Contamination in the Marañon: Video Testimonial from the Kokama Indigenous Leader Alfonso Lopez Tejada


Last week a large Peruvian government delegation visited the Amazonian province of Loreto in an ongoing investigation of oil contamination in block 1AB, the largest and longest-active crude oil field in Peru. The first stop was Andoas, on the Pastaza River, a hub of operations for Pluspetrol Norte, the oil company now at the center of public fury and long the nemesis of local indigenous people affected by its contamination.

As widespread media attention to the delegation made the devastation there undeniable, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal declared a “state of emergency” on the Pastaza.

Such an action had long been the plea — and then the demand — of the indigenous leaders of the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes, and Marañon river basins, who have testified for decades about the industry’s damage to their people and territories and have decried Pluspetrol’s shameful tenancy since it took over operations in Block 1AB in 2001. They call their interconnected riversheds a “circuit of contamination.”

Bound by similar cultures and shared struggle against Pluspetrol, they stand united in their demands for environmental justice and for a thorough clean-up of their territories.

After witnessing conditions along the Pastaza, the delegates moved on to the Marañon River and regions of the famous Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, where Pluspetrol operates another oil concession known as 8X. Earlier this year the Peruvian regulatory agency OEFA fined Pluspetrol more than $11 million for failing to complete ordered cleanups there, causing a national stir as many Peruvians became aware for the first time that a foreign oil company was allowed to harm their beloved and “protected” natural reserve.

In the Marañon community of Dos de Mayo, government officials and legislators heard from indigenous Kukama residents who face the same difficulties as people do on the Pastaza, both living near or downstream from Pluspetrol. As the seat of ACODECOSPAT (Asociación Cocama de Desarrollo y Conservación San Pablo de Tipishca), the largest indigenous federation representing the Kukama on the Maranon, Dos de Mayo has been the epicenter of local activism against Pluspetrol and the industry in general.

The Pastaza, Tigre, and Corrientes Rivers, all affected by contamination, flow into the Marañon, which a bit further downstream becomes the mighty Amazon. Residents of Dos de Mayo illustrated how the four riversheds are interconnected by tributaries and wetlands just as they are crisscrossed and connected by Pluspetrol’s leaky old pipelines and frequent spills, showing just how the “circuit of contamination” works.

Watch this vivid testimony from Alfonso Lopez Tejada, president of this Kukama federation from the Marañon, as he details the difficulties and pressing needs of his people who await the same public attention and expect the same government actions as those just taken in the Pastaza.

Stefan Kistler, Friday, 29 March 2013

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