An optimistic post issued by Oxfam America and co-authored by Oxfam Peru considers “a small victory” the September agreement signed by the four indigenous federations representing the Amazonian communities affected by oil exploration in Block 192.

The agreement commits the government to making prior consultation part of the contracting process when the current contract comes up for renewal in September 2019. This follows an earlier agreement in October last year and now commits the government specifically to a timetable for prior consultation.

Under the formal resolution with Prime Minister César Villanueva, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and PetroPerú, the government will complete the community consultation for Block 192 between December this year and March next.

Block 192 is of huge importance. It accounts for 17% of Peru’s oil production and is the country’s largest oil field. Abuses and contamination suffered by communities have continued under many different owners. It is currently operated by a Canadian company, Frontera, under a two-year contract. The government plans on it having another 30 years of productive life. The record of health and environmental damage is well-known and shocking.

The federations have worked closely with the Ministry of Health over the last year to produce serious documentation on damage to health suffered by local people. A new toxicology study by the National Centre for Occupational Health and Environmental Protection for Health (CENSOPAS), a centre within the ministry, was presented in April in Iquitos.

The Panamerican Health Organisation rates this study as exceptional, both in its quality and for the way in which the federations worked with the ministry on its design and implementation.

The samples taken covered 39 communities and a total of 1,138 people. The results show, among other findings, that

  • If international standards on acceptable levels of lead in the blood are applied, 57% of the sample exceeded this level.
  • Nearly a third had arsenic levels of over 28% above permitted levels, and
  • 26% had mercury over the accepted levels.

As the vice president of the Quechua Federation (FEDIQUEP) asked, how are we now going to get the affected people treated, and how are we going to prevent more damage?

The only specific act so far has been the commitment by CENSOPAS to set up ‘health brigades’ to visit the communities and begin appropriate healthcare measures. It will be important to ensure that this commitment is followed through and, above all, that the deadline for prior consultation is actually met. There have been too many false starts in the past.