Amazonian indigenous leaders speak out on the critical situation in Peru’s most prolific oil block, 192. Featuring Kichwa leader and President of FECONAT, Fernando Chuje Ruiz from the Tiger river, and Kichwa leader and President of ORIAP, Wilmer Chavez from the Pastaza river.
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 this area known as Block 192 – the country’s largest and most important oil field, this right is now at risk once again.
Direction, Videography & Editing: Sophie Pinchetti
Additional Footage by Silviu Dimiutrache & Wilmer Chavez (ORIAP)
A Video by The Chaikuni Institute
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, the first Kichwa woman from Alto Putumayo (Peruvian Amazon) to finish her higher education. Leaving her far away community in the Putumayo river to come to the city of Iquitos and pursue her dream of higher education has not been easy and Floida has faced many obstacles an indigenous woman taking on a different path than expected of her. Floida is an inspiring story of struggle and strength which goes on as she is now confronted with new challenges and possibilities.
Floida is an inspiring story of struggle and strength which goes on as she is now confronted with new challenges and possibilities.
A video by Sandra Soto (from the Sui Sui Program – Intercultural Education of the Chaikuni Institute) and Escuela de Cine Amazónico
The Sui Sui Program of the Chaikuni Institute has as its primary objective to help indigenous youth access university-level studies, and we are very happy to see the success of Floida after having accompanied her through the years.
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.
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 & 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.
Text & Photos by Sophie Pinchetti
A unique urban garden was recently inaugurated on the grounds of indigenous student organization OEPIAP on the outskirts of Iquitos city in the Peruvian Amazon. With the likes of lemongrass, ginger and papaya now in the ground, this new urban garden located alongside the students’ kitchen and main maloca (traditional Amazonian community house) is the fruit of our first ever Permaculture workshop with the indigenous students, as part of our Intercultural Education program called Sui Sui.
Representing over 120 indigenous students from over 15 Amazonian peoples, OEPIAP, with whom we partner, has long been fighting to secure land to build a permanent student centre for indigenous students who come to Iquitos to pursue higher education. The process of land titling is still under negotiation with the regional government, and in the meantime the students continue to reside in temporary housing at the location in Pampa Chica, known as “Bungalows”, under difficult conditions. Up until now, there has never been any form of garden or cultivation on these lands. With the aim to improve students’ current living condition and wellness in the short and medium term, Chaikuni is now offering its expertise in Permaculture. The setup of two small urban kitchen gardens, which will be maintained by the students themselves, is a first start. A composting and simple wastewater treatment system are intended to follow.
Led by Chaikuni’s Permaculture Coordinator & Agroforestry Engineer Silvia, a core group of five indigenous students of OEPIAP participated in this workshop alongside members of Chaikuni’s staff. After having prepared the earth following Silvia’s instructions, the students sowed plants that can be used as ingredients for cooking in order to improve their diet (such as sage, basil, ginger, pine nuts, coriander, and sweet pepper) and medicinal plants traditionally used to to help cure different ailments, such as lemongrass.
Along with the students, we are excited to see how these urban kitchen gardens develop over the course of our next workshops – the next Permaculture workshop will be focused on composting as a means to improving soil quality.
Want to help improve the studying and living conditions of Amazonian indigenous students in Iquitos? We are currently running our crowdfunding campaign to Build An Indigenous Student Centre on the Global Giving platform. To donate & find out more, visit our project page.