Oil-polluted water in the Amazon region of Loreto.
Credit: Courtesy of the office of Congresswoman Verónika Mendoza
Indigenous Consultations in Peru to Debut in Amazon Oil Region
By Milagros Salazar
Under pressure from indigenous leaders, the
government of Peru has pledged that the first prior
consultation process for activities in ancestral
territories will be held in one of the most heavily
polluted oil-drilling zones in the Amazon region.
IQUITOS/LIMA, Sep 3 (Tierramérica).- Peru will debut a new mechanism for prior
consultation with indigenous peoples by seeking
their approval for a new stage of oil drilling
operations in the infamous Lot 1AB in the
northeastern Amazon region of Loreto.
Local indigenous leaders are still skeptical about
the announcement, given that the region has
suffered from the ongoing impacts of oil industry
activities for decades.
From the open mouth of a jaguar painted on a wall
emerges the declaration: “You cannot buy my rivers
or my happiness.” In the background are the
forest, the sun, the river, children, women and
The image, which covers the façade of the office
of the Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples
of the East (ORPIO) in the city of Iquitos,
succinctly sums up the environmental defense
headed up by native leaders in recent years.
Iquitos is the capital of Loreto, where oil
drilling operations date back 40 years. Indigenous
leaders from four river basins in the region, all
members of ORPIO, told Tierramérica about the
impacts of these operations on their communities
and the environment.
“The government has ignored us and has not obliged
the companies to comply with their commitments. If
a parent abandons its child, who has to pay for
these damages? The parent, the government. And in
second place, the company,” said David Chino, vice
president of the Quechua Indigenous Federation of
Chino was in Lima during the last week of August
along with another three “apus” (leaders) to meet
with authorities from the legislative and
executive branches of government, representing
communities in the basins of the Pastaza,
Corrientes, Tigre and Marañón Rivers.
On Aug. 27, the indigenous leaders succeeded in
getting a multi-sectoral commission, headed by the
Presidency of the Council of Ministers, to agree
to hold a consultation with local communities
before signing a contract with the new operators
of Lot 1AB, which is currently held by the foreign
oil company Pluspetrol Norte.
This consultation will be the first implemented in
compliance with the International Labour
Organization’s (ILO) Convention 169 on Indigenous
and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, which
gave rise to the adoption of a law and regulations
for its application in cases of projects in
ancestral indigenous territories.
In addition, on Sep. 5-7, government technicians
will visit the Pastaza area to assess the extent
of the damages, the native leaders told
In Loreto, oil contamination is concentrated
around Lots 1AB and 8. According to a report
issued in July by a congressional working group
that toured the region, in some areas of the four
river basins the degree of toxicity is so high
“that the use of bioremediation to break down the
oil would be useless.”
That same month, indigenous community members
working as environmental monitors reported 25
unremediated environmental liabilities in Lot 1AB
– 17 on the Tigre River, two on the Corrientes and
six in the Pastaza River basin.
In Lot 8, nine liabilities were identified in the
Corrientes River basin.
In August, state-owned oil company Petroperú
announced that the government would organize an
advance tender for three lots, including 1AB. This
raised the alarm among indigenous communities, and
their leaders, during their visit to Lima, urged
the authorities to not let any new operators in
until the existing pollution has been cleaned up.
“How can I let you back into my house if you have
done me harm? You have to fix the damage for me to
believe in you,” commented Chino.
The Presidency of the Council of Ministers stated
in a communiqué on Aug. 28 that a consultation
will be held with local communities before a
contract is signed for exploitation of Lot 1AB,
and Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar confirmed
the announcement the following day.
Details on how the consultation will be carried
out are still unknown.
“Which communities will be consulted? What are the
terms and conditions? Indigenous peoples need
answers to these questions, because there is a
great deal of mistrust,” Verónika Mendoza, a
ruling party member of congress who participated
as an observer in the working group that drafted
the report, told Tierramérica.
“We think it is good that they will hold a
consultation. But how can they remedy all of the
damage they have done to us in the last 40 years
in just a short time? They need to explain that to
us first,” said Achuar indigenous leader Andrés
Santi, president of the Federation of Native
Communities of Corrientes.
Peru does not have an up-to-date inventory of
environmental liabilities. However, it has been
determined that there are over 6,000 resulting
from oil and gas industry operations between 1863
and 1993. Close to 300 of these pose significant
danger and are located in the Amazon region,
particularly in Loreto, according to engineer
Jorge Villar of Peru’s energy and mines regulator,
Moreover, between 2007 and 2011, indigenous
environmental monitors recorded 112 new oil
spills, of which 82 were found in the area of Lot
1AB and the remainder in Lot 8.
The main cause of the spills is the corrosion of
the pipelines used to transport the oil, according
to the congressional working group’s report. But
representatives of Pluspetrol Norte claim that a
number of them were caused by acts of vandalism
which are currently under legal investigation.
The congressional report found that the executive
branch does not sufficiently monitor these risks,
and recommended better control and epidemiological
studies to determine the extent of the health
impacts faced by the local population.
“The gills of the fish are black, full of oil. We
eat at least a kilo of fish a day. When it rains,
the polluted rivers overflow and flood everything,
the soils, the forest,” Alfonso López, president
of the San Pablo de Tipishca Cocama Association
for Development and Conservation, told
The working group’s report also stressed that the
maximum limit of total petroleum hydrocarbons
(TPH) established for soil remediation in Lot 1AB
is 30 times higher than in Lot 8, although the
situation in both is similar.
“We will follow up on the recommendations to deal
with this serious problem. For a great many years,
no one has paid attention to these peoples,”
opposition Congresswoman Marisol Pérez Tello, who
also participated in the drafting of the report,
Photos and videos of the contamination observed by
the lawmakers have been passed on to the
environmental prosecutor’s office.