reason, Villanueva presented two options; either the pipeline is left in its current state and no investment is made, or one works towards increased oil productivity, so that transport costs are reduced (currently approx. 10 USD/barrel). According to the congressional representative, there would need to be an explosive increase in production in order to save the ONP. “Under a new social agreement between the state and the communities in the river basins, the latter could accept this new model”, Villanueva stated during the hearing.
Doesn’t effectively cleaning up oil spills form a part of a credible social agreement?
The authorities know well that indigenous peoples living within the area of influence of the historic petroleum circuit (Lot 192, Lot 8, and along the ONP) have been putting an effective and complete remediation of their contaminated territories on the agenda for many years now. Furthermore, when the contract of Pluspetrol Norte SA for oil lot 192 expired in August 2015 and a consultation process for the new licensing of lot 192 was going to be initiated, different indigenous organizations demanded five minimal conditions which should be complied with before any kind of consultation process should start. Among these conditions is the remediation of their territories. To describe the magnitude of the environmental damage caused by over four decades of oil activity in Loreto lies beyond the scope of this article – but just as an indicator: approximately 2 000 contaminated sites exist in lot 192 alone, according to the records of Peru’s Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement (OEFA) and the former operating oil company Pluspetrol. After the oil spills in Cuninico and San Pedro in 2014, the situation along the North-Peruvian pipeline became even worse in the past two years, with over a dozen spills recorded in 2016 causing further destruction and suffering. The local population repeatedly denounced the ineffectiveness of the remediation methods implemented. Generally speaking, after clean-up activities were declared finished, crude oil would reappear if the earth was stirred up. The “remediated” soil is not suitable for planting any crop, and during flooding in the rainy season, crude oil would rise to the surface.
As a result of the demands of the indigenous peoples of the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes and Marañón River basins, the “law which creates the contingency fund for environmental remediation” (Ley N° 30321) was approved in May 2015. The Contingency Fund (henceforth called “the Fund”) was created to finance environmental remediation activities for contaminated sites in Northern Loreto – the sad legacy of over four decades of hydrocarbon exploitation. The contaminated sites have generated major risks to health and the environment, and deserve the state’s immediate attention and prioritization. As seed funding for remediation activities in the geographic area of the four affected Amazonian river basins, 50 million Peruvian soles were transferred to the Fund with 30 million soles coming from the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MINEM) and 20 million soles from the OEFA. The fund is managed by the National Fund for the Environment (FONAM) and administered by a board consisting of nine representatives, including four indigenous representatives from the respective river basins. According to the legal regulation DS N° 039-2016-EM, those four indigenous representatives come from four indigenous organizations (namely FEDIQUEP, FECONAT, ACODECOSPAT and FECONACO) which participated in the Multi-sectorial Commission that was implemented according to the Supreme Resolution Nº 119-2014-PCM. The regulation was approved at the end of 2016; nearly two years after the publication of the law. Its approval was fast tracked thanks to a massive protest of indigenous peoples from five river basins, all of which have been affected by oil activity. They were united in protest in the native community of Saramuro/Saramurillo from September to December 2016 (see the Saramurillo agreement: “The government commits to approving the Regulation of the Law of the Contingency Fund for Environmental Remediation no later than January 15th, 2017”).
One of the seven points brought forth by indigenous organizations in Saramurillo (there are about 20 organizations in the area of the historic petroleum circuit) was the demand for an effective remediation. One of the solutions to this demand, as proposed by the delegates of the state during the intercultural political dialogue in Saramurillo, was to implement this through the Contingency Fund of the FONAM. As a result, the following additional agreements were reached in Saramurillo regarding the functioning of the Fund:
• The representatives of the government commit to push for a legislative initiative in order to modify the Law 30321, as soon as possible, with the goal to include a representative from the Chambira River basin in the Fund.
