Delicately trying to avoid more of the scrutiny and criticism earned by its violent handling of recent protests over mining projects elsewhere in Peru, President Ollanta Humala’s Administration quickly dispatched top officials to the Pastaza, including the national minster for the environment, Manuel Pulgar Vidal, and other top staff.
The Pastaza standoff ended peacefully early this week with a written commitment by the government to immediately form a multi-sector commission to investigate oil contamination in Loreto and a promise to launch a comprehensive health program in the mostly indigenous communities of the Pastaza, Corrientes, Marañon and Tigre river basins within a month.
While Quechua leaders had for months requested talks and demanded government compliance with a year-old deal promising improvements in health, education and an oil cleanup, it took a protest and implied threats of direct action against company operations to get the government to act. The initial response was military; special units of police were sent into Quechua villages to quell the protest. But participants said discipline by the police and protesters, as well as the presence of international witnesses from Alianza Arkana and members of the legal team of the Program in Defense of Indigenous Rights, helped keep the calm.
During the week-long action, residents of at least 17 Quechua communities under the leadership of Aurelio Chino Dahua, president of the main Quechua indigenous federation FEDIQUEP, converged on the village of Alianza Topal near the oil town of Andoas, where they met several times with the ministers and Loreto’s regional governor, Ivan Vasquez.
The unprecedented visit included a trip to an oil-slicked lake that locals say is poisoning community water sources downstream, as well as interviews with villagers who showed the officials skin rashes and other illnesses that they say are caused by the contamination from drilling-chemicals and oil.
“They (government officials) were finally there to see how serious it is. They could see that the people were prepared to take the river, to take the airfields, to take over the company’s operations,” said Jorge Tacuri, a lawyer representing FEDIQUEP and several other indigenous federations in the region.
“Until now they had never even visited to see for themselves,” Tacuri said.
The main source of community ire and now target of the environmental investigation is PlusPetrol, an Argentinian oil company known for frequent spills and disregard for indigenous communities affected by its operations on the rivers in Loreto.
Until now PlusPetrol has been somewhat of a political sacred cow, seemingly untouchable because of its status as the largest producer of oil in Loreto and Peru’s top producer of natural gas through a consortium known as Camisea, which operates in the south.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: Quechua Turn Pastaza Oil Protest into Watershed Deal with Government.