Spilling the Oil Corporations (Part III) – Peru

13 Jul

When the Peruvian and the US government signed a free trade agreement allowing oil, mining and logging companies to enter indigenous lands without seeking the latter’s permission, the indigenous people initiated a large scale protest that lasted for 70 days. As many as 30,000 were believed to have blocked roads, rivers and railways which was violently put down by the military police on 5 June in Bagua. According to eyewitnesses accounts, at least 40 indigenous people were killed though the government claims the number is lower. Some claim that the police were also hastily disposing the dead bodies. After the widespread NGO condemnation and the continuing protests, the Garcian administration relented and repealed two controversial legislations 1090 and 1064 though the indigenous community were opposed to 10 of the new laws (Amazon Watch 2009a; Amazon Watch 2009b; Amazon Watch 2009c).

This latest people power against the collusion of government and oil interests is however not an isolated incident. In 2006, more than 800 Achuar indigenous people peacefully blockaded Pluspetrol oil facilities for two weeks and managed to get most of their demands met (Earthrights International 2006). A year later, the same indigenous people with the aid of NGOs sued Los Angeles based Occidental Petroleum (Oxy), the company that was operating in the same oil fields before Pluspetrol took over, in a US court for violating environmental laws by ‘dumping toxic water directly into rivers and streams’ (Hearn 2008).

According to a joint NGO report, the result of three decades of dumping in what is known as the Block 1AB operations by Oxy has considerably harmed the health of five indigenous Achuar communities and contaminated the Corrientes River Basin (EarthRights International, Racimos de Ungurahui, Amazon Watch 2007, p. 8).

The extent of such harm is perpetuated by the oil companies who should have been fully aware of the disastrous consequences:

Oxy knowingly [emphasis mine] employed out-of-date practices in the Corrientes River basin and used methods long outlawed in the U.S. and in violation of Peruvian law, and continued those practices for 30 years in Peru. In violation of Peruvian law, Oxy dumped an average of 850,000 barrels per day of toxic oil by-products from the extraction process, known as “produced waters,” directly into rivers and streams used by the Achuar for drinking, bathing, washing, and fishing, totaling approximately 9 billion barrels over 30 years of operation

… resulted in the contamination and subsequent decline in fish and game populations and agricultural productivity for the communities who inhabit Block 1AB. Today the Achuar have to travel greater distances, only to return home with far less and lower quality food than they once caught or fished. Farms are less productive, and the areas available for cultivation have been significantly reduced (EarthRights International, Racimos de Ungurahui, Amazon Watch 2007, p. 8, 9).

The report also accuses Pluspetrol of continuing the legacy of harm perpetuated by Oxy: ‘Recently, Pluspetrol agreed to change its practices, although this agreement has not yet been implemented’ (EarthRights International, Racimos de Ungurahui, Amazon Watch 2007, p.9).

Another controversial gas project in Peru, also known as the Camisea Gas Project or Block 88 was allowed to continue despite its operations contravening international laws for disrupting the habitats of the indigenous people. Owned by a consortium of foreign oil companies including US Dallas-based Hunt Oil and Pluspetrol, the oil field pipelines had already ruptured 4 times with at least three major spills one and a half year since its operations by August 2004. It was later discovered that the pipeline was ‘constructed by unqualified and untrained welders using corroded piping and rushing to avoid onerous late completion fees’. The project had also caused massive environmental destruction by destroying the area’s rich biodiversity and violating industry workplace safety benchmarks (Amazon Watch n.d.).

Par example:

Disregard for safety regulations by project workers has already led to the death of nine workers and one Machiguenga child, drowned in the wake of a speeding consortium boat. Technical experts have repeatedly documented irreparable impacts on critical natural habitat resulting from persistent multiple landslides and massive soil erosion and river sedimentation from the pipeline’s extremely steep route. The companies’ consistent disregard for erosion control during and after pipeline’s construction has allowed heavy rains to wash thousands of tons of soil and vegetation into local rivers (Amazon Watch n.d.).

Like the Achuar people, the health of the indigenous communities affected by the Camisea project have also deteriorated:

The Camisea Project continues to jeopardize the health and safety of Machiguenga indigenous communities who live in small communities along the Urubamba and Camisea Rivers. The reduction in fish and game stocks caused by project construction has adversely affected their staple diet of fish and game. Illness is on the increase throughout the Urubamba. Recently dozens of new cases of syphilis were reported by the health post in the indigenous community of Kirigueti. Local health workers have testified that small children are at risk from chronic malnutrition. A Machiguenga man stated: Now there is such a combination of illnesses that we can’t identify the illnesses that we get (Amazon Watch n.d.)..

Given that oil corporations have historically and continually exploit the Peruvian oil without regard for the environment and the local communities, it is natural that NGO groups are wary of any oil explorations. Two groups have recently cautioned and advised ConocoPhillips, fast becoming Peru’s ‘leading holder of exploration acreage’ to  uphold the highest human rights and environmental standards (Amazon Watch, Save America’s Forests 2009, p. 2). Despite having earlier holdings in the Amazon, this US-based company does not have a open and consistent policy on indigenous peoples. Possible conflicts are also highlighted based on ConocoPhillips’s consultation exercise with the local indigenous people for one of its Block 124 operations (Amazon Watch, Save America’s Forests 2009, p. 17).

-Works Cited-

Earthrights International 2006, ‘Achuar Nation wins landmark agreement to stop toxic contamination of their lands’, 24 October, accessed 4 July 2009.

EarthRights International, Racimos de Ungurahui, Amazon Watch 2007, ‘A legacy of harm, Occidental Petroleum in Indigenous territory in the Peruvian Amazon’, April, accessed 23 July 2009.

Amazon Watch n.d., ‘Peru – Camisea Natural Gas Project’, accessed 4 July 2009.

Amazon Watch 2009a, ‘Benjamin Bratt speaks out against the killing of indigenous people in Peru’, 16 June, accessed 4 July 2009.

Amazon Watch 2009b, ‘Peruvian Congress votes 82- 12 to repeal two controversial  laws’, 18 June, accessed 4 July 2009

Amazon Watch 2009c, ‘Eyewitness reports accuse Peruvian police of disposing the bodies of dead indigenous protestors’, 8 June, accessd 4 July 2009

Amazon Watch, Save America’s Forests 2009, ‘ConocoPhillps in the Peruvian Amazon’, 13 May, accessed 23 June 2009

Hearn, K 2008, ‘For Peru’s Indians, lawsuits against big oil reflects a new era’, Washington Post, 31 January, accessed 4 July 2009


One Response to “Spilling the Oil Corporations (Part III) – Peru”

  1. Derek Wall July 16, 2009 at 5:56 pm #

    The indigenous in Peru are very well organised, if you haven’t done so look at Hugo Blanco’s site, he publishes Lucha Indigena (Indigenous Fight) http://www.luchaindigena.com/ and the http://www.aidesep.org.pe/ which is the national federation of indigenous people in Peru.

    Nice blog keep up the good work….just been blogging about Nick Origlass, seems to be a history of good green activism in Australia….depressing to read your post about Pete Garett though…sounds similar to other radicals who have sold out.

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