Text by Sophie Pinchetti
Photos 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. “In over four decades of oil exploitation, there is a state of total abandon – nothing can be seen from the part of the state, let alone 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. The dependence set the scene for a crisis, and in 2015 the oil price dropped, taking with it the infamous oil royalties the region relied upon, and sending unemployment rates skyrocketing. Amidst the worsening poverty over the past two years, racist public discourses against indigenous peoples have alarmingly intensified, and have been all the more 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.
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 Pueblo 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. In the Loreto region, 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).
Texto y Fotos de Sophie Pinchetti
Los ríos son vida para los pueblos amazónicos. En la región de Loreto en la selva amazónica de Perú, casi medio siglo de explotación petrolera irresponsable ha dejado ríos, quebradas, cochas y lagunas contaminados con metales pesados. Los pueblos indígenas siguen exigiendo el respeto de sus derechos, como el derecho fundamental al agua.
Aunque las mujeres siempre han estado presentes en las resistencias socio-ambientales contra los proyectos extractivos en la Amazonía peruana, sus luchas no siempre han sido visibilizadas. Sus voces rara vez se escuchan en reuniones con el estado y las mujeres carecen de representación en el liderazgo de las organizaciones indígenas. Ser mujer, pobre e indígena es una triple discriminación, lo que significa que las mujeres indígenas están sujetas a “situaciones de violencia, discriminación e inseguridad alimentaria”, declaró recientemente la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y la Agricultura (FAO).
Hoy en el Día Internacional de la Mujer, y todos los días, celebramos las voces de las mujeres indígenas que están defendiendo sus territorios y comunidades. En esta serie de retratos, presentamos a cuatro mujeres indígenas inspiradoras y valientes que hablan sobre la importancia de proteger el agua y el río. Originarios de la cuenca del río Marañón, estas mujeres provienen de comunidades afectadas por los derrames de petróleo del corroído Oleoducto Nor Peruano construido en 1977. Décadas de derrames han creado un ambiente tóxico en lo que una vez fueron ríos y selvas prístinas. En alianza con pueblos indígenas de otras cuencas afectadas como Corrientes, Pastaza, Chambira y Tigre, estas mujeres son parte del movimiento que exige justicia mediante una agenda que incluye un estudio independiente del oleoducto, la remediación integral de los lotes petroleros 192 y 8 y una Comisión de la Verdad, por ejemplo.
Las mujeres indígenas dedican mucho tiempo a la gestión de las tierras y los recursos de los pueblos indígenas no solo para actividades de medios de subsistencia, sino también para prácticas culturales y espirituales. En América Latina, desde Ecuador hasta Guatemala y México, las mujeres indígenas se organizan cada vez más y toman roles de liderazgo para proteger sus territorios y sacar a la luz los estrechos vínculos entre extractivismo y patriarcado. Sin embargo, en la Amazonía peruana, el liderazgo de las mujeres indígenas aún está rezagado. Las mujeres deben ser empoderadas y contar con el apoyo y el espacio para asumir roles de liderazgo y amplificar sus voces.
Maria Shunia Pirco
Comunidad Nativa Kukama de Roca Fuerte, Río Marañón
“El agua es nuestra vida, tenemos que proteger el agua. Nosotros, los Pueblos Indígenas, estamos tomando agua contaminada, nos enfermamos, morimos. Cuantos niños se están muriéndose porque el agua es contaminada. Y los pescados. Todo es contaminado. Por eso estamos acá pidiendo solución. Quisiera avanzar todo mas adelante, que el estado nos den agua buena. No tenemos agua para poder vivir bien.”
Flor de María Paraná
Comunidad Nativa Kukama de Cuninico, Río Marañón
“El agua es vida. El río representa como una madre. Como una madre que tenemos, el agua es una madre de la vida para los seres humanos. Ahora estamos reclamando nuestros derechos por la contaminación que ha hecho Petroperú con el petróleo crudo que ha malogrado a nuestro madre, el agua natural, que es para el consumo para todos los seres humanos.