• From this day on, half of the meetings of the Administering Board of the Fund shall be decentralized [i.e. not be held in Lima but in the provinces]. The organizations will appoint their representative per river basin. His/her name will be communicated to the FONAM. Representation per river basin can rotate. This mechanism should be integrated in the regulation of the Law 30321. FONAM shall facilitate the implementation of the meetings.
The Fund was created over two years ago: what has been done?
Two years have passed since the Fund was created through Law 30321. Different opinions exist with regards to these past two years. From a legal-technical viewpoint, one could argue that the two years served to (i) take a decision about the equal distribution of the funds per river basin (12.5 million soles each); (ii) for the board to publish a list of over 32 prioritized contaminated sites (this list is different from the list initially proposed by OEFA); (iii) to elaborate important instruments (the regulation of the law, and amongst others, an environmental management instrument for application, and terms of reference); and (iv) to assure indigenous participation in the decisions to be taken and the remediation work to be carried out. In an area that has been dependent upon on the oil industry for 45 years, the demand for employment from the communities and the communal businesses that some have formed seems to be a constant in these times of low oil productivity. In other words, employment is an important part of the indigenous agendas.
The perseverance and efforts of many who participated in the different meetings and spaces of the Fund during those two years should be recognized and admired. However, it is worth evaluating the Fund’s two years of existence from a more political perspective, in the context of the defense of fundamental human rights.
Is technification deviating attention from a process that is fundamentally about the defense of basic human rights?
The stakeholders involved in the Fund – the board, technical groups – have met countless times over the last two years. Both the number of meetings and the “unexpected agenda” to solve gaps in the legal normative (due to the diffuse definition and/or the interpretation of the law) have nurtured a different viewpoint, equally valid. It is legitimate to argue that the meetings have served to keep essentially political actors busy in a space which is exclusively legal-technical during decisive moments (such as during the prior consultation process of the oil lot 192, the withdrawal of Pluspetrol from lot 192, or the defense measure in Saramurillo). Put differently, a technical dialogue with indigenous organizations may serve other ends, when in reality what was needed is strong political will from different sectors of the state.
It is not just a few isolated, discontent or misinformed communities who questioned the slow process and the seemingly infinite number of meetings. FECONAT, the long-standing organization from the Tiger River representing 25 indigenous Kichwa communities which has legally been part of the administrative board of the Fund from its beginning, has questioned this “technification” on several occasions as well as its distancing from the fundamental demands of indigenous peoples. Moreover, in July 2015, during the prior consultation process, FECONAT suspended its participation in the meetings in FONAM in order to focus on the important consultation process underway. They did the same from September to December 2016 during the defense measure in Saramurillo, in which the organization participated actively. A letter from FECONAT to the FONAM on September 27 2016 reads:
“… through this letter we express the following: For 27 days now, there has been an indigenous protest on the Marañon River organized by peoples of the river basins, as a consequence of years and years of contamination and suffering due to the oil activity, and on the other hand few concrete results. It is illegitimate to be dialoguing in Lima while the peoples are demanding immediate remediation. FECONAT is part of this legitimate protest and demands that adequate measures be taken in this matter in order to solve the fundamental demands for all of us who are living in the affected river basins…”
In order to facilitate participation in the technical meetings, FECONAT suggested several times that meetings be held in Iquitos. At the end of 2015, when four communities from the upper Tigre River led by the former president of FECONAT decided to form a new organization (OPIKAPFE) and demanded to participate in the meetings of the Fund, FECONAT immediately displayed positive intentions to resolve the problem to the benefits of the whole river basin. The minutes of the second session of the board, held in Iquitos on December 16 2016, confirms this. It was decided that OPIKAPFE will be participating in the meetings actively but without the right to vote due to the legality issue of the Fund’s administration. FECONAT even suggested to the board that OPIKAPFE should be included since they are all relatives belonging to the same affected people. Consequently, they accepted that OPIKAPFE participates in the recently formed selection committee for the company to be contracted for elaborating the remediation plans.
