Promising Meeting between Indigenous Leaders and Prime Minister of Peru

Since June of last year, 4 indigenous federations representing indigenous communities from the 4 watersheds most affected by oil extraction in the Peruvian Amazon, have led a movement to seek attention and actions to address 40 years of social and environmental impacts resulting from oil activities in the region.  Last week, it beame clear that their demands are gaining national traction.

On January 17 and 18, the indigenous federation presidents from the Cocama Association of Development and Conservation San Pablo de Tipishca (ACODECOSPAT), the Federation of Native Communities from Corrientes River (FECONACO), the Federation of Quechua Indigenous Peoples from Pastaza (FEDIQUEP), and the Federation of Native Communities from Tigre River (FECONAT), met first with the Prime Minster of Peru (Presidencia del Consejo de Ministros) and then with a Congressional working group of the Congressional Commission on Indigenous Peoples (Comisión de Pueblos Andinos, Amazónicos, Afroperuanos, Ambiente y Ecología) in Lima.

Indigenous leaders spoke forcefully about the impacts from oil activities on their communities, especially on water quality.  They also demanded that government officials visit the zone to verify the harms, and see “who’s really lying” about the impacts.

In response, government officials concurred that the issue needed to be examined.

Congress, we attended the first session of the “Working Group about the Indigenous Situation for the Watersheds for the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes and Maranon Rivers,” which was formed in December as a result of previous advocacy of the above indigenous leaders in September.

We were surprised and pleased to see that the Congress-people leading the working group came to the meeting well prepared, with an extensive list of investigative activities planned between February and March (including meetings with various Ministries, the regional Government, the oil company PlusPetrol, and many others), 2 public hearings in April (one in Loreto and the other in Lima), and a site visit to affected zones scheduled for March.

The president of the working group, Congressman Leonardo Inga Vásquez, recognized that there is a “historic debt” that needs to be addressed, and stressed that they are committed to working together in order to identify the root problems and seek solutions (“vamos a trabajar para llegar al fondo de la situación y busca una solución”).  Congresswoman Marisol Pérez Tello, also noted that indigenous peoples “have not been listened to…[and they have been] negated from sharing in the growth of the country,” but they hope that this working group will allow them to evaluate and address the problems stemming from oil activities.  As summed up by an advisor of Congresswoman Veronica Mendoza, the aim of this working group is to not only to investigate specific cases, but to also assess the problems at a wider level (“problematica general”) and address the situation at a structural level (“afrontar en manera structural”), perhaps through developing corrective norms or other legislative proposals.  The report and recommendations of this working group are scheduled to be released in May.

The meeting with the Prime Minister was also positive.  As was the case in Congress, the indigenous leaders presented one by one on their concerns with oil activities, and each demanded the same set of 3 key action items:  the establishment of a high-level Multi-Sectorial Commission (a Ministerial level commission registered by government degree – by a “decreto supremo”), government site visits to affected zones, and an independent, international audit of environmental and social impacts from 40 years of oil extraction.

While none of the above demands were met in full, the indigenous leaders did achieve notable advances.  First of all, the Prime Minister agreed to establish 2 national working groups – one focused on water and environmental contamination (related to oil activities in Loreto), to be headed by the Environment Ministry, and a second working group about public policies having to do with indigenous peoples led by the Vice-Ministry of Culture (Interculturalidad).

The Prime Minister emphasized that these types of working groups are formal and can begin their work immediately (which he contrasted with a Multi-Sectorial Commision, which would delay at least a month in order to pass a “decreto supremo”).  However, after being pushed on the need for an official Multi-Sectorial Commission, he agreed to speak with the Ministers about the formation of such a commission.

The Prime Minister also stated that it is very important (“importantisimo”) that the Environment Ministry, in coordination with other relevant state agencies, “commit now to visit the zone, as a matter of urgency” (“que tengan un compromiso ya por una visita a la zona…de modo urgente”), and that in situ verification of contamination be done with the participation of indigenous leaders, monitors and other community members.  

In both Congress and the meeting with the Prime Minister, officials took note of the request for an independent, international audit, but wouldn’t commit to this yet, noting that the reason for such an audit would be linked to a lack of trust in government findings, which might be understandable given the history of distrust by indigenous communities of the government, yet they hoped that this process will enhance the trust toward the government and the sense that they’re seeking solutions together.

Only time will tell if government good will will extend beyond words and reports, but as described by federation advisor Jorge Tacuri, these meetings were “an important next step.”


Deborah Rivett, Tuesday, 24 January 2012

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