El agua lo utilizamos todos los días – cocinamos, lavamos, tomamos, y por eso el agua es lo mas importante en la vida para seres humanos. Cuando teníamos agua limpia para tomar, pescado sano para comer, no le molestamos al estado porque nosotros teníamos suficiente alimentación, agua limpia para tomar. Tenemos quebradas y cochas en nuestra comunidades que eran como un mercado pero ya son contaminadas. Ya no sirven para comer alimentos suficiente. Ya los peces son flacos, bajos de substancia. El estado tiene que atendernos inmediatamente con agua y alimentación. Nosotros, comunidades nativas, estamos en una necesidad.
El estado tiene que resolver los derrames y cuidar la tubería para que no ocurra esto, para que no nos siga perjudicando a las comunidades nativas. Estamos presionando porque todavía no asegura la tubería. Esa es debido a la irresponsabilidad del estado y de la empresa Petroperú.”
Ines Vazquez Ramirez
Comunidad Nativa Kukama de San Roque, Río Marañón
“El agua es muy importante porque del agua vivimos. Nuestras aguas son contaminadas por la empresa Pluspetrol, estamos muy tristes. Con esta agua nuestros niños se estan moriendonse. Ya no tenemos pescado, ni en el río ni en las cochas. Constantamente hay derrames de petróleo. Todos los días, por más que purificamos el agua, por más que lo tratamos, no es apto para el consumo humano. Estamos ingiriendo metales pesados, como plombo. Si no hay salud, no hay vida. Pido al estado que nos atienda con agua tratada y víveres para estos niños que son desnutridos en nuestras comunidades. El estado no nos hace caso. Por eso nos hemos parado de nuevo, en este caso si no nos vuelven a attender, vamos a parar con mas fuerza ya. Va haber un paro indefinido.”
Comunidad Nativa Kukama de Cuninico, Río Marañón
“El río es un fuente de vida. Sin este río, sin agua, no podemos vivir. Como madre, reclamo primeramente que la prioridad sea el agua, porque es contaminado. Antes vivíamos en una comunidad bien atendida, con toda nuestra naturaleza, nos teníamos ningún dificultad como ahora. Ahora nos levantamos a la 1 o 2 de la mañana cuando llueve, para recoger el agua porque si no, no tenemos con que cocinar. Que pena es para nosotros y que tristeza es cuando no llueve. Es culpa del estado porque nosotros verdaderamente necesitamos apoyo. Hasta ahora no vemos ningún resultado. Como Pueblos Indígenas, somos seres humanos como ellos son. Necesitamos respeto, tenemos un derecho a la vida, al agua, a la alimentación, y a la salud.”
The Amazon is our world’s treasure. Based in Peru’s region of Loreto, a hotspot of unparalleled biodiversity and home to an astounding diversity of indigenous cultures, Chaikuni is blessed to be able to work to protect this vital ecosystem in partnership with local and indigenous peoples. This work could never be possible without a growing network of allies, partners, and donors, who share in this vision for a thriving Amazon rainforest. This year, we are both excited and grateful to be initiating a partnership with The Amaru Fund founded by Western shaman Rebekah Shaman, who has over 20 years experience living and working in the Peruvian Amazon. 10% of all funds from Rebekah’s plant medicine businesses will be channelled to Chaikuni, providing vital support to our grassroots work in support of indigenous and nature rights, and regenerative alternatives honoring the indigenous philosophy of Sumak Kawsay or “Buen Vivir” (Good Living). We spoke with Rebekah on her Amazon journey to date and the plans ahead.
Text by Sophie Pinchetti & Photography by Rebekah Shaman
Chaikuni: Can you tell us about your connection to the Peruvian Amazon?
