Pichanaki killings force Pluspetrol to withdraw from central jungle exploration site

14 February 2015

The death on February 11 of a student at the hands of the riot police and the wounding of 32 other people by live ammunition in the township of Pichanaki have forced the government to give marching orders to Pluspetrol, the Argentine-owned company involved in exploration for oil and gas in the central jungle. As readers of the Update will know (http://www.perusupportgroup.org.uk/article-800.html), Pluspetrol has also been the target for protests in the northern jungle in Loreto, where communities are demanding compensation for years of contamination in one of Peru’s key oil-producing blocks.

Police apparently responded to demonstrations and road blocks in and around Pichanaki in the province of Chanchamayo (Junín region) by opening fire on the protesters. The student killed was Ever Pérez Humán, aged 25. According to one of the wounded survivors, the “police opened fire on us as if they were madmen” (“los policías comenzaron a disparar como locos”). The official version from the interior ministry that firearms were not used was belied by hospital workers removing bullets from victims’ bodies.

The conflict triggered an immediate and clearly nervous response from the government. Two ministers – Eleodoro Mayorga (minister of energy and mines) and Daniel Figallo (justice minister) – were dispatched to Pichanaki to engage in dialogue with the Frente de Defensa Ambiental de Pichinaki. On February 12, Mayorga announced that Pluspetrol would withdraw from the area “within three days”. The Frente de Defensa, in turn, announced the suspension of its protests for a week (until February 19).

The Frente has demanded that Pluspetrol withdraw not only from the area round Pichanaki (Block 108) but from the whole area of the central jungle. It takes issue with the Environmental Impact Assessment provided by the company. Pluspetrol denies that it has been the cause of any contamination, saying that its activities so far have been confined to exploration. It seems unlikely, however, that it will ever return, given the local climate of hostility to its presence. With oil prices at just over US$50 a barrel, the events at Pichinaki, combined with those in the valleys of the north, may push Pluspetrol to withdraw from oil production in the Peruvian jungle altogether.

According to President Ollanta Humala, the protests in Pichanaki were orchestrated by “groups of extremists” present in “the majority” of other social conflicts. The government has also come under pressure this week from renewed protests at the Las Bambas mining project in Apurímac region.

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