(AA) – Indigenous leaders in conflict with an oil company about decades of environmental contamination in Peru’s Amazon rallied the state Thursday to hold the company to account.
The heads of federations that are paralyzing drilling at the country’s biggest oil concession and barricading a river in protest, told reporters in Lima they were “condemned to death” unless the government intervened.
Communities from the four river basins that have been declared “environmental emergencies” by the Environment Ministry, have united to demand compensation and clean-up of zones blighted by toxic runoff from crude extraction.
“During 40 years of oil extraction, the state has allowed companies to exploit the oil block, but has allowed the violation of indigenous peoples’ rights,” said Carlos Sandi, President of the Federation of Indigenous Communities in the Corrientes River, or Feconaco.
After months of talks, approximately 400 Achuar Indians on Jan 26 seized 14 oil wells at the Jirabito base camp operated by Argentina’s Pluspetrol in Loreto region. Nearby in the Tigre river basin, natives have barricaded a jungle river for almost a month to prevent company’s supplies from reaching facilities.
Communities in the Tigre basin near the Ecuador border demand $35 million in a compensation fund for use of the land. The commission that heads up all groups called for toxicology tests to prove extreme levels of lead and cadmium in natives’ blood, as well as land rights and development of the deprived jungle areas.
Alfonso Lopez, President of the Federation for the Maroñon river, or ACODECOSPAT, slammed the state for lax regulation of the sector and failure to observe indigenous peoples’ rights.
“There’s permanent crude on the surface of our rivers and gullies, and every day that passes our brothers are getting sick. We’re not against an activity that generates income for the state, but we’re not for an activity that slowly kills and destroys our generations,” he said.
The leaders traveled to the capital to meet with government ministers Thursday after days of talks broke down with the oiler in the Amazonian city of Iquitos. Recurrent protests have broken out in recent years, with the last demonstration in April 2014 halting 70 percent of the concession’s 15,000 to 17,000 daily production.
The Argentine oiler, which has operated in the area since 2001, said it already paid damages to nine communities and called the actions “unjustified” as some settlements lie outside its drilling zones.
The current stand-off is costing the oiler 3,100 barrels a day in production, or about 5 percent of Peru’s national crude output.
With the concessions set to be re-licensed in August, the leaders said they’re concerned the company could withdraw unpunished.
Pluspetrol hasn’t acknowledged the extent of the pollution and brought lawsuits against evidence put forward by Peru’s environment watchdog, said Tami Okamoto, a specialist in indigenous affairs at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
Communities will continue to occupy the oil wells unless they reach agreement, Sandi said.
Around 20,000 to 25,000 inhabitants live within the four basins, according to the North Amazon Oil Observatory.