Oil vs. Communities: The Case of Peru

Oil vs. Communities: The Case of Peru

By Hwaa Irfan

This is not only about the oil that Peru has been exploited for, but also the wood for Peru is abundant in natural resources and rich in biodiversity. Ten per cent of Peru’s biodiversity contributes to the planet as a whole, so by its very existence we, no matter where we are in the world benefit. At a time when the balance of the world that supports us is delicate, to continue to plunder to feed our appetites is something we seriously need to think about and change the way in which we have chosen consciously and unconsciously to live. Who knows, the medicine that we may need to treat a new disease may be lost in the exploitation of the very resources we seek to enhance our wasteful lifestyles. As the U.S faces its Nemesis – the Gulf oil leak we should never believe that what is happening is nothing to do with us!

A Megadiverse World

Peru is classified as one of the world’s 10 megadiverse countries for it is rich in animal, plant, genetic, and other natural resources. The ecosystem which it comes under extends to the dry mid-Pacific coast into the Amazon Mountains and rain forest. On its borders with Ecuador there are unique flora and fauna, as well as animals which cannot be found anywhere else. The Andean cloud forests possess its’ own unique wealth in species. The Amazon Basin is biologically diverse and rich with a variety of forests. Home to 25,000 plant species (10% of the world’s total), only 4,400 of these species have known properties and are used locally. Peru comes top with 2,000 species of fish (10% of the world’s total), and second in bird fauna with 1,436 species. There are 222 endangered species with 31 facing extinction. British botanist, David Bellamy who was overwhelmed by the richness in Peru’s diversity and its vast genetic wealth argued that if Peru can be saved it could serve as a basis for “rehabilitating” the rest of the world.

The U.S. inventory on Peru’s wealth is as follows:

• Natural resources: Copper, gold, silver, zinc, lead, iron ore, fish, petroleum, natural gas, and forestry.

• Agriculture Products: coffee, cotton, asparagus, paprika, artichokes, sugarcane, potatoes, rice, banana, maize, poultry, milk, others.

• Exports (2008)–$31.2 billion: gold, copper, fishmeal, petroleum, zinc, textiles, apparel, asparagus, coffee, others.

• Top producer of silver, second in zinc, third in copper and tin, fourth in lead, and sixth in gold.

According to the U.S. government, the ethnic makeup of Peru is Indigenous (45%), mixed background (“mestizo”) (37%), European (15%), African, Japanese, Chinese, and other (3%). Peru is also rich in terms of the caretakers of its megadiverse land, with 14 linguistic families, 44 distinct ethnic groups, and communities which desire no contact with the outside world. Unfortunately, the common feature of most governments around the world today is their lack of genuine interest in the welfare if their population, and this is moreso the case for those countries which have the original (and only true) caretakers of the land to whom we are indebted. We have explored the case of the Niger Delta and Ecuador, so now we explore the case of Peru.

Disenfranchised like most indigenous peoples, native Peruvians are treated with scorn by non-native Peruvians who take on a false superiority complex in order to not feel bad about what they do, and the rights they claim. This takes the form of racism which reveals itself by looking down on anyone who speaks an indigenous tongue, dresses traditionally, and has any mark of tradition in their lifestyle. They are mocked, told to sit in the back of vehicles, and to humble themselves in the presence of a person of a socially recognized higher status. This includes a form of internalized racism practiced by the mistikuna (Quechua term), those of mixed race towards runakua (Quechua term), native people. This is a legacy of Spanish colonialism whose institutions today perpetuate this false sense of superiority, which was based upon the breaking up of indigenous communities whose sense of land is collective, and making the ownership of land an individual affair; thus once impoverished via a process of usurped rights, to steal, and/or purchase the land.

Peru is a signed up member of Convention 169 (International Labour Organization) – Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Independent Countries, which aims to protect indigenous peoples, and to ensure a proper consultation process is in place. It was ratified by Peru in 1994, but was effective in 1991. None of the periodic reports to ILO have been made public that is not until recently. To the dismay of Peruvian NGO’s it was found that falsified census data was submitted (the last census took place in 2005), with the aim to disguise the country’s real ethnic make-up.

Like everywhere else, wealth and position are the only recognized status to behold which transferred from the colonial master to those who were allowed to rule i.e. Creoles, and mestizos (mixed race) who make up the majority of Peru’s citizens today.