During the debates in Saramurillo, FECONAT as well as other representatives from organizations that are not yet legally a part of the Fund, strongly questioned its functioning. Many called it a typical example of what happens in a lot of the spaces that the Peruvian State creates for dialoguing: countless meetings, few tangible results, technification of the debates, decisions are taken by somewhat closed groups, and meetings are often held in the capital far away from community assemblies. Furthermore, they also questioned the representations within the Fund’s administrative board.
Is the state obliged to include everyone affected in its participation mechanism?
The Peruvian state – one may claim as an intentional strategy – tends to excessively put emphasis on the procedures (due process) of the different spaces of dialogue, in such a way that these spaces convert themselves into closed or exclusive spaces. It is difficult for the indigenous organizations and leaders not to adopt the same idea. The state and/or other actors use a language of legality and legitimacy, which is attractive and somewhat validates the work and effort of some. When other representations appear, indigenous peoples also start to use a language of legality and legitimacy (e.g. they are not part of the law, they were only just founded, they just recently started to care, their agenda is not legitimate) which distracts from the essential issues at stake. In other words, the indigenous peoples loose themselves in discussions on procedures and due process, often forgetting their own customs and traditions of decision-making. In some occasions, as in the case of the Contingency Fund, technical groups are formed, such as to support the administrative board. Interlocutors in the form of advisors/professionals – the large majority of them being non-indigenous individuals, occupy these spaces. Not all organizations manage to find the kind of financial or technical support to be duly represented in these arenas. Additionally, some NGOs or professionals, be it out of ignorance or personal interest, adopt the same discourse about legitimacy (which is far beyond their role). This generates inequalities regarding participation and access to information, and consequently in decision-making processes. In some cases, it even leads to an appropriation of the issues by the interlocutors. For the above reasons, the participants of the protest in Saramurillo firmly rejected what they call the path of eternal technical debates. Instead, they proposed an intercultural debate directly between indigenous leaders, without interlocutors.
Furthermore, the defense movement in Saramurillo strongly questioned the representation within the Fund for the Marañon River basin, since there are many different indigenous organizations along this river. (“From what we hear, the Marañon River is just one person. But there are a lot of indigenous organizations in the Marañon. We cannot permit that a few individuals decide over our future and that of our river basins.” – Miguel Manihuari, President of AIDECOS during the debate in Saramurillo). The fact that not everyone affected was invited by the state to participate within the ambit of the law was also strongly questioned by representatives from the other river basins. Contamination is not a stable element. It cannot be (mis)used to foster competition between organizations that represent the same people, affected by the same cause. (“The dialogue roundtable [of the Four River Basins] wasn’t representing four river basins. It represented four organizations”, Daniel Saboya, president of FEPIAURC, during the debate in Saramurillo). Moreover, the organizations have their own internal dynamics, which are subject to a constant process of change. For the same reasons the debate in Saramurillo questioned the method applied by the board to select the 32 prioritized impacted sites. Respecting the law, intervention should be prioritized according to variables such as major health and environmental risks, and not on the basis of other possible variables (e.g. whether or not they are part of the geographic area of one or another organization, in order to later argue that this organization has more prioritized sites).
With the aim of contributing to a solution regarding the representation issue, the organizations gathered in Saramurillo agreed that the one representative per river basin shall be elected by the river basins (and not by any single organization), according to the customs and traditions of the peoples. Moreover, it was agreed that half of the sessions should be decentralized, and either be held in Iquitos or in the communities, in order to strengthen indigenous participation and the intercultural dialogue, without interlocutors from Lima.
