Politics of Poverty

Indigenous leaders halt protests after Peru agrees to meet their demands

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Oxfam campaign graphic telling Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski that prior consultation is not an option, but a human right. (Photo: Oxfam Peru)

The Peruvian government’s agreement with indigenous leaders in oil block 192 offers a ray of hope for indigenous organizations fighting to have a say in projects that affect them, but major gaps remain in consultation processes across Latin America.

We will not allow resources to be extracted from our territories if the government does not guarantee us a prior consultation process which incorporates social and environmental protections for our lands and safety for our sons and daughters…”    – Achuar leader, September 2017

Just a few weeks ago the situation looked quite bleak for indigenous leaders of oil block 192, Peru’s largest oil field located in the northern Amazon. The Peruvian government passed a law in 2011 guaranteeing indigenous peoples’ right to prior consultation for projects that affect them. However, when it came time to prepare for a new 30-year contract for block 192, the government began looking for ways to avert their responsibilities under the new law. The government claimed that it had already consulted communities in 2015, but the process could hardly be considered fair and representative since the agreements reached failed to include 80 percent of communities in the block.

With Canadian oil company Frontera’s contract set to expire in 2019, indigenous federations of the Achuar, Kichwa, Quechua, and Urarinas peoples saw an opening to right that past wrong and demanded new consultations. They had good cause to be fed up with the way the project had been managed to date. Indigenous communities had suffered close to half a century of environmental and health impacts in the block which had yet to be remediated adequately. In recent years the government declared four environmental and one health emergency in the block; created two multi-sectoral commissions to address the environmental, health, and land titling needs of communities; and reached a series of agreements in 2015 which led to the ill-fated first attempt at consultation. Yet not much had changed for communities on the ground.

When the indigenous federations learned the government would not provide a new opportunity for consultation, they opted for peaceful protest. They took control of the oil installations on their lands and launched a national-level campaign in defense of their right to prior consultation. On October 31, the government agreed to implement a prior consultation process in line with Peruvian law for any new contract for the block. The agreement requires the government to have a dialogue with communities around social and environmental issues, and to ensure that their concerns inform the contract.

This agreement is encouraging, but unfortunately it came at the cost of weeks of protest by indigenous federations. Elsewhere in Peru and across the Latin America region many consultation processes have fallen far short of international standards. In fact, this week in Mexico City several indigenous and human rights organizations met to share their stories related to prior consultation and Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Twenty-nine organizations, including Oxfam Mexico, signed a declaration which highlights their frustrations to date. The declaration reminds governments that:

  1. They have a duty to respect indigenous peoples’ right to prior consultation and FPIC even when they have not yet adopted national laws to regulate these processes.
  2. The adoption of consultation laws will not achieve intended goals unless governments ensure the effective protection of indigenous peoples’ rights and refrain from weakening environmental protections.
  3. Recognition of traditional indigenous territories and appropriate land demarcation and titling are essential to provide legal security to communities.
  4. International treaties, declarations, and jurisprudence provide minimum standards with regard to several aspects of these rights, and national laws must comply with these standards.
  5. International law requires governments not only to consult indigenous peoples, but also ensure their consent in certain instances.

It remains to be seen whether the latest agreement in block 192 will turn the tide for project-affected communities. Oxfam has worked closely with indigenous partners on prior consultation and FPIC in Latin America and globally for more than 15 years, including around Peru’s consultation law. While we have seen some significant policy gains, much more needs to be done in terms of effective implementation. Monitoring FPIC in practice is a focal point of our global extractive industries strategy.

The block 192 agreement offers both a ray of hope and a cautionary tale for other governments. Hopefully governments can learn from this tale, embracing consultation and FPIC early on and prior to initiating project activities. Kudos to indigenous organizations in block 192 for their successful campaign.

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