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Indigenous peoples in Peru occupy Canadian oil facility to protect their drinking water from further contamination

Indigenous peoples from the Marañon, Pastaza, Corrientes and Tigre river basins in Peru’s northern Loreto region are now occupying Block 192, an oil facility operated by Toronto/Calgary-based Frontera Energy Corp. that produces about 7,500 barrels of oil a day.

Block 192 was previously operated by the Houston-based oil and gas transnational Occidental Petroleum Corp. for about 40 years, then by the Argentine company Pluspetrol starting in 2001, and now by Frontera since 2015. Their operations have led to the contamination of waterways and food sources.

APTN reports, “Hundreds of Indigenous people have reportedly seized oil facilities operated by the subsidiary of a Canadian company in Peru’s Amazon region amid warnings of a wider uprising over the Peruvian government’s failure to consult with communities before allowing extraction on their traditional territories.”

The Guardian explains, “Indigenous leaders from the area around Peru’s largest oil field have threatened to block the government from accessing their territories and halt oil production unless an indigenous rights law is applied within 20 days. The tribal leaders accuse the government of refusing to carry out a consultation process even though it is negotiating a new 30-year contract for Block 192 with Frontera Energy.”

Reuters adds, “Tribal chiefs said the government has refused to carry out the consultation process even though it is negotiating a new contract with Frontera, whose 2-year contract is due to expire this month.”

The Guardian also notes, “The so-called prior consultation law, passed in 2011 in Peru, requires the government to seek free, prior and informed consent from indigenous people before approving any development plans that might affect them.” That said, the Peruvian government, not unlike the Trudeau government on the right to free, prior and informed consent, says, “The consultation process is not a veto; it’s not a yes or no.” The Peruvian government also says that the consultation process held in 2015 for Frontera’s 2-year contract is still valid.

Carlos Sandi, the leader of the Corrientes river indigenous federation, says, “We live in a state where our democratic rights are not respected. If there is no consultation we will not allow the state or the oil companies in our territory for the next 30 years.” And Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, says, “Indigenous peoples have the right to be consulted about any project which is brought into their communities.”

The Guardian notes, “In July, Tauli-Corpuz and the special rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, highlighted Peru’s ‘grossly inadequate efforts’ to remedy widespread oil spills which polluted drinking water, caused widespread environmental damage, ill health and, according to Amazon leaders, deaths.”

The Canadian Press reports, “Production at Block 192 goes back decades, with the UN saying old, corroded pipelines have repeatedly ruptured in recent years, contaminating water and food sources.”

Telesur highlights, “Aurelio Lopez, leader of the Marañón river basin, said oil spills have led to contamination of the river, the land around the basin areas is not that fertile anymore and the children in the communities suffer from diseases. ‘Since 1970 several foreign companies have exploited Lot 192 and in the communities, there are no schools, there are no hospitals and (in) the few health posts there are no medicines or a doctor’, Lopez said.”

The Amazonian tribes want new commitments to clean up oil pollution, as well as access to health care and education.

Tauli-Corpuz says, “If those issues are not dealt with in the right way you cannot expect indigenous people to agree to another contract.”

The Council of Canadians and Blue Planet Project call on the Trudeau government to intervene to ensure that Peru respects the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), including the right to free, prior and informed consent. In May 2016, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations in New York City that, “We are now a full supporter of the declaration, without qualification.”

A 2-minute Telesur video on this situation can be seen here.