Nonetheless, when approving the regulation of the law 30321 on December 26 2016, the state didn’t integrate any of the agreements from Saramurillo. By doing so, and only a few days after the agreements in Saramurillo were signed, FONAM lost the opportunity to strengthen and enrich its participation mechanisms and include all the affected communities from the river basins. There was a real hope that this new government would be different, with a genuine will to establish a new social agreement between the state and the indigenous peoples. For this reason, the indigenous peoples continue to demand the fulfillment of the agreements reached in Saramurillo and the modification of the law and the regulation. During their last visit to the capital, in a meeting with the different sectors on June 15 2017, the indigenous leaders demanded that FONAM urgently organizes a decentralized meeting inviting all the affected and responsible parties.
Text by Sarah Kerremans & Sophie Pinchetti
Photography by Sophie Pinchetti
Could the recent mobilization held at Saramurillo in the Northern Peruvian Amazon be remembered as the one that finally brought much needed justice to indigenous peoples affected by over 40 years of irresponsible oil activity? In mid-December 2016, 31 agreements were signed between Peruvian government officials and indigenous peoples. Will things be different this time, will the accords be complied with? In the wake of too many state promises left unfulfilled and the constant oil spills on their territories, hopes are nevertheless high for the thousands of native peoples who united during 117 days in the native community of Saramurillo to demand respect for their rights and to call for an end to the oil destruction of the Peruvian Amazon.
Coming from five river basins of the Marañón, Corrientes, Pastaza, Tigre and Chambira, this broad coalition at Saramurillo was formed by different Amazonian peoples such as the Kukama, Urarinas, Achuar, Kichwa and Quechua. Approximately 3,000 people were present at the peak of the protest. All have suffered the impacts of pollution on their territories owing to Peru’s two oldest Amazonian oil fields and pipeline.
The agreements concluded this three-and-a-half-month long protest, which began on September 1st 2016. Indigenous peoples sustained a blockade of a section of the Marañón river as a means to press for their demands until November 29th. After several failed attempts at dialogue, and instead of militarizing the conflict, the Peruvian government responded this time by renewing the dialogue on site in Saramurillo with a state commission headed consecutively by Minister of Justice & Human Rights Marisol Pérez Tello, Minister of Energy & Mining Gonzalo Tamayo, and Minister of Production Bruno Giuffra in December 2016. “The main problem here is employment,” affirmed Peru’s Minister of Energy & Mining, “tell me, indigenous leaders, who amongst you haven’t been working for the oil companies?” Hundreds of people gathered at the traditionally built community centre stared at him in silence. Our Executive Director and legal counsellor to the indigenous people Sarah Kerremans testifies: “I almost fell off my chair when hearing the Minister’s opening words to hundreds of indigenous fathers and mothers with exhausted yet hopeful hearts and minds after 117 days of pacific protest. One Achuar leader stood up to break the silence, he was very gentle when he spoke: “We know you duty holders from Lima have difficulties to understand what we really mean, but don’t worry, we will not get tired of explaining our legitimate demands, not even if we have to do so for several days, over and over again. It will necessarily be an intercultural debate”. It was a strong statement that set out the rules for this long debate, which resulted in 31 signed agreements.”
The Peruvian region of Loreto – a micro Venezuela, whose local economy has depended upon oil for the past 4 decades, entered a severe economic crisis in 2015 when the international oil price per barrel dropped. Yet the indigenous peoples’ first demands at Saramurillo were not about jobs. Sarah, a fundamental rights specialist who has been involved in numerous dialogues, round tables and prior consultation processes between indigenous peoples and the Peruvian state over the last three years, sees a trend: “This is part of a broader strategy. First of all, the Peruvian state has not been a guarantor for fundamental rights in Loreto for a long time. When indigenous peoples claim their rights after four decades of oil activity on their ancestral lands – fundamental rights such as the right to clean water, their territories and the right to life itself, they are not listened to. There seems to be a tendency to use the idea of jobs creation, or even the so called “empresas comunales” to meet these demands. This might work for a while and does give the impression of direct satisfaction and immediate attention in places where there was little attention before. But after a while, community members see that the problem remains the same over the long term. So one of the main issues put on the table in Saramurillo was not about employment, but rather the immediate and effective remediation of the thousands of contaminated sites in oil lot 192 (operator: Pacific Stratus Energy, former operator Pluspetrol), oil lot 8 (current operator: PlusPetrol) and along the 800 km long pipelines (operator: Petroperu) which cross the Amazon.”
