Peru Government Makes Promises Official After Pastaza Protests

The Peruvian government’s cabinet-level commission, which dispatched a crisis team to the Pastaza River in response to the recent indigenous protests over oil contamination in the region, has officially resolved to address the many critical issues raised by people in the river communities.

At least a week of peaceful and sustained protests by Quechua indigenous communities on the Pastaza late last month forced the ministers into action in an attempt to avoid a confrontation.

As a result, the multi-sector Consejo de Ministros recognized the effects of 40 years of oil exploitation in the Amazonian region of Loreto and, perhaps more importantly, extended a basic pact to communities across the region that are caught in what indigenous leaders call the “circuit of contamination.”

High-level promises

Imagen3In its latest “Supreme Resolution,” the Council of Ministers, known here as the PCM, promised to “propose ways to improve conditions of life for the native communities in the watersheds of the Pastaza, Corrientes, Marañon and Tigre” rivers, according to a statement released this week by the indigenous advocacy group PUINAMUDT, a principal partner of Alianza Arkana.

“[I]f the Quechua people had not used force, (Regional President) Ivan Vasquez would have never come here. The Ministers would not be here either,” Aurelio Chino Dahua, leader of the recent protests, said as the ministers arrived in the Pastaza community of Alianza Topal during the final week of June.

Imagen2For Chino Dahua, president of the Indigenous Federation of the Quechua of the Pastaza (FEDIQUEP), the need for more protests and the assembly of the ministers was a lamentable result of government neglect and broken promises. It was just a matter of time.

Acting on the Acta de Pastaza

After years of company abuses and no responsible relief from the government, Chino and other FEDIQUEP activists led an aggressive takeover of airfields and other facilities of the Argentinian oil driller PlusPetrol Norte in 2008. The action launched the plight of the Pastaza onto the national stage and contributed to igniting the simmering indigenous movement in the Amazon.

Imagen4With legal representation from PDDI – the Program in Defense of Indigenous Rights – and support from Alianza Arkana, Chino Dahua and some 20 other Quechua leaders boldly marched on Loreto Regional Government in Iquitos in June, 2011, to restate their demands for basic services, environmental justice and accountability from the government and PlusPetrol. Signed by Regional Governor Ivan Vasquez and his ministers, the resulting Acta de Pastaza has become the standard by which Chino Dahua and his people would judge the Peruvian government’s fulfillment of promises. Unfortunately, the government failed to comply with its word.

Imagen5“I think that it is lamentable that these authorities wait until we mobilize, that we hold a strike, to only then come sit and speak with us,” Chino Dahua said during the recent protests aimed to hold the government accountable to its promise. “If we hadn´t stood up for ourselves, they wouldn´t have come to inform us.”

A National Stage

The multi-sector commission — which includes the ministers of Environment, Energy and Mines, Education, Economy and Finance, and Culture – had been planning a visit to the region for months after Chino and other leaders from indigenous federations from the four watersheds developed an agenda, a list of common demands, and hand-delivered it to PCM ministers and members of Peru’s Congress during the first months of the new administration of President Ollanta Humala last fall.

Imagen6The attention by the PCM elevates the conflict to the level of other important conflicts over extractive industries that have rocked the Peruvian government in recent months, namely over mining in Cajamarca and Cusco.

While the PCM’s resolution on Loreto is promising, the process seems one of accommodation, and risks dampening passions in the indigenous movement without addressing the root of the problem – PlusPetrol and oil production in the Amazon.

Alianza Arkana, in support of our indigenous partners, will continue raising awareness and applying pressure on government and industry to achieve a moratorium on new oil exploration and production in Loreto and force remediation of the devastation from 40 years of industry abuse.

Deborah Rivett, Thursday, 05 July 2012

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