Still recovering from a recent spate of devastating oil spills on the Chambira and Marañon rivers, leaders from Amazon communities in Northern Peru are decrying yet another spill on the Rio Corrientes by the Argentinian oil company PlusPetrol.
The January 28 spill, which Achuar indigenous leaders say was caused by company negligence, allowed an unknown quantity of crude and chemicals to gush from a corroded pipeline into the Colpayo River near the community of Nueva Vida, some 300 meters from where the Colpayo feeds into the Corrientes.
Video footage of the cleanup effort shows PlusPetrol crews unable to contain the flow. In an interview with Lima television, Andres Sandi Mucushua, Achuar leader of the Federation of Native communities of the Corrientes – FECONACO – and Jorge Tacuri explain that in 2001 PlusPetrol signed a contract, committing themselves to change pipelines in the area due to corrosion from almost four decades of use, but that the company has yet to follow through with this responsibility, and as a result, in certain areas, the pipelines have begun to leak.
“The strange thing here,” says Tacuri, “is that whenever a spill occurs, they [PlusPetrol] try to make it into an act of vandalism, blaming the communities.” Tacuri makes clear that the pipelines are made of heavy iron, and that the indigenous communities do not have the tools or materials to be able to perforate these pipelines.
Oil spills poison the fish, game, plants and water that the local people depend on to live. Crabs and other marine wildlife have already died downstream in the wake of the most recent spill. But as Sandi says, “This isn´t only an indigenous problem, it is a problem for everyone.” The Corrientes River feeds into the Marañon River, and then to the Amazon River, which supplies 20% of the Atlantic Ocean´s fresh water supply.
Environmental damage isn’t the only outcome of these spills. Sandi cites a large amount of sicknesses that have cropped up directly related to these spills, a poorly equipped health center to treat the victims, and very little response from the Ministry of Health. “We can’t wait for more threats. The people get sick and they don´t get up. They go straight to the grave. There is no cure for these sicknesses.”
Achuar leader Adolfo Hualinga Rengifo, the vice president of FECONACO, said that PlusPetrol refuses to notify or warn the nearby or downstream communities of such spills when pipeline leaks are the cause of spills.
The company is notorious for skimping on proper safety equipment to maximize profits and often hides spills or denies them altogether.
Led by FECONACO, the people of the Corrientes have mobilized against PlusPetrol and other companies operating in the region and, as elsewhere in the region, have sometimes succeeded in shutting the company’s operations down. Sandi confirms that if a responsible party is not found in this case, they will be forced to take action yet again.
While the spill and incomplete cleanup are typical of PlusPetrol’s operations in the region of Loreto, the incident and others like it stand in vulgar contrast to PlusPetrol’s public relations image. In an article that is difficult to distinguish from a paid advertisement, La Region newspaper on Tuesday touted the company’s investment in the region and said PlusPetrol “contributes to improving the quality of life of the population, and developing in harmony with the environment and native communities in its zone of influence.”
In closing remarks, Andres Sandi speaks to the people of Peru, “I think it is good to let Peru know how these petroleum companies [operate], not just the mining companies. There is no development [happening] here, only contamination and death.”
Thursday, 16 February 2012