Blog Text by Justin Henson.
Since 1979, more than 100 oil spills have occurred along the North Peruvian pipeline – a mega construction, stretching a massive 1,106 km from the Amazon to the Peruvian coast, operated and owned by state company Petroperu. The large majority of the spills happened after 2008. In 2016 alone, spills peaked at over a dozen incidents.
Most of the spills happened in the Loreto region of Peru, in the northern Peruvian Amazon. This particular region is also the largest region of the Peruvian Amazon, covering approximately 368,852 km2 of dense Amazonian rain forest, which is home to 27 different indigenous peoples, including indigenous groups living in voluntary isolation, and thousands of endangered species of plants, animals and insects.
The spills have gravely affected the environment, biodiversity, ecosystems, the health of communities and their basic access to water and food fit for human consumption, while at the same time aggravating social conflicts in the region. The affected indigenous peoples and their organizations have been struggling for years to have their voices heard, and organized several large protest. Ines Vasquez Ramirez, a Kukama Kukamiria woman from San Roque, on the Marañon River, spoke out about their situation:
“Water is very important because we live from it. Our waters are contaminated by the company. We are very sad. Our children are dying. We no longer have fish, neither in the river nor in our lakes. There are oil spills constantly. No matter how much we try to purify and treat the water, it is not fit for human consumption. We are ingesting heavy metals, such as lead. If there is no health, there is no life. I ask the state to give us treated water and food for our children who are malnourished in our communities. The state does not pay attention to us. That is why we have protested again, and if they don’t respond then we will protest again with even more strength. There will be an indefinite protest.”
A recent report by a commission from the Peruvian Congress concludes that the impacts of oil spills have not been adequately analyzed, measured or valued by the government, and that little information exists with regards to their impact on the health of local populations. Moreover, rather than confirming the deceitful claim made by the oil company and the media of indigenous communities deliberately causing the spills, the same report points to responsible third parties and highlights the negligence and possible corruption of state-owned oil company Petroperu in relation to the spills.
Sadly, however, the commission report argues that in order to make the North Peruvian Pipeline’s operations fully viable (and thus justify large investments to improve infrastructure), an intensification of oil exploitation in Peru’s Amazon is necessary. In these times of a largely human-driven changing climate, and in view of the catastrophic losses and irreparable social and environmental damages generated by the pipeline’s spills and the accumulated impacts of almost fifty years of oil exploitation, the question must be asked: “Is further investment in Peru’s oil industry a reasonable, just and responsible proposal?”
“An overwhelming majority of the leading climate scientists unanimously tell us that the clock is one minute to midnight if we want to prevent the global temperature from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid even more serious changes in our climate. The transition to renewable energy needs to happen now. Fossil fuels need to be kept in the ground and remaining forests conserved so they can continue to play their role as carbon sinks, among other life sustaining functions. While the catastrophic impacts on the communities along the North Peruvian Pipeline need to be adequately addressed NOW, we at Chaikuni urge government of Loreto to start tapping into its solar power potential and phase out oil. Why in 2018 isn’t there a single large solar plant in a region on the Equator with a vast potential for solar power?” Asks Stefan Kistler, the director of The Chaikuni Institute
In the Peruvian Amazon, over 40 years of irresponsible oil exploitation have affected countless indigenous communities. While scientists still do not know the long-term impacts of oil spills and water contamination, the links between indigenous rights violations, socio-environmental conflicts and the petroleum industry are becoming increasingly clearer. In this exclusive story, indigenous Kichwa student & Vice-President of indigenous student organization OEPIAP, Elisvan Greffa Yumbo, presents his observations following a research trip as part of an investigation which we facilitated with Lima’s prestigious Pontifica Catholic University on the right to clean water in the region of Loreto. The cases documented in the investigation, focused on the communities of Vista Alegre in the Tigre River and Cuninico in the Maranon river, were presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights during a hearing on May 7th 2018 with hopes to advance much-needed and overdue justice for Peru’s Amazonian indigenous peoples.
Text and Photographs by Elisvan Greffa Yumbo
Portrait of Elisvan Greffa Yumbo by Sophie Pinchetti
The right to water is a human right and as human beings we have the right to exercise it and to demand that the water we consume be treated, so that it is healthy to drink.
We embarked on an 18-hour trip from the town of Nauta to the indigenous community of Vista Alegre, which is located in the district of Intuto in the province of Loreto, with the aim of collecting information on water contamination and its consequences on the human right to water, in particular around the Tigre river.
