Text by Sophie Pinchetti; Photos by Sophie Pinchetti, Alex Kornhuber and Courtesy of the community of Cuninico
Indigenous peoples affected by oil activity in the northern Peruvian Amazon have yet again raised their voices and demands for justice in another important hearing with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), this time focused on the case of the right to water in the indigenous communities of Cuninico and Vista Alegre. These two communities, representative of the grave crisis faced by many other communities from river basins affected by over 40 years of oil exploitation and the constant oil spills from Peru’s rusty and leaking North Peruvian pipeline, continue to have their access to safe drinking water systematically violated.
“For how many more years are we going to continue drinking this contaminated water?”, asked indigenous leader Watson Trujillo Acosta from Cuninico, a small community of the Kukama-Kukamiria people struck by a 2 500 barrel-oil spill on their territory in 2014 owing to a rupture in the North Peruvian pipeline operated by state company Petroperu S.A., and has been struggling for justice ever since, pleading for access to clean drinking water and basic medical attention. Sitting alongside him was indigenous Kichwa leader Llerson Fachin Tuituy from Vista Alegre in the Tigre river, a community which now counts three cemeteries due to the high levels of child mortality in recent decades. Since the Eighties, Vista Alegre has been heavily contaminated due to the dumping of toxic production waters into rivers and spills by companies such as Occidental Petroleum Corp (OXY), Pluspetrol S.A. and Frontera Energy Corp. operating in Peru’s most prolific oil Block 192. The leaders pleaded the commission to “exhort to the Peruvian state to stop killing indigenous peoples like this”, with demands including the provision of water fit for human consumption, health, education, remediation, and compensation for the impacts of contamination.
“For how many more years are we going to continue drinking this contaminated water?”
The Right To Clean Water
The Commission indicated that the Peruvian State has not adopted sufficient measures of prevention and remediation in the face of these disasters. “We make our just claim to the right to water, the right to health and the right to food. Rights that are being affected precisely by this situation of oil spills”, said Joel Hernandez, Rapporteur for Peru for IACHR. “It seems that in the last 40 years it is a recurrent phenomenon along the North Peruvian pipeline, no effective measures are adopted.” In the past two years alone, spills from the North Peruvian pipeline have increased, with just 40 spills being documented in Peru’s most prolific oil block 192 and 24 spills along the Maranon river. Built in the Seventies, the North Peruvian pipeline’s four-plus decades in the acid waters of the Amazon river basin have left the infrastructure in a deteriorated and alarming state.
“We make our just claim to the right to water, the right to health and the right to food. Rights that are being affected precisely by this situation of oil spills”
As part of the evidence handed to the Commission by a delegation consisting of the indigenous leaders, Peru’s prestigious Pontifica Catholic University (PUCP) and the Vicariate of Iquitos, was included the investigation entitled “The human right to water in the context of socio-environmental conflicts in the basins of the Tigre and Marañón rivers Loreto, Peru” led by Lima’s prestigious PUCP university and facilitated by the Chaikuni Institute, as well as the Peruvian Congress’ investigation on the recent oil spills from the North Peruvian pipeline. Photographic evidence of oil spills curated by The Chaikuni Institute was also presented to the Commission’s panel, who called the photographs “very impactful […] The photographs speak for themselves”.
“Indigenous peoples teach us that water is more than a right – water is a living being, the world needs it for its subsistence”
Rivers are a vital source of life for Amazonian indigenous peoples, providing not only communities’ main water source and livelihood, but also carrying with it much cultural and spiritual significance as part of indigenous people’s cosmovision. “The water of the river is everything to us: from there we take our fish, it is our family, our life, part of our cosmovision, without it we cannot exist”, said Llerson. During the hearing, IACHR’s Soledad García Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights stated that “we must emphasise the importance of the realization of respect for water, for our Mother Earth (Pachamama), our societies and indigenous peoples who teach us that water is more than a right – water is a living being, the world needs it for its subsistence”.
