Amazon oil spill reactivates long-standing conflicts between indigenous communities, the state and Petroperu

06 July 2019

On 19 June, OEFA, the state environmental monitoring and supervision agency, announced yet another oil spill from the northern branch of the pipeline running from the Peruvian Amazon to the Pacific coast. It announced that its supervisors had entered the area to identify the possible cause and evaluate environmental impacts.

Petroperú, the state oil company, announced that the spill was due to sabotage by unknown persons and that it had activated its contingency plan and closed the valve. It maintained that the indigenous people from the Jerusalem and Nuevo Progreso communities had not allowed its workers to enter the area in order to contain the spill. It said that conditions had been placed on them entering the area and that locals had attacked representatives from the prime minister’s office, the company and the national police.

On 30 June, the national government declared a health emergency in the Manseriche district of Datem del Marañón province in the Loreto region, estimating that the health of 1,000 persons in the Numpagkaim and Saramiriza gullies could be affected.

Marcia Mudarra, vice-president of CORPI, a regional indigenous organization, called on Prime Minister Salvador del Solar to establish a dialogue in the nearest town of San Lorenzo to solve the problem. On 27 June, a meeting planned between del Solar and the representatives of 54 indigenous communities to evaluate advances in resolving ongoing issues was cancelled at the last minute following indigenous demands to change the venue and conditions. The government commission has declared its willingness to continue the dialogue.

Faced with this situation, Jorge Pérez Rubio, the president of ORPIO, another regional indigenous organization, declared that there would be a mobilisation of indigenous people, starting on July 5. Meanwhile, the day before this was due to begin, the four indigenous federations that have been long-term defenders of communities affected by oil operations in Block 192, denounced the platform known as People Affected by Petroleum (which had called for the stoppage of oil operations on 5 July), as not representing the indigenous people of the Loreto region.

Such actions on the part of the national government, Petroperú and indigenous organisations reflect well-established behaviour patterns: the state attempts to impose petroleum extraction on the Peruvian Amazon and defends the companies engaged in exploration, extraction and transport; and the indigenous organisations attempt to defend their right to a healthy environment while jockeying to claim representative legitimacy and to obtain benefits from both the state and the company. This pattern of low intensity ‘warfare’ seems likely to continue until such time as the government decides to abandon its reliance on oil extracted from the Amazon or adopts alternative policies.

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