During the tour of the Tigre River, I first observed the lack of birds that live on the banks of the river and feed on fish, such as the white heron, which can be seen in large numbers around the Marañón river. I couldn’t hear the songs of the howler monkey which I usually hear around the Putumayo river, which is where I come from.
“I first observed the lack of birds that live on the banks of the river and feed on fish”
When I arrived in the community I felt as I were arriving in my own community. All rural Amazonian populations have something in common, whether it’s the way of building their houses along the banks of the river or their hospitality, amongst other things. I felt calm, at home and drank the typical drinks offered to visitors, and ate the fresh fish of the river – a common way of life in the community.
When the research activities began, I was surprised to hear the reality of the community. In the interviews, people told us about the details of the environmental contamination caused by oil extraction, the direct consequences to health and the genocide carried out by the oil companies.
I listened to the story of Mr. Benjamín Cariajano, an elder 72-year old man. He told us about how life before the oil company arrived, and how the population of the community had a healthy life and consumed water from the river without getting sick. They lived happily, hunting, fishing in the river and their lakes, and they did not have health problems as they do now. With the arrival of the oil company Occidental Petroleum Corporation (OXY), oil exploitation and water pollution began in the Pastaza, Corrientes and Tigre rivers. In the community of San Juan de Bartra, which is located in the Montano stream (affluent to the Tigre) and which also passes through the Montano lake where, 29 oil wells were installed.
“They lived happily, hunting, fishing in the river and their lakes, and they did not have health problems as they do now.”
“With the arrival of the oil company Occidental Petroleum Corporation (OXY), oil exploitation and water pollution began in the Pastaza, Corrientes and Tigre rivers.”
Once the oil wells were installed along the Tigre river, the wastewaters and petroleum residues started to be deposited into the water and so the contamination began. With the rains, this pollution flowed from the Montana stream to the Tigre river. In between 1980 and 1982, pollution was at its peak as spills began in the oil blocks and reached the river, staining the surface of the water black. Fish and animal species began disappearing as they drank the contaminated water. The first to die were the fish and animals. The birds that feed on the fish and all the birds that live along the banks of the river died. Next, began the death of people and in between 1980 and 1982, twelve people from the community of Vista Alegre died. Among the twelve people were two of Mr. Benjamín’s children, ages 5 and 4. It was a great tragedy and many people also became sick, marked with spots on their faces.
“During these times, people did not know why they were dying, children bathed in water with oil and painted each other with oil.”
During these times, people did not know why they were dying, children bathed in water with oil and painted each other with oil. They didn’t know what it was. As the water and soil became contaminated, so started to appear diseases which people had never had before, and which they didn’t know how to heal. The shortage of food also began: people couldn’t find animals, there were no fish, and if there were, they were sick, thin and dying. The animals ran out. This situation was disastrous for the local population, said Benjamín.
A woman called Arminda Sandi Tuitui informed us that there were no diseases such as malaria before. She told us that the state gave indigenous lands to the oil company with all its inhabitants, contaminated the rivers and abandoned them. They do not receive support from the local or national state. When they realized the water was contaminated, people looked for water in the most remote areas of the community, which had not been touched by the contamination. Currently the community needs help to fight diseases caused by the contamination of their water.
“As an indigenous Kichwa student from the Putumayo river, I observed the violations of the rights of indigenous populations.”
After listening to people’s testimonies during the interviews, I realized the situation this community has suffered, and it is one similar to the rubber boom. As an indigenous Kichwa student from the Putumayo river, I observed the violations of the rights of indigenous populations. The state has not fulfilled its obligations to provide the most basic services such as health and education, which are the fundamental basis for the development of a people.
With regards to health, this population is abandoned. Despite being an endemic area, there are none of the necessary supplies. The healthcare manager for the town said that there are 20 to 24 cases of malaria every three days, which is alarming. National and local authorities responsible for this area are not taking on their responsibilities, and the healthcare manager is not able to treat all patients. There is also a lack of adequate medications.
“The state has not fulfilled its obligations to provide the most basic services such as health and education, which are the fundamental basis for the development of a people.”
For education, there is only one building in the area, and it is in precarious condition. There aren’t enough teachers necessary for classes, nor the materials to develop the classes properly. During these plus-four decades of oil exploitation in the area, no one has become a professional nor accessed higher education level, told us Walter Fachin Sandi.
During this investigation on the right to water, I found violations of human rights of all sorts, and the state as a direct accomplice to these acts of vulnerability. Despite what this indigenous territory provides to the country’s economy, the state does not provide basic services. Despite this area’s great importance to the country’s economy, there is no development.