Important Agreements for the Past, Present & Future
The process that allowed the agreements was not simple nor was it free of tensions. The debate became a space where indigenous democracy and republican democracy sought to understand each other in order to restore trust and seek justice for the demands. Unlike the usual technical roundtables, the methodology insisted upon by indigenous peoples at Saramurillo was for an intercultural political debate in the presence of a Minister of the state.
The Saramurillo accords notably call for the effective remediation of contaminated sites to begin in 2017. Alongside of this, agreements include an independent inspection of the Northern Peruvian Pipeline in the first half of 2017, as well as other pipelines that cross Blocks 192 and 8, with the participation of indigenous representatives.
“With regards to the pipeline in the Marañon river, we are speaking of an emergency: the rainy season is now underway and the crude from over 12 oil spills last year alone will uncontrollably spread and contaminate the drinking water of the Marañon river, the city of Iquitos, and the Amazon further downriver. The goal of the current government: to continue to exploit oil in the Amazon as soon as possible, despite the corrosion of the old pipelines and despite the many social and environmental problems. So, is that still viable? We hear a new language in the discourse of indigenous leaders in this part of the Amazon and this led to an important agreement to implement a parliamentary commission to discuss this”, comments our Executive Director Sarah Kerremans.
Under the Saramurillo accords, a community environmental monitoring law and nationwide discussions on Peru’s energy future, in particular with regards to the Amazon region, could see the day through the introduction of a bill by the the Congressional Commission on Andean and Amazonian Peoples, Afro-Peruvians, the Environment and Ecology.
“Oil has not served to improve our Loreto region”, observes Kichwa advisor Jose Fachin. “The economy of indigenous peoples cannot be dependent upon oil activity, neither can Loreto. We want to potentiate our own resources, train ourselves and diversify local economy, and not suffer from pollution. That is why we have to work on an investment plan so that people can improve their quality of life without oil activity, which has been imposed upon us”. In this regard, specific agreements were reached regarding health, education, sanitation, electrification, infrastructure, access to social programs, and a special development plan for various income-producing projects in the communities as compensation for damages. The first stage of this development plan was initiated during a dialogue with a Multisectorial Commission in January 2017, and is due to present its first progress report in June 2017.
Accords also aim to to investigate the impacts of the four-plus decades of oil operations in Blocks 192 and 8 through the establishment of a Truth Commission involving the government, indigenous organizations and oil companies in order to identify the improvements that can be made.
Not everything was agreements: issues such as land titling in protected areas and payments for easements related to the Petroperú pipeline went unresolved. But even so, through the implementation of the Saramurillo accords, indigenous peoples hope to see concrete results in the immediate, mid and long term since there is a commitment of five years with the current government.
More Unity, More Strength
In the face of too many previous agreements left unfulfilled, more unity is the best strategy forward, affirm the indigenous federations united in Saramurillo. Two months on from the signing of the accords, they continue to stand together, ready and vigilant as to the compliance of the accords made by this new government, which “wants do things differently and wants to fulfil” in the words of Peru’s Prime Minister Fernando Zavala during his visit to Saramurillo on December 19th 2016 to pledge government support for the accords.
Whether there was sunshine or rain, the strategic alliance of these indigenous federations brought together native Amazonian peoples from different languages and ethnicities who ate, slept, laughed, cried, stood strong and hoped side by side. A new horizon, cultural pride and dignity rose through this struggle for territorial defence and their collective and individual rights. “Today, indigenous peoples have united like never before”, declares Shipibo leader and President of ACONAKKU James Rodriguez Acho. “This unity is going to pervade”, insists Achuar leader & President of FEPIAURC Daniel Saboya Mayanchi, “because it is not just the unity of federations or river basins, it is the unity of communities and community members who are at the essence and giving this credibility”.
