Before signing a 40-year oil drilling contract in the Amazon basin, the Government of Peru must commit to a thorough and inclusive consultation process, said Oxfam and indigenous leaders from Peru today in Washington, DC.
Indigenous leaders representing the Achuar, Kichwa, Kukama, and Quechua peoples, who live near oil fields in the Peruvian Amazon, testified today that their communities face severe pollution exposure, including heavy metal poisoning, and human rights abuses. They explained how an ongoing community consultation process—a dialogue between the community and representatives from the Government of Peru—might help reverse years of neglect.
“We have experienced over 40 years of oil extraction, repression, and pollution,” said Aurelio Chino, representative of the Achuar and Quechua peoples from the Pastaza river basin. “We are not in Washington, DC to speak about ourselves, as our lives are already contaminated. We are here to speak on behalf of our children and future generations growing up in the Amazon.”
Two oil fields—Block 192 and Block 8—as well as a pipeline lay over indigenous territory in Peru’s remote Loreto province. Frequent oil and production water spills have resulted in widespread heavy metal poisoning. A 2015 study by the Peruvian Ministry of Health revealed that over half of the residents in the area adjacent to the oil fields have amounts of lead in their blood that exceed international health limits and a third have excessive amounts of arsenic. The operators at the oil fields include Dutch-Argentinian oil conglomerate Pluspetrol (at Block 8 and previously Block 192) and Canadian company Frontera Energy (at Block 192).
“This is one of the worst environmental disasters in the world, but it is absent from international headlines,” said Ermilda Tapuy of the Kichwa people from the Tigre river basin. “Regardless of the challenges, we will neither be ignored nor surrender to injustice.”
The push for community rights and remediation is gaining momentum. This summer, US congressional representatives sent a letter to the American ambassador in Lima, calling his attention to the “serious situation” facing indigenous peoples at Block 192. This fall, PUINAMUDT, a platform of the four indigenous federations affected by the oil industry in Loreto, launched the “Metal Doesn’t Hurt, Heavy Metals Do” campaign in partnership with international rock bands aimed to highlight the crisis. This week, the federation representatives will meet with Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples, as well as with officers from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
“These indigenous leaders are here to urge the UN, the US Department of State, and the US Congress to continue to support the cause of community justice in Peru and to hold the government to account for their promises,” said Miguel Lévano, Oxfam extractive industries program officer in Peru. “This consultation must be thorough and inclusive before any further oil extraction can continue. The process should be in line with international standards and lead to strong safeguards that respect community rights and prevent further abuse.”
The prior consultation process for Block 192 is scheduled to begin this spring.
“The consultation must be completed in good faith and respect the majority opinion of our federations,” said Chino. “I cannot explain how important this process is to my children’s lives. Oil has taken mine, but I refuse to let it claim theirs.”
- Read “Shredding Injustice,” the story behind the “Metal Doesn’t Hurt, Heavy Metals Do” campaign.