Ongoing Defence Processes But Still No Solutions
While indigenous peoples affected by oil activity have organized many protests and sustained countless dialogues with the state, which in turn succeeded in important agreements being signed to resolve the problematic, there is still no solution in sight. “The state has only dedicated itself to delaying agreements through more dialogues and meetings, until today there is no concrete result with regards to what the communities from different river basins demand. We hope the Commission requires the Peruvian state to comply with its obligations” tells us Llerson.
In the case of Cuninico, this hearing with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was the second time the community presented its case. Back in a 2016 hearing entitled “The situation of abandonment of native communities affected by oil spills” held within the 158th session of the IACHR, community members had already denounced the lack of attention received from the state for clean water and medical attention, and the lack of adequate remediation by oil company Petroperu, which still denies compensation to the community and continues to benefit from impunity despite the irreparable damage it has caused to indigenous peoples and the Amazonian ecosystem in Loreto.
Cuninico also has a legal case at the national level, in which the local court of Nauta in Loreto issued a historic resolution in March 2018 urging Peru’s Ministry of Health and the Regional Government of Loreto to comply with the “precautionary measures” which it had issued in 2017 and designed to help protect the rights of individuals or communities at risk. “We still have no water and no basic sanitation”, says Watson. “In January 2017, Peru’s Ministry of Health declared a health and sanitary emergency in our district, alerting people to not use the river water because it is not fit for human to not not to use the water. The oil spill happened back in 2014!”.
In the case of Vista Alegre, this is the first time the community has brought its case to IACHR. Indigenous leader Llerson Fachin Tuituy emphasized that despite an environmental and health emergency being declared by the state in the Tigre river basin in 2015 following an indigenous uprising, the state installed water plants in communities as a means to treat the water from high levels of contamination from crude oil. But results from two studies by Peru’s health authorities assessing the quality of the water processed by the plant have been hidden from indigenous peoples, testified Llerson. No toxicology studies to investigate levels of heavy metals has ever been carried out in the affected communities either, said Llerson. “The contamination of the water is permanent”, tells us Llerson, “The heavy metals continue to flow down and our children continue to bathe in this water with oil.”
“After the hearing, we have much hope that we can be heard. In Peru, many years have passed, and to this day we still do not have clean drinking water.”
The Commission is due to schedule a visit to the Tigre and Maranon river basins soon to gather evidence in order to produce a report and issue exhortations. “After the hearing, we have much hope that we will be heard” told us Llerson as he was about to travel back to his community. “Perhaps, through other higher-level institutions, we can get the attention we need and our problems can be solved more quickly. Here in Peru, many years have passed, we are not heard, and to this day we still do not have clean drinking water. We hope this Commission will help us to secure the basic things we need to survive – clean water”.
In the Peruvian Amazon, FORMABIAP has been a steady force for the advancement of intercultural bilingual education in a country where there are still many inequalities for indigenous peoples. Working hand in hand with indigenous organizations, communities and allies, FORMABIAP celebrates today its 30 years training teachers from indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon. Its efforts represent the growing movement in Latin America to decolonize education, revitalize native languages and advance proposals towards indigenous autonomy. In honor of this anniversary and as an important ally of Chaikuni, we spoke with Never Tuesta, Coordinator of FORMABIAP on the importance of developing proposals from the bottom up and their dreams for the next 30 years towards greater interculturality.
Text by Sophie Pinchetti
Photography Courtesy FORMABIAP; Portrait of Never Tuesta by Sophie Pinchetti
CHAIKUNI: This week FORMABIAP celebrates its 30th anniversary. How do you feel?
NEVER: Very happy, because when we began the Program of Training of Bilingual Teachers of the Peruvian Amazon (FORMABIAP) in 1988 commissioned by the national indigenous organization AIDESEP, we were twelve people with different professions to meet this challenge. I remember that Lucy Tapnell Forero, who started as the director of FORMABIAP by the Institute of Higher Education Pedagogical Public Loreto, asked me if the Formabiap would reach at least 10 years and my response was that with the participation of the representatives of indigenous organizations with their cosmovision to advance the educational policy of the indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon, we would not only reach the ten years but the thirty and many years. Now we are fulfilling those thirty years I dreamed about and I feel very happy.