While the mobilization at Saramurillo on the ground may have come to a close for now, the indigenous unity built during this landmark mobilization is still growing in strengths. This month, more indigenous organizations joined in the platform of the five river basins. The coalition now includes 15 indigenous organizations, each one representing villages affected by oil activity in the Peruvian Amazon. Together, these organizations are uniting to show that their struggle for the land, water and life itself continues.
Watch our short film on the story of Saramurillo, sharing the voices of indigenous peoples united in this struggle. Also available in Spanish language.
JAMES RODRÍGUEZ ACHO
Shipibo leader & President of ACONAKKU
“Indigenous peoples today have united like never before. It is a privilege to be defending our rights and this is why we have mobilized. We are from different ethnicities, speaking different languages. We are defending the dignity and physical integrity of life for our children and future.”
YOLANDA NARO GREFFA
“Water is life. That is why we look after our water, so that it doesn’t get contaminated. But then the companies contaminated our rivers and forests, and brought so many illnesses. The lowland rainforest of Peru has been declared the lungs of our world. But they have deteriorated it, we are losing it. If we fight to preserve it, yes it will be the lungs, yes, it will continue to be so. Now if the state doesn’t respond to us, many things are going to happen. Careful.”
JAIRO SANDI MAYANCHI
Leader of Saramuro, passed away two months after the signing of the agreements
“Where have the 40 years of the oil exploitation gone? Nothing has improved. We don’t have anything that serves us, we are in extreme poverty. If the people are united today, it is not because they want money. It is to demand our just right so that the government listens to us, because no one listens to us. If you don’t protest and don’t speak up, no one listens.”
JULIA CHUJE RUIZ
Kichwa member of FECONAT
“I remember as a child seeing how my family and people lived before. They lived a peaceful life. We ate fish and meat, healthy food – not like it is now. Now we eat fish that is contaminated with oil. The companies are truly criminal because so many have died. These companies have done so much harm. We, indigenous peoples, united for this struggle in Saramurillo. We will see how things move forward now.”
CÉSAR LLERENA RIOJA
Kukama leader & President of ACONAKU
“For the first time in history, the government and the state representatives arrived to our community to see our reality. We ask all the peoples to be united. Whether there is sunshine or rain, whether we have eaten or not, we are fighting to defend the rights of our lands, our rivers and our forests.”
DANIEL SABOYA MAYANCHI
Achuar Leader & President of FEPIAURC
“We cannot accept anymore abuse, anymore destruction. All that we want and ask now is respect from the companies and the state. We, as indigenous peoples, have always respected. But what we have never received is respect. The concrete and positive result that we are hoping for will be seen in the long term. The communities have lost trust in the state because of all the prior agreements which have not been implemented. But now we are building together, once again familiarizing ourselves with each other and trusting – today more than ever, because things can’t be postponed.”
MIGUEL MANIHUARI TAMANI
Kukama leader & President of AIDECOS
“The state has appropriated the territories in which we live, our ancestral indigenous territories which belongs to us and which are our home. We don’t want to have to be asking things to to the state that we shouldn’t have to be asking. We demand our just right that was taken from us by oil. If there is no solution and acceptance of these demands that we are making, we will not allow a single barrel or gallon of oil to leave our territories.”
MIGUEL ZUÑIGA CAREAJANO
Achuar leader, ORIAP (pictured right)
“We want the state to understand us. That is the demand. Why? People died because of the contamination of water, food, what people drink and eat. Now plants – we plant them but they do not grow. That’s why we want remediation, so that our soil gets cleaned. What has begun here in Saramurillo is not finished – it will continue.”