Not Just Oil and Timber

Outcast, the indigenous peoples of Peru have been excluded from playing a part in the direction of their country, when they own by birth right, live and farm 55% of the land that is Peru. Women are being sterilized without their knowledge, and land continues to be written out from under their control, as in the case of Lake Titicaca. They, the poorest, have not been allowed to have I.D’s, and have been completely ignored and neglected. The resources that are being over exploited to the detriment of the land, the biodiversity and genetic pool it supports, and the indigenous peoples are oil, and logging. There 850 mines around Peru, and most of them are in places located in the areas in which indigenous people live. The Achuar people of the Corrientes River, Loreto have been subject to the oil industry Occidental Petroleum, California, and Pluspetrol Norte, Argentina, have polluted the water ways, which is loaded with petroleum waste water, flora and fauna for nearly 30 years. Unacceptable levels of cadmium and lead have been found in the bloodstreams of the local people, especially the children. Petroleum waste water kills algae and microorganisms that fish feed on. The people are deprived of water to bath in, because the river water now causes skin problems, and have no choice but to drink it, as it is their only supply of water.

Even though the government has signed all the international agreements in terms of protecting its natural wealth, in practice this has not happened.

• 72% of the Peruvian Amazon is signed over to fossil fuel extraction

• Mining concessions to foreign investment grew to over 70% between 2002 and 2007

The Peru-United States Free Trade Agreement was signed in by President George W. Bush in 2006, and got Congressional approval in 2007. What Peru was to give beside its natural and genetic resources was no duty on 86% of U.S. exports in consumer and industrial goods, and no duty on ⅔ of U.S. farm exports. The reason it took so long to approve the agreement was because of U.S. opposition to many items. Some were appeased by the open door policy to U.S. exports, and others remained unappeased by the long term implications. Those opposing were the:

• Sierra Club
• Center for Biological Diversity
• Center for International Environmental Law
• Defenders of Wildlife
• Earthjustice
• Endangered Species Coalition
• Friends of the Earth
• Greenpeace

They felt that:

• Laws could be bypassed

• Foreign investors would get the upper hand

• “Would undermine the right of indigenous and local communities to share in the benefits derived from the vast biodiversity of the region and their own traditional knowledge of that biodiversity.”

• Undermined the Convention on Biological Diversity, thus did not protect the rights of the indigenous communities, and their knowledge base of Peruvian biodiversity as was the case with the U.S. company PureWorld Botanicals which patented, maca, a native plant species.

Successive trade agreements, particularly with the U.S. have undermined not only the people and the natural resources of Peru, but the needs of the ecosystem, the balance that must be maintained on this earth, and the future needs of the global population. It has been squarely established that the free-trade agreement only benefits the U.S. A free-trade agreement was signed with the U.S. in 2005, which opened the way for farmers – the indigenous peoples to complain.

The agreement recognizes sovereignty, and the right to protect natural resources, but when self interest comes into play, this is undermined by the following 2007 agreement concerning Intellectual Property Rights:

• “The Peru IPR [intellectual property rights] chapter contributes to a broad strengthening of Peru’s protection and enforcement of IPR. IPR is important to the prosperity of the U.S. economy and the U.S. – Peru agreement represents a significant boost for U.S. commercial interests…”

• “The agreement also advances the U.S. policy objective of ensuring that the first person who acquires a right to a trademark or a geographical indication is the person who has the right to use it”.

• All in all, the 2007 agreement made anything produced by Peru from Peru, but patented by the U.S. considered an act of piracy under copyright law i.e. concerning Intellectual Property Rights.

– Now the Tagaeri and Taromenane tribes on the Ecuadorian border of Peru have been presented with oil companies which have received concessions from the Peruvian government to drill for oil. Whereas the Ecuadorian government has set aside a reserve in this area for the Tagaeri and Taromenane tribes, Peru has not.

– The Garcia government has turned the area in which the Cabellos Largos tribe live, on Brazilian border of Peru into Petroleum Block 135, granting permission to the Pacific Rubiales Energy (Pacific Stratus Energy), Columbian-Canadian oil company the right to explore and drill for oil.

– The Isconahua tribe is an uncontacted tribe, that is a tribe that has chosen voluntary isolation from the rest of the world. They live in the hidden canyons of the Calleria River, and were granted the Isconahua Territorial Reserve (275,665 hectares of land) by the Peruvian government in 1998 at the request of the Peruvian indigenous NGO the AIDESEP. Now Garcia has gone back on that agreement and included that area into Petroleum Block 138 selling concessions to Pacific Rubiales.