CHAIKUNI: What inspired you to lead the FORMABIAP Program?
NEVER: I am a member of the Awajun indigenous people and I am also a Professor. In those earlier days, there were no professors of bilingual intercultural education. There were teachers trained by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), who were bilingual teachers but they focused on the language and not on the culture. Until 1985, I worked as the supervisor of education in the district of Imaza, province of Bagua in the region of Amazonas, an area whose population is made up of 90% Awajún indigenous peoples and 10% of settlers from Cajamarca and Piura. My great concern while working in this position was that we were fulfilling directives and educational programs which were totally alien to the cultural and linguistic reality of the children and teenagers, and didn’t take into account the needs and aspirations of my people. Due to these issues, Mr. Evaristo Nugkuan Ikanan, President of the national organization AIDESEP invited me to be in charge of scholarship program. The Board of AIDESEP then asked me to be part of the team leading socio-cultural, linguistic and educational research in the Peruvian Amazon, with the aim of demonstrating to the government the need to train indigenous teachers to work in their respective communities. Thus, in 1988 AIDESEP appointed me as coordinator of the FORMABIAP.
“Each one of us must have our educational policies in accordance with our reality. If not, everything is imposition.”
CHAIKUNI: How has the context for intercultural education changed in the past 30 years?
NEVER: One of the things that I feel joyful about and which I find very encouraging is to hear parents in the communities saying that they want their children’s education to be in their people’s knowledge, practices, language but also with knowledge of other cultures and peoples: this way, they say that they will have enough tools and our young people who finish their education can return to their communities, respecting us, developing our language and culture while also sharing in our norms and values, and being able to relate in this global world. Hearing this from parents in the community is a great change. The other thing that I would is that we have achieved greater visibility of indigenous peoples. We are promoting indigenous peoples to become part of the country’s politics, taking on different positions. The big problem that I see is that we do not have our own indigenous organization which could compete with these politics from the point of view of indigenous peoples.
“We believe that through education we can generate changes, but with a quality education, an education for indigenous peoples.”
CHAIKUNI: Do you think autonomous governments could be the path?
NEVER: Yes, because of all of this, we are now coming into a new step for autonomous governments, where you can implement your politics, your politics for education, health, how to organize, etc. Currently, we are being imposed models from above which are completely alien to us. Each one of us must have our educational policies in accordance with our reality. If not, everything is imposition. Yes, we have to enter politics but it is has to be politics from ourselves: what do we want, what kind of development do we want for our people, how do we manage the resources of our forests – our conception is totally different with the conception that it comes from outside. The conception from outside is to simply extract, extract, destroy everything. It is as if in the Amazon, there were no people. But we are people just like those living in Lima, we have the same rights, the same aspirations, the same needs to continue living. These autonomous proposals are the path, I feel. We must fight because if not, we will not exist as indigenous peoples.
CHAIKUNI: Can you tell us what education means within an indigenous community in the Amazon and why is it important?
NEVER: Education in the community happens through school. Community members have been made to believe that this education which comes from outside is the alternative in order to be “developed” through indigenous communities’ contact with the national society: churches, the state, and settlers. These schools are totally traditional school and very much alien to the reality of the community, and they do not have the capacity nor sufficient qualification to educate children within the conception of Western development. They are honestly utterly useless because they do not not prepare children for their community nor for the mestizo world. But the parents view it as something prestigious, as an institution, because people have been made to believe that this school will educate his children for this reality, for this dream to “develop”. Through the years, we realize that it has been a totally false/lie. Now even the communities are being critical of these schools. I can not tell you that we have changed the situation, this civilizational and homogenizing model is still very strong in the communities. But we will not generate changes if we do not have well-qualified teachers to work in our communities. We believe that through education we can generate changes, but with a quality education, an education for indigenous peoples. That is a great challenge for us.
“For me, interculturality is more about experience, it is practical life.”
CHAIKUNI: Can you tell us about your experience as a young indigenous boy who wanted to study? What difficulties did you face?
