- In a November 3 letter, Fernando Zavala, who heads the Cabinet, made lifting the river blockade a condition for the meeting. Photos posted by protesters on social media show river boats and barges moored along the riverbank, unable to go upriver or down.
- Leaders of the communities involved in the protest were meeting November 6 and 7 to discuss the proposal. While the back and forth between indigenous communities and government leaders was under way, four more oil spills occurred in communities upstream from Saramurillo, bringing to 10 the total number since January.
- After four spills in less than six weeks along a 50-kilometer stretch of pipeline, which the company blamed on vandals, Petroperú announced that it was declaring an emergency, planning to obtain drones to monitor the pipeline, and asking the government to assign “security forces” to patrol it.
An indigenous protest over oil pollution in the Peruvian Amazon — which is blocking boat traffic on the Marañón River, a crucial transportation route — could move toward a solution in the coming days, with a meeting between protesters and Cabinet ministers.
But in a November 3 letter, Fernando Zavala, who heads the Cabinet, made lifting the river blockade a condition for the meeting. Photos posted by protesters on social media show river boats and barges moored along the riverbank, unable to go upriver or down.
The government delegation could include the ministers of justice, culture and health, according to a November 6 letter to the protest leaders from Rolando Luque, who heads the government office that deals with social conflicts.
Leaders of the communities involved in the protest were meeting November 6 and 7 to discuss the proposal.
The flurry of correspondence between the protesters and government officials followed an initial negotiating session October 11 and 12 in the village of Saramurillo, on the bank of the Marañón.
A state of emergency declared for two districts in Loreto, the region most affected by the pollution and the protests, fell short of the protesters’ demands. The regional official in charge of civil defense said the government’s ability to respond was hampered by the river blockade.
Indigenous leaders have insisted on meeting with Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski or some of his Cabinet ministers, arguing that lower-level officials lack the authority to make binding decisions.
“We’re tired of endless discussions,” said José Fachín, 35, a Kichwa law student who serves as adviser to the leaders of the five indigenous organizations heading the protest.
During the October talks, the protesters demanded that a state of emergency be declared in the districts of Urarinas and Parinari, where a series of oil spills have occurred since 2014 along a crude pipeline operated by the state-run oil company Petroperú.
But the emergency decree issued on October 29 covered only nine communities downstream from spills that occurred in the community of Nueva Alianza on August 19 and October 22. Those communities will receive drinking water and food assistance for 10 days, according to Alfredo Carrasco, director of national defense for the Loreto regional government.
It does not include either Nueva Alianza or Monterrico, two communities where spills occurred. Nor does it include 6 de Julio or Naranjal, in the district of Lagunas, where spills occurred after the October meeting.
Officials from the regional health, agriculture, environment, and civil defense offices planned to travel to Nueva Alianza on November 3 to assess further needs, but the trip was suspended because of the river blockade, Carrasco said.
The state of emergency came after an exchange of letters between government officials and the protesters following the October meeting.
On October 21, the government responded to the seven-point agenda that the indigenous organizations had presented during the talks.
Those demands include repair or replacement of the aging Petroperú pipeline, remediation of polluted sites and compensation for the affected communities, an environmental monitoring law, and a “truth commission” to study the impacts of decades of poorly regulated oil operations that have left more than 1,000 polluted sites in indigenous territories in five watersheds.
The protesters also called for a review of the contract with Argentinian-based Pluspetrol, which continues to operate the oil field known as Block 8.
When Pluspetrol’s lease expired in the block formerly known as 1AB, now Block 192, the company pulled out in 2015 without remediating polluted sites in the Pastaza, Corrientes, and Tigre watersheds. Communities located in Block 8, which overlaps the Corrientes and Chambira rivers, fear it could do the same when its lease there expires.
The indigenous leaders received a 10-page response summarizing the positions of various government agencies, without specific plans. They replied on October 25 with a three-page letter signed by at least 30 community presidents, in which they criticized “the limited action and attention to the underlying problems” in the communities.
The protesters face possible criminal charges associated with the river blockade, which is considered abduction under Peruvian law. The seventh point of their platform is an end to “criminalization of protest,” but the government’s response said it would be up to the courts to rule on any legal charges.
While the exchange of letters was under way, four more oil spills occurred in communities upstream from Saramurillo, bringing to 10 the total number since January. Petroperú officials blamed the last seven spills on vandalism, provoking a sharp response from community leaders and villagers who felt they were being blamed.
In a communiqué issued on October 28, Petroperú blamed “unscrupulous persons” with “political or economic interests” who “use the communities to purposely break the pipeline.” Company officials say the spills are caused deliberately to create employment in an area where jobs are scarce.
Some 1,700 people are currently working on the cleanup of oil spills in seven communities.
After four spills in less than six weeks along a 50-kilometer stretch of pipeline, which the company blamed on vandals, Petroperú announced that it was declaring an emergency, planning to obtain drones to monitor the pipeline, and asking the government to assign “security forces” to patrol it.
The company also announced a plan it calls “pipeline guardians,” in which it would contract with communities to monitor the pipeline in their territories. Company officials suggested that the program could be tied to the environmental monitoring law requested by the protesters, but indigenous leaders said they want a monitoring system independent of the company.
A decree issued November 5 changed Peru’s Criminal Code to make damaging oil infrastructure a criminal offense. Gas pipelines were already mentioned in the code, but the changes specifically mention theft of oil or its derivatives or damage to related infrastructure.
Suspicion surrounding the recent spills has heightened mutual distrust between the company and communities. Petroperú has filed legal charges accusing unspecified suspects of cutting the pipeline, but no one has been arrested.
Osinergmin, the government regulatory agency that oversees the pipeline and is responsible for ruling on the causes of spills, has not announced its findings in most of this year’s cases.