“We are here so that history doesn’t repeat itself.”
Miguel Lévano Muñoz is Oxfam Program Officer for Extractive Industries, based in Peru.
The highest indigenous authorities (Apus) in the Peruvian Amazon know this is a turning point—really, the “eleventh hour” for the fate of the territories they represent–as the territories within northern Peru’s Block 192 are set to, once again, be offered up for oil extraction for another 30 years.
“Mother earth is suffering, her milk is drying up and she is crying for us, for all she is losing”, Magdalena Chino, elder of the FEDIQUEP indigenous organization, says with worry in her voice. Magdalena is one of the thousands of people who live within the watersheds of the Pastaza, Tigre, Marañón, and Corrientes rivers, and where Petroleum Block 192 is found[i]. Block 192 is the most important petroleum license in the country, accounting for roughly 17 percent of Peru’s oil production[ii], and whose future hangs in the balance.
For more than 40 years, indigenous peoples in this region of northern Peru have lived on territories where petroleum is being extracted–resulting in serious environmental, health, social, economic, and cultural consequences. The Kichwas, Quechuas, Achuar and Urarinas, whose community territories overlap with the boundaries of Block 192 have already decided to allow oil exploitation on their land, but what they’re calling for now is the right to benefit from what is being taken.
Until 2001, California-based Occidental Petroleum operated the block, at which point the project was sold to the Argentine company, Pluspetrol. Pluspetrol’s operating contract is set to expire in August of this year – prompting new contract negotiations and new opportunity for indigenous communities to make their voices heard.
At this stage, the Peruvian government and indigenous communities of the Peruvian Amazon are trying to renew the recently stalled dialogue to establish concrete agreements that will govern oil production in Block 192 over the next 30 years. The dialogue is the first process formally initiated under Peru’s 2011 Indigenous Peoples Consultation Law. The landmark law requires the Peruvian government to consult indigenous peoples affected directly by development policies and projects such as oil drilling, mining, roads and forestry. Consultations must aim to achieve agreement or consent. It has not been an easy road.
Thus far, dialogue between the parties has focused on territory, health, development, and benefit-sharing. Throughout the negotiation, the communities have been met by the Peruvian government with vague responses to their requests and a general unwillingness to provide clear answers.
The issue of benefit-sharing has proven to be the most contentious, leading to a recent impasse in negotiations. Indigenous communities have requested that a trust fund be created from a percentage of oil revenues generated within the block. The revenues would provide fixed amounts to the fund over the life of the oil activities, which would be distributed to communities to be used for development projects of their choosing. Government negotiators have so far failed to respond to their request.
Achuar and Quechua communities are speaking out, “The State is aiming to repeat the same mistakes of the last 45 years of oil exploitation”, said Carlos Sandi, the President of Federación de Comunidades Nativas del Corrientes (FECONACO), a regional indigenous organization.
“They say that there is no money for our fund. Since the 1970s to now, where has this money [from oil revenues] gone?” said Aurelio Chino, president of Federación de Indígena Quechua del Pastaza (FEDIQUEP), another indigenous organization in the block.
This consultation process is both critical and historical for Peru. Whatever agreement is reached with the communities in Pastaza and Corrientes will form the basis for communities in other regions experiencing similar issues. The ball is in the government’s court.
The communities in Peru have opened the door for oil companies and the government to operate on their land, but this time they are asking for something in return. They’re not interested in seeing history repeat itself. They want environmental regulations in place, access to economic opportunities, and safety for their families. They want their rights to be respected. They’ve made sacrifices and allowances, now it’s the government’s turn.
For more information see Oxfam in Peru
[i] Martínez, M, D.A. Napolitano, G.J. MacLennan, et al. 2007. Impacts of Petroleum Activities for the Achuar People of the Peruvian Amazon: Summary of Existing Evidence and Research Gaps. Environmental Research Letters 2(4). http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/2/4/045006/fulltext/
[ii]  US Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics: Peru; Ministerio de Energía y Minas. 2014. Informe Estadístico – Mes de Marzo del 2015. Available: