Indigenous Communities Occupy Maple Oil Wells; Talisman Retreats; Tone Set for New Exploration Wave

In the act of seizing and occupying nine of the big-time polluter Maple Energy’s oil wells along Peru’s Ucayali River last week, Shipibo indigenous communities along the Ucayali River have done far more than create a crisis that could force the company to clean up its toxic mess there and pay for damages.

The dramatic action by some 400 Shipibo residents of Canaan de Cachiyacu also sounded a loud and clear warning to foreign and domestic oil companies now invading other indigenous homelands in the Peruvian Amazon looking for new caches of oil.

Their demands that oil companies respect native rights was one that has also echoed from other corners of the region this week, especially after the Canadian firm Talisman Energy announced Thursday that it was retreating from its Peruvian Amazon holdings in Lot 64 after years of resistance from native Achuar peoples.

“Our people are suffering at the hands of these oil companies. The government needs to assume responsibility for defending the rights of the indigenous people, not only in Canaan, but across the country,” said Lizardo Cauper, vice president of ORAU, the regional collective of indigenous federations, speaking with Alianza Arkana this week.

Similarly, Amazon Watch put the Achuar victory in these terms:

“Talisman has had to face up to what the Achuar told them when they first invested in Block 64: The company cannot drill without the consent of the Achuar people,” said Gregor McLennan, the advocacy organization’s Peru program director.

“Talisman’s exit sends a clear message to the oil industry: Trampling indigenous rights in the rush to exploit marginal oil reserves in the Amazon rainforest is not an option,” he said.

79_cleaning_up_near_fifth_barrier_on_mashiriaCleaning up crude oil with bare hands after Maple oil spill

As the occupation of Maple Energy’s wells enters a third week, Cauper reported that a delegation from Peru’s central government and regional government of Loreto is expected to arrive soon in Canaan to negotiate an end to the blockade that has shut Maple’s operations down since Sept. 2. No news has yet emerged from those talks.

Cauper also warned that before the community ends its peaceful protest, they demand that the state promise to complete an environmental audit of the Maple’s Ucayali River operations and force the company to clean up its well-documented contamination. Community leaders also demand that the government help develop and mediate a “closure plan” in preparation for Maple’s expected withdrawal from the region in 2014.

After making formal complaints against Maple to the official ombudsman for the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation in 2010 (The IFC invested some $68 million in Maple’s operations since 2007) talks broke down last year when Maple refused to fund health and environmental studies or provide food and potable water to the communities after the spills.

More recently, a year ago this month, the Peruvian government confirmed widespread contamination of the water sources and agricultural land that the people depend on for survival, documented health problems and cited Maple’s failures to clean up after spills and bad faith in dealing with the communities affected.

Maple’s human rights violations in the region have hardened local Shipibo communities against the oil industry just as new companies encroach on the region, often subverting indigenous sovereignty and violating native rights in order to cut seismic lines or dig exploratory wells.

The companies include PetroVietnam’s subsidiary PetroVietnam Exploration and Production Corp (VEP) in the 4,700 square-kilometer Lot 162, the Spanish firm Compania Espanola de Petroleos (Cespa) in 7,200 square kilometers of Lot 114 and the 10,000 square kilometer Lot 131, as well as British drillers Emerald Energy in 5,000 square miles of Lot 163 and Canadian-Colombian firm Pacific Rubiales Energy in Lot 138.

To counter the onslaught of both crude oil slicks and slick community relations men, Cauper and other leaders from Canaan and other indigenous communities from the region spoke to some 25 representatives from the to-be-affected communities along the Ucayali at a recent workshop organized by Alianza Arkana and ORAU in August. They warned the elected leaders of the perils of the industry and created a forum for them to share their stories about the companies’ tactics and strategies on the ground. Lawyers from PDDI (the Program in Defense of Indigenous Rights) funded by Alianza Arkana and EarthRights International provided a crash course in their constitutional and international rights as indigenous Peruvians.

The new collaboration across and among indigenous groups represents a new threat to encroaching companies, who for decades have sought to divide communities and peoples in order to contain and control. The ongoing actions against Maple are more evidence of a growing angst among indigenous groups of the region and a further sign of their refusal to wait for government and willingness to act freely in their own common defense.

Deborah Rivett, Monday, 17 September 2012

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