Kukamas of the Marañón River Win Historic Ruling on the Right to Prior Consultation

Water is life. Water is essential to every living being and is especially important to the Kukama peoples of the Marañón River in Loreto, Peru. Often called the people of the water, the Kukama have been living with the rhythms of this majestic Amazonian tributary for centuries. To them the Marañón is their fish market, their water faucet, and the cycle of the seasons. It flows through their culture and spirituality, shaping life itself.

The Peruvian Ministry for Transportation has massive dredging plans for the Marañón to make it more accessible for monstrous commercial boats that will navigate between the ports of Iquitos and Yurimaguas. This is all within the framework of regional integration strategies and the facilitation of Brazil’s access to the Pacific Ocean. The dredging of the Marañón promoted through PROINVERSION, the state body responsible for the promotion of private investment, will seriously affect the Kukama’s lives and territory. ILO Convention 169, one of the constitutional rights in Peru, states clearly that the concept of indigenous territory has to be interpreted as covering the totality of their traditional habitat, including their rivers.

Kukama mobilization June 2014Therefore the Kukama people couldn’t possibly accept the opinion of PROINVERSION and the Ministry of Transportation that the indigenous peoples’ right to prior consultation wasn’t at risk in the case of this dredging project, as the Ministry considered the river simply as public domain. The Kukama, led by their organization ACODECOSPAT, with the advice of the Institute for Legal Defense (IDL) and the Vicariate of Iquitos, amongst others, filed suit to a judge in the Nauta district, in the Loreto region, requesting that their constitutional rights be respected and demanded a prior consultation process to analyse the case of this mega infrastructure project.

This week the judge in Nauta emitted an historical ruling, suspending the dredging of the Marañón and requiring the Peruvian central government to organize a prior-consultation process with the Kukama peoples of the Marañón before any other decisions can be made.

This ruling gives hope in a political context where the Peruvian government seems to prioritize private investment over indigenous rights. Recently through the passage of Law 30230, a package of rules that has been criticized at the local, national and international levels, for its undermining of effective environmental standards and disrespect for indigenous territorial rights.

Map of environmental crisis zones Loreto

Peruvian government will have to take this into account for upcoming prior-consultation processes, for example in the case of oil block 1AB / 192. It is well known that the present leasing of this oil block expires at the end of August 2015. May justice be served in any future attempts to undermine due process and respect of the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples.

Sarah Kerremans, Thursday, 23 October 2014

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