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News > Latin America

Indigenous People Vow To Block New Oil Contract in Peruvian Amazon

  • Carlos Sandi, president of Amazon's native communities of the Corrientes basin, speaks during a news conference in Lima, Peru, on August 22, 2017.

    Carlos Sandi, president of Amazon's native communities of the Corrientes basin, speaks during a news conference in Lima, Peru, on August 22, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 25 August 2017

They are demanding that the government applies an Indigenous rights law within 20 days. 

Indigenous people living on Peru's largest oil field concession have threatened to block the government from accessing their territories and halt production unless a rights law is implemented within 20 days. 

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The so-called prior consultation law, passed in 2011, requires the Peruvian government to seek free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous groups before approving any development plans which might affect them.

But tribal leaders accuse the government of refusing to carry out the consultation process while it negotiates a new 30-year contract for Block 192 in the Peruvian Amazon with the Frontera Energy Corporation, a Canadian firm whose current agreement expires this month.

“We live in a state where our democratic rights are not respected,” said Carlos Sandi, the leader of the Corrientes river Indigenous federation and one of nearly 25 representatives for more than 40,000 people living in Peru’s northern Loreto region.

“If there is no consultation we will not allow the state or the oil companies on our territory for the next 30 years,” Sandi said. 

Protesters from the Indigenous community also have taken control of oil drums and other facilities operated by Frontera to curb output in Block 192 a tribal leader said on Tuesday.

"If the government says it'll carry out prior consultation, we'll automatically end the protest," Wilmer Chavez, chief of the community of Los Jardines, told Reuters.

Frontera, which produced some 7,500 barrels a day from Block 192 in July, said in a statement it values community consent and that only the government could legally carry out prior consultation.

"Since our arrival to the area of Block 192, Frontera Energy has been working to gain the community's trust and act as a mediator to ease potential tensions between the government, the industry and the community," the statement said. 

Officials from Peru’s energy ministry refused to confirm if a new consultation process would be undertaken, stating that one carried out in 2015 was still valid, when the government signed a service contract in that field for two years. 

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But Angela Acevedo, director of Indigenous peoples rights at Peru’s vice ministry of intercultural affairs, confirmed that the 2015 process had ended in disagreement between the government and the Indigenous communities but said the “state takes the final decision.”

“The consultation process is not a veto; it’s not a yes or no (to a project),” said Acevedo.

She also added that the Indigenous groups had issued a formal appeal against the ministry’s decision to her agency which is responsible for overseeing the application of the prior consultation law.

Amazonian tribes in Block 192 also want the government to sign new commitments for the clean-up of oil pollution and for access to health care and education in the remote region before awarding Frontera a new contract, Chavez said.

In July, Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, and Baskut Tuncak, the special rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes, highlighted Peru’s “grossly inadequate efforts” to remedy previous widespread oil spills in the region.

Indigenous people have for years complained the spills caused widespread environmental damage and demanded measures such as land titling, adequate compensation for environmental damage and consultation.

“If those issues are not dealt with in the right way you cannot expect indigenous people to agree to another contract,” Tauli-Corpuz said. “They must be addressed seriously as the basis of [any] future consultation is good faith.”

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