Politics of Poverty

Rights at risk: The fight for true community consultation continues in Peru

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Quechua and Ashuar leaders, Loreto, Peru. Líderes Quechuas y Ashuares de Loreto, Perú. (Credit: Julie Byrnes)

Is the newly elected Peruvian government turning its back on indigenous peoples’ land rights and putting profits before people? All the signs suggest they are.

Miguel Lévano Muñoz is a Program Officer for Territorial Rights and Extractive Industries for Oxfam in Peru.

Last week, Peru’s new Minister for Culture publicly claimed that prior consultation—a right of indigenous peoples enshrined in Peru’s national law—was merely a mechanism to generate “trust” with indigenous peoples and create “stability” for private investment. Those who follow Oxfam’s work in Peru know that this is a far cry from what the country’s landmark rule, specifying that consultations should aim to secure indigenous peoples’ prior agreement or consent for projects like mining, oil, gas and forestry actually requires.  Fundamentally, it is a matter of human rights, of dignity, and of justice.

Why this backpedaling?  The road to realize indigenous land rights in Peru has not been easy. Yet this latest Ministerial statement appears to signal the new Peruvian government’s willingness to sidestep its own legal procedures, justify efforts to fast track the approval of a new 30-year oil license over Block 192 (Peru’s most important oil reserve in the Peruvian Amazon), and ride roughshod over Kichwa, Quechua, Achuar and Urarina peoples’ land rights.

This backpedaling comes less than a month after Oxfam and partners welcomed the call by the United Nations Special Rapporteurs for Indigenous People’s Rights and for the Management and Disposal of Hazardous Substances and Wastes for the government of Peru to suspend negotiations around the 30-year extension of oil activities in Block 192 unless and until it has addressed the more than 40 years of human rights violations and environmental pollution caused by oil production. As some may recall, this is not the first time the UN has called on the Peruvian government to clean up toxic wastes, and compensate the thousands of people who live within the watersheds of the Pastaza, Tigre, Marañón, and Corrientes rivers where Block 192 is found. This time, the Special Rapporteurs joined up, and called on the government to respect indigenous peoples’ rights to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent. Something local indigenous leaders have tirelessly advocated for in order to secure their land rights.

Unfinished business

Block 192 is an area inhabited by indigenous Kichwa, Quechua, Achuar, and Urarina peoples, whose lands have been plagued by severe pollution for more than 40 years of oil activities (first by Occidental Petroleum and then, after rights were sold in 2001, by Argentina’s PlusPetrol).  It is Peru’s most important oil block.  Since the 1970s, oil has been exploited largely without input of the indigenous communities who live there–and the region has seen serious environmental pollution, health issues, and land rights violations as a result.  Oxfam has long supported their fight for land and justice.

It has been more than five years since the landmark prior consultation law was passed and the then-government of Ollanta Humala agreed to implement the law’s parameters with the communities affected by Block 192. For a time, hopes were high that finally the government would act in good faith to achieve community agreement or consent prior to awarding a new oil license. Yet, after years of dialogue, four declared environmental emergencies, one health emergency, and two multi-sectoral commissions with government, company, and community representation, true consultation with communities in Block 192 remains unfinished.  Despite this, a two-year temporary oil contract was awarded to Pacific Stratus Energy Company (under subcontract from PlusPetrol) for oil activities in the block.  This contract is set to expire next month.

Rights at risk

Given the stalemate in negotiations, the fast approaching expiration of the temporary oil contract, and the election of a new President and government, earlier this year indigenous leaders (Apus) submitted a legal request for consultation regarding Block 192.

In June, two months after the request was made, the new Ministry of Energy and Mines finally responded, denying the communities further consultation regarding Block 192.

The letter is troubling on several fronts.  First, it claims, “the consultation process was carried out and concluded in 2015 in accordance with the law.” Yet this hardly reflects reality, as negotiations stalled over a year ago when government negotiators failed to respond to indigenous communities’ request to establish a community managed trust fund for oil revenues, and communities were never consulted regarding the temporary oil contract. So it’s a mystery as to what prior consultation process they are talking about.

But it goes further.  The letter asserts that the “consultation” they did for the temporary oil contract now covers all future oil contracts.  (Conveniently ignored is the fact that the law requires each and every “new administrative procedure” to conduct its own consultation process.) Worse still, any future oil contract will certainly allow for future oil exploration in indigenous territories (something which was not part of the temporary agreement and, clearly, poses a major threat to the thousands of people whose lands and waters would be placed at risk).

All eyes on the Peruvian government

Faced with this political backflip, the Apus of the four basins in Block 192 are calling on the Peruvian government to:

  1. Re-open and maintain channels for high-level dialogue with the communities and their representative federations, to ensure compliance with the past agreements and accords signed by the State, including last year’s historic ‘Lima Act’ where the former government committed to address the serious environmental and health damages from oil extraction and to advance community land titling;
  2. Suspend negotiations with PlusPetrol until a new prior consultation process is initiated and held in good faith with indigenous peoples; and
  3. Not proceed with any new bidding process until they guarantee that all toxic legacies will be addressed through a rehabilitation plan that covers all sites impacted in Block 192.

Hopefully we are wrong about the signals being sent by the new government.  Hopefully the Peruvian government is standing strong, and will not put indigenous rights further at risk by privileging foreign investments and dismantling hard-fought gains.

Tomorrow is International Day of Indigenous Peoples.  We stand with Indigenous peoples the world over and join with them in demanding Land Rights Now.  We call on the government of Peru to do the same.

Take action to support the demands of those indigenous peoples affected by Block 192.

Join the Global Call to Action for LAND RIGHTS NOW.

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