On the patio where the 25 Amazonian tribal leaders assembled large hand-drawn maps of their river communities and the oil companies that operate there, Achuar federation member Adolfo Rengito Hualinga knelt down and tapped his finger on a representation of the Rio Corrientes. His finger landed several times at a spot in northern Peru near the border with Ecuador where a green card indicated an oil field and a red card indicated conflicts with a sketch of a rifle and spear.
This lake is completely contaminated…. You can’t eat the fish… There are more than twelve hundred [oil] wells here,” he said, setting off a wave of indignant comments through the room.
Indignation as well as a newfound sense of solidarity grew throughout the morning as representatives from each of the other five Peruvian federations took turns around the maps explaining to each other the conflicts and contamination brought to their rainforest communities by companies exploring or drilling for oil.
As the representatives from these rivers connected the maps on the ground so that the waterways connected and pointed downstream to the Amazon, the ugly big picture became clear: they all face nearly the same struggles with the same companies, and contamination on one river affects them all, and that contamination on the Corrientes, Pastaza, Tigre, Marañon and the Rio Napo all gets focused into the most important river in the world. The Achuar, Quechua, Kukama, Kichwa, Urarinas, and other leaders gathered on the patio agreed that they needed a new way to fight back – this time together. This important gathering of indigenous leaders in Iquitos, an intensive four-day workshop, sponsored by Rainforest Foundation Norway, is the first in a series of related events that will culminate on July 5 with a historic Forum on Oil Contamination in the Amazon, sponsored by Alianza Arkana, which will bring leaders and members of at least 13 different indigenous federations together with academics, students, experts and the citizens of Iquitos to come up with solutions to a historic and growing scourge.
“It’s tremendous what’s happening here. Very important,” said Luis Peña, the key organizer of the July 5-6 forum. Peña explained that for decades many the indigenous communities most negatively affected by oil contamination and manipulation by the powerful companies and a pro-business government have remained isolated, alone and often in completion with other communities for help in their struggles.
Now, he says, they are starting to stand together like never before.
The events this week started by defining the problem but will focus on a solution, first by creating a unified platform to present to the incoming president of Peru. President-Elect Ollanta Humala faces what Peruvian news media are calling “time bombs” of social resistance and conflict at such pressure points throughout Peru, witnessed in the recent violence in Puno over a foreign mine.
But Humala has an opportunity to make a positive change. And indigenous leaders from Peru’s Amazon say they have gathered in Iquitos this week to help him make good on that opportunity with a common political agenda for the incoming government before Ollanta Humala takes office on July 28.
Alianza Arkana still needs to raise $13,000 for this unprecedented forum, which will coincide with the legalization of an estimated 50 indigenous Kukama communities of the Rio Marañon as well as their community presidents, or apus. “This is an important moment, a political space,” said anthropologist Peter Rodrigues-Flores, an advisor to Quechua leaders from the federation FEDIQUEP of the Pastaza. He said he never imagined such solidarity among the tribes.
“Whatever happens, right now it’s critical that the indigenous people have an agenda,” he said. “It’s even more important that they create it together.”
Friday, 01 July 2011