On 19 November, 20 indigenous leaders representing 424 communities and 14 ethnic organisations potentially affected by the dredging of the Peruvian Amazon and its principal sources (the rivers Ucayali, Huallaga and Marañón) repeated their long-standing rejection of the Hidrovia Amazónica project. Their major concern is the disturbance to the fisheries on which their food security depends. Their leaders demanded that the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC) commission a comprehensive study from IIAP, the Institute for Amazonian Research.

Their representative organisation AIDESEP also alerted the meeting to the contractor’s performance in neighbouring Ecuador, where the state audit office has produced a 148-page evaluation that is critical of the work undertaken by China’s engineering company Sinohydro for the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, ten projects in six provinces between 2012-2018.

Of the 13 contraventions of contract identified by Ecuador, the most concerning for Peru are technical faults (in roads and bridges) and undue influence, the dismissal of a ministry official who complained of the quality of work in her province. In Peru, Sinohydro forms part of the Cohidro consortium led by Peru’s CASA (Construction and Administration) company.

According to AIDESEP, staff and representatives of Sinohydro were also involved in irregularities in securing public contracts, including bribery, influence peddling and organised crime, as well as money laundering connected with a donation to Rafael Correa’s presidential campaign. This last favour was apparently rewarded with an additional contract to construct a hydroelectric station.

In an investigation featured by La República last week, Convoca.pe identified CASA as the Peruvian affiliate of Hidalgo y Hidalgo of Ecuador which is implicated in corruption scandals in Panama, Ecuador and Peru. The director of CASA, who is of Ecuadorian nationality, is under investigation in Peru for influence peddling, illegal connections and money laundering in the Construction Club case. He is accused of giving an undeclared US$100,000 contribution to the campaign of former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Though banned from leaving Peru by the anti-corruption court, he continues as director of the Cohidro consortium that is leading the Hidrovia project.

Convoca.pe has uncovered evidence that, during the bidding for the Hidrovia contract, there were more than 50 meetings between CASA and the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC), both before and after the approval of the CASA bid. There were no meetings at all with the competitors, a Belgian and another Chinese construction company. The director and staff of CASA recall no such meetings with the MTC prior to the bid.