Loreto: the Heart of the Amazon Rainforest

Loreto: Peru’s largest Amazon province and location of the dense rainforest region referred to as the “heart of the planet,” is also the heart of Peru’s oil production. Home to more indigenous people than any other region of Peru in pure numeric terms and in the diversity of groups, almost the entire surface of Loreto has been cut up for oil and gas exploration and production. Unfortunately, in recent years the province has also been the site of violent clashes, flashpoints of a mounting resource war, as the native people protect their land and rivers against the companies and the state.

Oil Blocks in Loreto

(Please click to enlarge)

Arcana_lots_loreto_copy

Alianza Arkana, meaning “Protection Alliance”, was founded to heed the immediate call for allies from the indigenous communities under siege in Loreto. They include Achuar and Quechua communities of the Corrientes and Pastaza rivers, Awajun, Urarina and Kukama communities on the Rio Manañon, Achuar and Quechua on the Tigre, the Secoya on the Putomayo, Matses on the Yavari, the Quichua on the Napo and a mix of groups along the Ucayali. These waterways that begin their course in the highlands eventually drain into the Maranon and ultimately into the Amazon near Iquitos, forming what Kukama leader Alfonso Lopez calls a “circuit of contamination.”

While the US oil company Occidental was historically to blame for much of the contamination in Loreto, the current culprit is Argentinian firm Pluspetrol is currently the most intransigent company in the region. A team of monitors from Achuar and Urarina communities on the Corrientes documented 18 major crude oil spills from Pluspetrol in 2010 alone, and over 90 spills over the last three years.  Nearly half of the 8,000-some Achuar people living in 31 communities in Loreto were considered “direct victims” of Occidental’s and Pluspetrol’s combined spills and other forms of contamination, including acid rain caused by the gas flares, according to the human rights group Racimos de Ungurahui.

On the Marañon, the main watershed of Northern Peru, ongoing spills of crude oil from Pluspetrol threaten the people of the region and the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, “one of the most important wetlands of the Amazon and one of the most fragile reserves and refuges for a rich variety of Amazon flora and fauna,” according to the state-run Institute for Investigations of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP).

Oil_on_the_Corrientes_-_2After a series of tragic spills of Pluspetrol crude on that river between June 2010 and May 2011, Alianza Arkana funded an historic month-long trip to more than 40 Kukama communities. With our help, Alfonso Lopez Tejada, president of the Kukama federation ACODECOSPAT, united all but two of his federation’s base communities into a block whose apus (community leaders) declared their intent to sue Pluspetrol. The momentum achieved by this trip inspired Quechua and Achuar leaders from the Pastaza, along with leaders from the Tigre, Ucayali and lower Marañon, to join with Alfonso in an unprecedented indigenous alliance.

On the heels of Alianza Arkana's pilot project on the Marañon, Quechua leaders arrived in Iquitos asking to join the alliance. After at least 50 of their leaders and members were jailed following historic protests against Pluspetrol in 2008, apus and other Quechua leaders from the Rio Pastaza resumed their protest. Following a series of key meetings sponsored by Alianza Arkana and its partners at the Program for the Defense of Indigenous Rights, PDDI, the regional government agreed to start blood and health tests and to survey hotspots along the Pastaza for oil contamination.

The charter meeting of Alianza Arkana's staff, board and indigenous partners resulted in a call for a historic forum on oil contamination to be held in Iquitos in July. With the help of all who care for the fate of the Amazon and its peoples, the forum will convene leaders from nine indigenous groups with nongovernmental partners, Peruvian governmental representatives, students, NGO's and experts in international and environmental law to create a political platform and agenda to present to the new Peruvian Administration as Ollanta Humala is installed in the presidency.

Key to the convention are the citizens of Iquitos. Even with the hopeful happenings upriver, an ominous new threat looms to the south in oil Block 122 where Canadian oil company GranGran_Tierra_in_Maranon Tierra has launched a full-scale exploration along the Rio Nanay which is the main source of drinking water and the principal fishing grounds for the half million people of Iquitos. Within the last 2 years, Gran Tierra has been aggressively acquiring oil concessions surrounding Iquitos and through either outright purchase or partnership with other companies, they are now officially operating in 8 oil blocks with more negotiations underway to further expand their activities. Gran Tierra have decided to focus on an area that is essentially where the Amazon river begins.

Future oil contamination will mean disastrous consequences for the city of Iquitos and for the entire river Amazon - the most important river on the planet.

Alianza Arkana is currently carrying out a study of Gran Tierra's activities and will shortly be releasing further information. Alianza Arkana aims to focus international attention on the ongoing destruction of Loreto’s rivers and threats to its indigenous peoples and sound the alarm for the people of Iquitos who will ultimately suffer the most from this circuit of contamination.

Ultimately, we at Alianza Arkana seek recognition for the region, the so-called “heart of the Amazon,” as a World Heritage site and for a moratorium to be placed on oil extraction in Peruvian province of Loreto. The entire planet suffers from the destruction of the Amazon and we have a duty of care to protect it.

Join us as we help empower and support effective indigenous leaders to facilitate the historic process of unification against the destructive international oil industry in Loreto.

Oil_on_the_Corrientes_-5