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PlusPetrol Spills Again in Corrientes: New Damage Coincides with Congress, PCM Probes

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corrientes_spill_4As if to prove to investigators how irresponsible it could be, the Argentinian oil company PlusPetrol contaminated another huge swath of Amazon wetland forest with crude oil from its corroded pipeline in the Trompetros region of the Corrientes River basin -- just as a team of Peruvian congress members toured other sites in Loreto contaminated by the same company.

While details of the spill are just beginning to surface from Trompeteros, early reports this week indicate that more than 200 barrels of crude drained from a faulty coupling on PlusPetrol's Corrientes-Saramuro pipeline near the indigenous community of San Cristóbal on June 26.

Corrientes_spill_2_FECONACOThe spill poisoned streams, agricultural plots and small oxbow lakes that locals depend on for drinking water, fishing and subsistence farming, according to monitors from the Achuar indigenous federation FECONACO.

As of July 6, the company had not taken responsibility for the spill.

"There is no environmental control on the part of the authorities," Congresswoman Verónika Mendoza told reporters after her recent visit to other waterways and forests effected by PlusPetrol. "There are many affected zones that never get reported," she said.

After such spills, a notorious tactic of PlusPetrol has been to blame leaks on vandals from indigenous communities that they say are looking for quick cash settlements or seeking to damage the company's already sullied reputation. Such cynical accusations have only fueled the indigenous movement mounting campaigns against PlusPetrol throughout Loreto.

Recent mobilizations by Achuar communities over a poisoned lake at Atiliano, and an even more recent mobilization by Quechua communities on the Pastaza, have brought PlusPetrol negative coverage in the national media and forced the Peruvian government to launch a cabinet-level probe of the company and its treatment of indigenous communities.

Corrientes_spill_3_FECONACOWithout the company's official recognition of the spill, downstream communities of San Cristóbal, Cuchara, Provedencia and Porvenir suffered the contamination without warning. Community residents are demanding immediate medical attention and cleanup, according to FECONACO.

PlusPetrol has not yet completed the repair and the contamination continues, FECONACO said in a recent statement published on the Spanish-language news website Servindi.

Vidal Coa Mamani, an attorney for Alianza Arkana's legal partner, the Program in Defense of Indigenous Rights (PDDI), lodged a formal complaint with Loreto's justice system over the recent spill, adding to dozens of other legal actions against PlusPetrol that are already in the glacial flow of Loreto's Regional Government. Representatives from the Justice's environmental wing said the spill would be investigated.

It is not clear what, if any, actions government officials will take against PlusPetrol. For the 16 years PlusPetrol has operated in the region, the company has spilled and dumped oil and other toxic materials with impunity in the Marañon, Tigre, Corrientes and Pastaza river basins.

Corrientes_spill_1_FECONACOPlusPetrol and Peru's national oil company PetroPeru are responsible for at least 110 spills on the same pipeline involved in the June 26 spill, according to PDDI president Jorge Tacuri, lead attorney for Alianza Arkana's legal partner PDDI.

Even when PlusPetrol has taken responsibility for other spills -- as those pictured here -- cleanup is usually superficial and ineffective, Tacuri and other activists say – a point echoed by Congresswoman Verónika Mendoza after her recent tour of Loreto.

"There are deficiencies in the issue of remediation," Mendoza told reporters. "They cover it (oil) up with sand, plant five trees and later it rises to the surface."

Mendoza's congressional team, led by Leonardo Inga and including Marisol Pérez Tello and Eduardo Nayap, is expected to present findings on PlusPetrol's activities later this summer.

Note on photos: The first photograph in this story is from the June 26, 2012 spill, courtesy of Servindi. The other photos are file photos of other recent spills by PlusPetrol in the Corrientes River basin, courtesy of FECONACO.

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