On 1 May, the Achuar community of San Cristóbal on the River Corrientes in Loreto region took the precautionary measure of taking over the air strip servicing Pluspetrol’s concession Block 8. The Achuar had observed continuing activity at the base despite an agreement to suspend operations from 18 April so as to reduce contagion.
The Achuar leader, Wilson Hualinga, said the local population’s concerns were real as 70% of the company’s workforce came from Iquitos, a major centre of the outbreak. Prior to the air strip closure, the Achuar had observed stretchers embarked on launches and helicopters overhead, concluding that the base concealed infected personnel. “We had no information” Hualinga has said “and the government has forgotten us. We do not want our families infected and have no medical posts”.
Early in March four indigenous federations of the north sent delegates to The Netherlands with an appeal to OECD to pressure Pluspetrol into assuming its responsibilities for the contamination of their lands in Block 192 and for the resulting effects on public health between 2000 and 2015. As we reported, one of the delegates was the first indigenous person to be infected with Covid-19.
On 21 April, a Kichwa community of the River Tigre came under threat of contamination by three spills in the base in Block 192, which Frontera Energy of Canada had abandoned in February. Though relatively confined to faulty storage tanks of crude and the pipes connecting them, the fear of the population was that the oil would work its way into the community’s water supply and eventually into the Tigre, affecting many more downstream.
Still responsible for servicing the ageing pipelines of Block 192, Frontera blamed the communities for sealing off access to the base. Denying the accusation, the Kichwa pointed to the company’s failure to activate the contingency plan required by OEFA, the public body responsible for environmental supervision, and by Osinergmin, the supervisory body for energy and mining investment.
The Kichwa also rejected the dispatch of a detachment of soldiers from a nearby base to secure the leaks on the grounds that environmental standards should not be sacrificed during an emergency.