Photography & Text by Sophie Pinchetti
On an early Sunday morning in the Peruvian Amazon, a 30-strong convoy of bicycles mounted by Amazonian indigenous students, our Intercultural Education Sui Sui program and groups of local cyclists took the motorbike-filled streets of Iquitos by surprise. Wearing t-shirts with the slogan “Conduce Tus Sueños” (“Drive your Dreams”), their cycle announced the launch of a new exciting pilot project which we have created in partnership with OEPIAP, a local indigenous student organization representing over 120 indigenous youth from 15 Amazonian peoples.
“Conduce Tus Sueños” is a project that seeks to promote the use of bicycles as alternative and ecological transportation for the indigenous youth. Leaving their remote communities to come to Iquitos with the dream of accessing higher education and becoming professionals, these young people face multiple challenges: a key difficulty is the lack of economic resources to meet their local transportation costs. Many of the students walk several hours daily to reach their respective educational institutions. “The bicycles were the students’ idea because of their need to travel around the city”, comments Stefan Kistler, Coordinator of our Intercultural Education Program Sui Sui, which provides vital support and monitoring to the indigenous youth of OEPIAP in order to improve their living and studying conditions. “Before there were a few students who would travel around by bike – and so we had the idea of starting a project with bicycles”.
With smiles all around, the launch event saw indigenous youth cycling at the front of the convoy joined by three local cycling collectives, including “La Manchita”, “Locos por la Selva”, and “El Grupo Chelo”, who regularly gather to cycle around the city or around the jungle. From the centre of Iquitos, the convoy cycled to Pampa Chica, the temporary base of indigenous student organization OEPIAP, where the initially procured 10 bicycles will be stored and managed by the students for their travel. “I think everyone is going to enjoy them and use them as transport. I had a beautiful time cycling with the bike”, affirms Orfelinda, an Awajun indigenous student from the Amazonas region. “It is a great idea for us because it is going to help us travel to our classes. Little by little, we will get used to the dangers and rules of transport. I really like the bikes, and I hope that there will be more as time goes on for our comrades here and those in the future”, told us Joel Impi, another Awajun student.
The indigenous students, in alliance with the local cycling collectives, also hope that the project will lead as an example for ecological alternatives and better living in the bustling city of Iquitos where a mad cacophony of sputtering motorbike engines can be found at every street corner. “This is a new initiative, a new focus”, declared Elisvan, Vice-President of OEPIAP and an indigenous Kichwa student from the Putumayo river. “The city is increasingly polluted – from noise pollution but also from the toxic gases emitted by motorised vehicles. This is a good and adequate alternative and it is well adapted to our environment. We also want to send a message to the authorities so that they implement adequate cycling lanes like they have in Lima, for example.”
Upon arrival to Pampa Chica, the students and our Sui Sui program welcomed the press, cycling collectives and Patricia Urquizo, head of the sports department of the municipality of Maynas, with some delicious juanes (a classic Amazonian dish with spiced rice and chicken wrapped in a leaf) and an introduction to OEPIAP and the pilot project. OEPIAP´s Vice-President Elisvan Greffa took the opportunity to voice the struggles indigenous youth face in the Peruvian Amazon. “We have always fought to claim our rights like that of higher education and intercultural education. In the authorities’ speeches, they talk about intercultural education, but this is not put into practice. It just stays as a discourse”, Elisvan told the audience. “As indigenous students, our aim is to prepare ourselves academically and thus contribute to our people, to our society, to contribute to the change that we want and that we are all looking for. When people organize, things can be achieved. This is our strength”.
Just before midday, we left Pampa Chica, while the students’ smiles and laughter continued as they cycled around their grounds on their new rides, the air full of promise and hope for the road ahead.
Are you excited as us about the bicycles for the indigenous students? We need your help! As of now, there are only 10 bicycles for over 120 students – it’s a start but it’s not enough. You can donate directly to buy more bicycles through our campaign on the Global Giving platform, as part of our project to build an indigenous student centre for the indigenous youth in order to improve their studying and living conditions.