Indigenous peoples in the province of Atalaya, Peru have begun an indefinite strike to protest the failure of national, regional, and local authorities to safeguard their lives from the harmful effects of pollution in the Ucayali and Urubamba rivers. Both tributaries according to the protesting groups have been polluted by extractive industries in the region, representatives have also said that they are dealing with threats related to drug and land trafficking.
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“We have over 70 percent of chronic malnutrition among children and adults; there are contagious diseases like AIDS that are consuming us, the legalization of Indigenous territories is not done, forest concessions in our lands are given without any consultation, there are no utilities’ percentage for the production of gas and wood extraction in the forests we have protected as ancestral inheritance,” community leader Guillermo Ñaco said.
“We want the central government to enter into a dialogue with us,” Edwin Jumanga of the Regional Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples of Aidesep said.
The strike began Wednesday, but the groups have threatened to block the routes used to transport cargo through the Urubamba and Ucayali rivers. “We are coordinating with the other 12 Amazonean regions because irresponsible extractive policies are affecting not only native peoples but the general population,” Ñaco explained.
The Interethnic Development Association of Peru’s Jungle (Aidesep) explains the Indigenous peoples of Atalaya have a history of struggle and victories.
“In 1988 they confronted and defeated the last zone of slavery and servile work; today they return to a historic struggle demanding urgent actions against the effects of extractive projects and deeds over their territories in the face of increasing settlers and land trafficking that aggravate their situation," Aidesep said.
Cargo ships that support the logistical operations of the Camisea project have produced extensive contamination of the water of the Ucayali and Urubamba rivers, which has, in turn, diminished the source of food available for the communities that live near the river banks.
Between 2004 and 2012 there were six natural gas spills which polluted land and water bodies, destroying the primary sources of food for Indigenous communities.
Among their demands is a law to redistribute 25 percent of the profits to Indigenous peoples and nature preservation efforts.
The strike will continue until Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra agrees to form a delegation, including the ministers of agriculture, transport, and communications, environment, and education, to meet with the communities and their representatives.
The communities are also concerned about increased drug trafficking activities that have lead to the systematic murder of social and community leaders who defend their territories, threat that is present throughout Latin America.
“We are truly at risk, in the rivers banks’ there are 25 illegal landing zones used by drug dealers and the state does nothing.”
According to Aidesep they are also demanding attention for the Nahua people, of the Serjali community, who are facing health issues due to exposure to heavy metal such as mercury. The communities claim the state has an obligation to verify the source of the problem and guarantee it is not a result of the Camisea gas operations.