– The same happened with the Murunahua/Chitonahuas people, but this time with timber. It began in 1996 with illegal logging, which led to 50% of the Murunahua dying from diseases and violence. At the request of AIDESEP in 1997, the Murunahua Reserve (482,000 hectares) was created, but illegal logging still continues within the Reserve. The Peruvian logging company, Forestal Venao have even constructed a road to transport the wood. Brazil has complained that Forestal Venao has been causing serious environmental damage to the forest and the indigenous peoples on the other side of the border with Brazil. Sixty per cent of Murunahua Reserve has been lost to logging.

– Contact with the Nahua tribe by the British-Dutch Shell Oil Company in 1980s led to the decimation of over half the tribe. What fate befalls them as Garcia’s government has handed over their land in the Kugapakori-Nahua Reserve with the building of the Camisea natural gas pipeline from which there are already frequent oil leaks polluting the rainforest.

The People Stood Up to Be Counted

The first signing of the free trade agreement caused uproar within Peru. Small farmers were not going to remain without a voice. Protests and demonstrations ensued in a country unlike before. When Law 29157 from the agreement was published in 2007, there was reason to be upset, as it called for the privatization of water, foreign investments that would affect 45 million hectares of land for the appropriation of timber, oil and mining ordering landowners to get a legally binding condition to have their land excluded. This is aided and abetted by the Peruvian President Alan Garcia who argued in a local publication that:

    “There are millions of hectares of timber lying idle, another millions of hectares that communities and associations have not and will not cultivate hundreds of mineral deposits that are not dug up and millions of hectares of ocean not used for aquaculture. The rivers that run down both sides of the mountains represent a fortune that reaches the sea without producing electricity.”

Garcia also argued that indigenous peoples of the Amazon do not have a right over land, and that the Amazon should be divided into lots and sold to those who have better use of it. Is this not the same mentality and strategy of the colonizers? Yet in 2006, Garcia told IPS News that he promised to support the indigenous famers and their families through microenterprise. By June 2007, tens of thousands of people marched to support the rights of the indigenous. They marched across country chanting:

    “In defense of the jungle — the jungle is not for sale.”

Those who stood to suffer the most, those who were the poorest, and those who have been allowed no rights in their own country cried out, but those calls were not heard at the U.S. trade debate just as the calls of thousands around the world are prevented from makin it to any debate at the global trade summits. In 2009, to quell a peaceful demonstration of 2,000 indigenous peoples of the Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle, helicopters and ground forces were used. The protestors had blocked roads, and had occupied oil facilities to protest the implementation of the trade agreement, i.e. extraction of gas and oil. From that protest 84 people were killed, and hundreds went missing.

As of May 2010, Murunahua Reserve has been made for uncontacted tribes, that is tribes who wish to not have any contact with the outside world. This reserve is off limits to oil and gas companies after it was open for exploration by the Brazilian company Petrobas, but at what price? This was announced in London by the Peruvian governmental body PeruPetro. At the same time 25 new lots (10 million hectares) have been allocated for oil and gas exploration. The Upper Amazon Conservancy report released July 2010 describes how the illegal logging of mahogany wood still continues in the Murunahua Reserve, with more than 80% of the Peru’s mahogany going to the U.S.

Carlsen, L. Trade Agreement Kills Amazon Indians http://www.fpif.org/articles/trade_agreement_kills_amazon_indians

Country Profile – Peru http://www.cbd.int/countries/profile.shtml?country=pe

Indigenous Peoples: Peru http://countrystudies.us/peru/38.htm

Office of the United States Trade Representative. Peru TPA Facts. http://www.ustr.gov/sites/default/files/Significant-Intellectual-Property-Rights-(IPR)-Improvements.pdf

Our Peru Program http://natureandculture.org/htm/peru/peru.htm

Pantone, D.J. Uncontacted Amazon Indians in Peru http://www.amazon-indians.org/Uncontacted-Amazon-Indians-Peru.html

Peru-United States Free Trade Agreement http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Peru-United_States_Free_Trade_Agreement

Salazar, M. Preserve Peru’s Biodiversity, Save the World http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46972

Salazar, M. Indigenous People, Ignored Even by the Statistics http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=35058

Survival International Oil Companies Banned from Uncontacted Tribes Reserve http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/5959

Survival International U.S. Timber Demand Threatens Uncontacted Peruvian Tribe http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/6196?utm_source=E-news+%28English%29&utm_campaign=64ecdb7bd3-July_e_news7_15_2010&utm_medium=email

U.S. State Gov. Official Name: Republic of Peru http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35762.htm

Related Topics:
Oil vs. Communities: The Case of the Niger Delta
Oil vs. Communities: The Case of Ecuador
G20 Reasons Why Your Fortune is Not Your Own!


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