Rebekah: Twenty years ago, in 1998, while I was working at a hotel in Machu Picchu, a shaman from deep in the Peruvian Amazon came to me in a vision and told me that he had the medicine I needed to come out of my confusion, depression, and show me my purpose. Following this vision without doubt, I flew to the Amazon and found the shaman from my vision living on a tributary river fourteen hours from Iquitos. I became his apprentice and lived with him and his family, drinking the visionary brew, Ayahuasca, dieting other plant medicines, and being initiated into traditional Amazonian shamanism. That time in the Amazon put me on the path of shamanism and changed my life forever. My experience was so intense and life-changing that it has taken years to understand the full impact of the apprenticeship with my teacher, as I learn more about myself each day. I now work with plant medicines to help people realise their connection with the natural world but in a nutshell my journey has shown me that if we want to see change in the world, we must be living it.
Chaikuni: Why is the Amazon so important to you?
Rebekah: My heart is in the Amazon, as this is the place that has defined who I am. Whenever I arrive in Iquitos, I feel a deep sense of coming home. This is the lungs and pharmacy of the earth and it isn’t until you go there, that you realise how amazing our planet is. It is such an important eco-system that is essential to keep our Planet in homeostasis. The tribal communities that live within it have a knowledge and wisdom about the medicines, and animals, that are vital for human survival. If we destroy our Amazon, we are effectively destroying the future for the coming generations.
Chaikuni: Based upon your experience living and working in the Amazon, what have been some of the most important things you have learnt and want to share?
Rebekah: The most important thing I learnt is that we are an essential part of nature, something I had forgotten living in the urban city of London, and this disconnect was exacerbating my feelings of depression and hopelessness. When I found the shaman, and began living in tune with the natural world around me, and learning the rhythms and flows of nature, I became much happier and peaceful. I also saw how vital the Amazon is to Planet Earth’s health and wellbeing, and all living things that are a part of this eco-system. If we destroy the Amazon and the indigenous tribes that live there, we are effectively destroying a habitat that we rely on for survival.
Chaikuni: Drawing upon your perspective as a Western shaman, what do you feel is most urgent in today’s world?
Rebekah: Living in the Amazon I learnt first hand how we are a part of nature, not apart from it and when we start living symbiotically with it we feel so much happier, more peaceful and harmonious. In the West we have been taught a different story, where the earth’s natural resources are the rights of humans to do whatever we want. We are also in the illusion that there is continuous growth and profit, whereas in natural lore, there is only a cycle of birth, growth, decay and death. This narrative is creating devastating consequences for all living things that share this planet with us. We need a shift in consciousness from the ego-centred human ‘Me’, to the all-compassing ‘We’. If every human realised how vital we are in the unfolding planetary story, and how the impact of our actions are now affecting us so negatively, things would change very quickly.
Chaikuni: What inspired you to create the Amaru Fund?
Rebekah: I believe that one of the easiest, and quickest ways we can come out of the environmental, social and economic mess we are in is to invest profits of business back into the community and the environment. The profits I make from my plant medicine businesses can now be ploughed back into helping support and sustain my spiritual home, the Amazon and its tribal communities, and help preserve and protect this sacred place for the future generations.
Chaikuni: What makes Chaikuni’s work important to you?
Rebekah: Chaikuni’s work is very important to me, because they align perfectly with my values and ethos. They are working at a grassroots level, so all the money I am donating goes straight to the people and projects that need it the most. They are also based in Iquitos, and in the part of the Amazon that has the most emotional connection with me, and my story. I feel very blessed to be able to give the profits from the shamanic work I am doing now directly to the place and its people, which set me on the path all those years ago, and has given me so much!
Chaikuni: Any upcoming projects or plans this year, which you would want to share?
Rebekah: I’m launching the Amaru Fund on 18th March with a Spring Equinox Cacao Ceremony in London. I am also organising two 10-day retreats in December for those who ware interested in experiencing the Plant Medicines, Ayahuasca and Chiric Sanango, deep in the Amazon. 10% of profits from all sales of my Ashananika cacao and my Plant Medicine retreats in the Amazon will be going to the fund.
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