Consequently, the communities are helpless, abandoned and sick, exposed to die with epidemics. In this part of Peru, genocide is committed and Amazonian biodiversity is destroyed.
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 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”.
Photography & Text By Sophie Pinchetti
Rivers are life for Amazonian peoples. Yet in Peru’s northern region of Loreto in the Amazonian jungle, nearly half a century of irresponsible oil exploitation has left rivers, streams, creeks and lakes contaminated with heavy metals. Indigenous peoples continue to demand respect for their rights, such as the fundamental right to water.
Although women have always been present in the socio-environmental resistances against extractive projects in the Peruvian Amazon, their struggles have not always been made visible. Their voices are seldom heard in meetings with the state and women lack representation in the leadership of indigenous organizations. Being a woman, poor and indigenous is a triple discrimination, which means that indigenous women are subjected to “situations of violence, discrimination and food insecurity”, as recently stated by the United Nation’s FAO.
Today on International Womens’ Day, and every day, we celebrate the voices of indigenous women who are on the front line defending their territories and communities and present four inspiring and courageous indigenous women speaking on the importance of protecting the water and river. Hailing from the Maranon river basin, these women come from communities affected by oil spills from Peru’s rusty and leaking 854 km North Peruvian Pipeline built in 1977 and operated by state company Petroperu. Decades of spills have created a toxic environment in what was once pristine rivers and rainforest. In alliance with indigenous peoples from other affected river basins including Corrientes, Pastaza, Chambira and Tigre, these women are part of the movement demanding justice with an agenda including an independent study of the pipeline, integral remediation of oil blocks 192 and 8, and a Truth Commission.
Indigenous women spend much time in managing the lands and resources of indigenous peoples not only for livelihood activities, but also for cultural and spiritual practices. Across Latin America, from Ecuador to Guatemala and Mexico, indigenous women are increasingly organizing and taking on leadership roles to protect their territories and highlighting the links between extractivism and patriarchy. Yet in the Peruvian Amazon, indigenous women leadership still lags behind. Women must be empowered and be provided the support and the space to take leading roles and to amplify their voices.
Maria Shunia Pirco
From The Indigenous Kukama Community of Roca Fuerte, Maranon River
“Water is our life, we have to protect the water. We, Indigenous Peoples, are drinking contaminated water, we get sick, we die. So many children are dying because the water is contaminated. And the fish. Everything is contaminated. That is why we are here asking for a solution. I would like everything to move forward, for the state to give us good water. We do not have water to live well.”
Flor de María Paraná
From The Indigenous Kukama Community of Cuninico, Maranon river
“Water is life. The river is like a mother we have and water is a mother of life for human beings. Now we are demanding our rights in the face of the pollution which Petroperu has caused with crude oil, ruining our mother, natural water, which is for the consumption of all human beings.
We use water every day – we cook, wash, drink with it, that is why water is the most important thing for the life of human beings. When we had clean water to drink, healthy fish to eat, we did not bother the state because we had enough food and clean water to drink. We have streams and lakes in our communities which used to be like our market but now they are contaminated. They no longer provide us with enough food. The fish are too thin. The state must immediately provide us with water and food. We, native communities, are in a state of great necessity.
The state has to solve the spills and take care of the pipeline so that these kinds of things do not happen, so that native communities do not continue to be harmed. We are putting on the pressure because the pipeline is still not secured. That is down to the irresponsibility of the state and the Petroperu company.”
Inez Vazquez Ramirez
From The Indigenous Kukama Community of San Roque, Maranon river
“Water is very important because we live from it. Our waters are contaminated by the company Pluspetrol, we are very sad. Our children are dying. We no longer have fish, neither in the river nor in our lakes. There are oil spills constantly. No matter how much we try to purify and treat the water, it is not fit for human consumption. We are ingesting heavy metals, such as lead. If there is no health, there is no life. I ask the state to give us treated water and food for our children who are malnourished in our communities. The state does not pay attention to us. That is why we have protested again, and if they don’t respond then we will protest again with even more strength. There will be an indefinite protest.”
From The Indigenous Kukama Community of Cuninico, Maranon river
“The river is a source of life. Without this river, without water, we can not live. As a mother, I demand that the first priority be water, because it is contaminated. Before we lived in a well-cared for community, with all of our nature, we had no difficulties like now. Now we get up at 1 or 2 in the morning when it rains, to collect the water because if we don’t, we do not have anything to cook with. It is a great sadness for us when it doesn’t rain. The state is at fault because we really need to be supported. So far we do not see any results. As indigenous peoples, we are human beings as they are. We need respect, we have a right to life, to water, to food, and to health.”
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.
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.”