Renewed protest in Loreto over oil spill damage

11 February 2018

Eighteen organisations representing many of the indigenous communities affected by oil spills from the leaky and badly-maintained Northern Peru pipeline have started a protest a year after the signing of the Saramurillo Accords. Signed in December 2016 with significant ministerial presence, the accords suggested a fresh and more serious approach on the part of the Kuczynski administration to dealing with the effects of oil spills on local communities. But today, these do not see the progress that was promised.

Initially a 72-hour strike was called as of 6 February. However, the leaders sensed the lack of any proper official response, resorting to declaring their strike as 'indefinite'. By 9 February this had escalated into a major blockade of the rivers along which the petroleum barges pass, and a number of boats were also being held captive. See La Republica. 

A government commission has now arrived in Loreto to negotiate. There has been no response so far to the strikers' demand for Mercedes Aráoz, the president of the Council of Ministers, to be present.

The 41 agreements contained in the Saramurillo Accords covered a huge area. At their heart was official acceptance of the need for action on making good the damage done by oil spills, harm which has become ever more serious in the last few years. This covered compensation and proper renovation and maintenance of the pipeline. But also key were the accords on local development, with numerous ministries making promises in areas such as rural electrification, sanitation and education. The accords also included better representation of the communities in various important planning processes. Action was supposed to take place in 2017, mostly in the first six months.

In August, the government published a detailed account of progress up to that date.

Another central point in the accords was the government’s agreement to commission a report by an 'independent' company to address “the true state of the pipeline and suitable measures to assure the safety of all the populations of the five cuencas affected, and how no recurrence can be assured” (Accord number 1). Progress on remediation and renovation was to await the report (Accord number 5). The terms of reference were to be agreed with full community representation, and names were to be supplied for this by the communities within ten days.

The terms of reference and the tender were to be established within 120 days. The evaluation states that the communities did not supply the names until June. We have found no further comment on the report. Delay in producing the report has held up honouring the key pledge of making good past damage and renovating the pipeline; hence the frustration and protest of today.

Meanwhile all the bids for clean-up operations received in response to the tender were rejected. A second tender is planned.Another important agreement contained in the accords was the creation of a multi-sectoral commission chaired by the transport ministry with community participation. The commission’s brief included drawing up development plans for all the communities affected. Although this has been set up and meetings have taken place, it is as yet unclear whether the commission will be more than just a talking shop.

While the evaluation mentions assessment visits by different ministries, a year later there is no clear indication of any effective development work. Frustration is therefore understandable.

For a recent report on the damage done by the Argentine company Pluspetrol when it controlled the two main sites, see IWGIA.

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