NEVER: To go to secondary school, I had to go another province in the department of Cajamarca. In those days the trip from my community to this place took three days in motorboat [a slow-moving boat called “peque-peque”], one day of walking and another day by car. Leaving the community is one of the biggest shocks one can face. It was difficult, being far away and feeling de-rooted and alone. I remember the discrimination we had from our classmates for being from the jungle. It was very strong. We had to adapt to that reality, because we had no other.
CHAIKUNI: What is the best remedy or strategy to combat discrimination?
NEVER: The best strategy is to have your identity strengthened as a member of an indigenous people and learn about different cultures and traditions to establish a horizontal dialogue with the discriminator. From my own experience, the schools were training you to be a good mestizo, they did not strengthen much the identity as a member of an indigenous people. When I arrived to FORMABIAP, it was then that I began to think, I have to identify myself, I am from an indigenous people and I have to be proud of this people and thus relate to others in this way.
CHAIKUNI: What does intercultural education mean to you?
NEVER: For me, it is not something theoretical, it is not a concept that we have to discuss. For me, interculturality is more about experience, it is more practical life. But to put it into the practice of life, as a member of an indigenous people, I first must also know who I am, where I come from, who my ancestors are, what are my roots and I must also be concerned with learning about other peoples and cultures. Having this sensitivity enables one to establish this intercultural relationship.
CHAIKUNI: What is necessary in order for there to be more interculturality?
NEVER: We have to say “who am I”? Where do I come from and what are my aspirations forward as a person and as a member of an indigenous people: as an individual, what can I do for my people? And as a member of a national society, what can I contribute? I think everything stems from that, it has to come from the person. And we have to respect each other, we have the same rights and duties.
“In our education and upbringing, we are in constant interrelation with the environment. “
CHAIKUNI: Can you tell us about learning with nature as part of intercultural education?
NEVER: When I speak of an education that takes into account the culture, I mean that since birth every indigenous person establishes a close relationship with their territory. In our education and upbringing, we are in constant interrelation with the environment. It is there that we learn, develop ourselves, feed ourselves, and strengthen our body and our spirit. We are in constant reciprocity with nature. That is the basis of what I mean when I speak of an education that takes into account the culture, because from there everything is born. By doing this, we are dealing with the environment and conservation, which is going to be future of the existence of indigenous peoples. The foundation of my knowledge comes from those years which I spent living in my community. In indigenous communities, education occurs throughout life and in constant relation with the territory.
CHAIKUNI: What inspires you to continue working today?
NEVER: I believe that changes can be made. I do not see that we will change the education of our country in the Amazon in another 30 years, but at the rate we’re going, we are going to make progress with the strength of organizations and communities. We have to respond to the peoples’ worries in all of the programs. We have to go back and talk with them, receive their input, etc. This what really inspires me to continue forward today, it’s the most fundamental.
CHAIKUNI: What are your dreams and hopes for the next 30 years of FORMABIAP?
NEVER: My dream would be that we expand the training in early and secondary education. I believe that if we manage to enter secondary school, we will be shaping children and teenagers who will have a stronger sense of identity, who will be valuing and recognizing what their people are, their knowledge, and their relation with their territory. This is a dream I have. The other thing would be to see that schools are a place where children can be happy and learn. I would like to see it being a friendly space where you can feel happy because in my life, the frustrations I had were during the first years of school, it was horrible for me. I would like to see a school that is not alien to the reality, problems and aspirations of the community, a school that responds to those needs of the community where it is located, and which incorporates parents in the processes of training their children. That is one of the other dreams that I have. Another dream is for there to be the participation of more indigenous professionals with other degrees in this Program, for example anthropologists, ecologists, etc.
CHAIKUNI: Like the indigenous students of OEPIAP…
NEVER: Yes exactly, they can participate in this process of training the next generations. This is another dream I have.
CHAIKUNI: What advice would you give to a young indigenous person in the Peruvian Amazon today?
NEVER: The first thing that I would say to them, so that they don’t have a very strong clash with this mestizo society, is that they need to have a really strong sense of identity and be proud of being indigenous. You need to know your culture and your language in order to have a strong identity and so that you can have that knowledge in order to be able to explain it to other people.
To find out more about FORMABIAP, visit their website: www.formabiap.org