From Intercontinental Cry:
After more than a week of peaceful protests, indigenous Quechua residents of the Pastaza River basin finally pushed the Peruvian government to launch a high-level investigation of foreign oil companies operating in Peru’s northern Amazon region of Loreto.
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.
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.
But PlusPetrol’s privileged position appears shaky.
Intense lobbying and occasional protests against the company by indigenous groups in Loreto have caught the attention of a few members of Peru’s congress, who late last year formed a working group and held hearings on PlusPetrol earlier this year.
While the accord reached on the Pastaza is seen as a major victory for the indigenous communities of Loreto, leaders say there are still details to be worked out, including their demand that indigenous communities be officially consulted according to international law before PlusPetrol can try to negotiate a renewal of its concession in oil Block 1AB. The government has not yet responded to the demand.
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