Harmed Indigenous Communities Halt Oil Operations in Peruvian Amazon

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In early September, frustrated by a negotiation process seemingly going nowhere, members of the Shipibo indigenous community Canaan de Cachiyacu non-violently seized control of the oil wells and pipelines within their territory belonging to the company Maple Gas Corporation del Perú, SP. The community has informed government mediators that they intend to maintain this peaceful protest action—and the resulting suspension of oil activities—until the company and government officials make a genuine commitment to redressing the injuries that they attribute to Maple Gas’s oil activities. Although ERI has no involvement in the shutdown, we have been consulting with the communities and share their frustration.

Maple Gas, a subsidiary of Maple Energy plc and the recipient of financing from the International Financial Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank, has been operating in oil Lot 31-B—a concession which overlaps with the territory of Canaan—since 1994. During this period of operation, community members from Canaan have complained of human rights and environmental abuses. In particular, the community has suffered from repeated oil spills into community drinking and bathing water, events which they believe have led to contamination of land used for cultivation, depletion of fish-supply, and troubling health problems in the community. We at ERI, partnering with the local and regional indigenous federations, prepared a report in August 2005 verifying claims raised by the community.

The alleged abuses, and similar conduct by the same company in Lot 31-E affecting the neighboring indigenous community of Nuevo Sucre, have led the communities to adopt a number of strategies over the years seeking redress for their injuries. In 2005, for example, Canaan launched a similar protest action as a means of spurring negotiations with the company which led to a change in the company’s community relations program. Then in April of 2010, Canaan joined with Nuevo Sucre in filing a complaint before the World Bank Group’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (“CAO”) with the assistance of our colleagues at Accountability Counsel. The complaint led to a series of negotiations facilitated by the CAO that ended abruptly in August 2011 as the communities walked away from the dialogue in response to the company’s refusal to pay for an independent assessment of the environmental and health impacts of its operations.

The most recent protest action comes on the heels of yet another attempt to negotiate directly with the company. Since the breakdown in the CAO-facilitated negotiations, we have been consulting with community leaders and doing community trainings in both Canaan and Nuevo Sucre to support the communities’ efforts to achieve redress for their injuries. Through continued pressure and negotiations, Canaan eventually managed to get the company to fund an independent assessment of the economic consequences of the company’s environmental impact. This study was conducted by respected economist Juan Aste and his team over the course of several months and a number of field visits. According to our contacts in Canaan, however, at a negotiation session held on September 1, 2012, company management told the community representatives that the company would not recognize the legitimacy of the independent study, and presumably was only willing to discuss compensation on the basis of a study prepared by the company’s own hired consultants.

Frustrated by the company’s perceived unwillingness to make a good faith effort to compensate the community for the harms it has suffered, the community took the decision to suspend the dialogue and seize control of the company’s oil operations. The community hopes to use this action to provide the necessary motivation for a dialogue with the company and representatives from the Peruvian government apparatus.

A similar strategy employed in the northern Peruvian Amazon by the Federation of Native Communities of the Corrientes (FECONACO) affected by the oil company Pluspetrol Norte led to the tripartite agreement known as the “Acta de Dorissa” in October of 2006. That agreement included a commitment to a joint strategy by the company and the government to improve environmental practices and quality, and to support the development of specific projects in the areas of education, health, and production.

The action by the community of Canaan has already gained the attention of government officials; community leaders have told ERI staff that a dialogue is underway, including a series of meetings held and scheduled with representatives from the national and regional governments and with the company.

Here at ERI, we recognize the community’s frustration from years of being strung along and hope for a quick resolution that vindicates their internationally recognized right to a complete remedy for their injuries.

This post was written by Benjamin Hoffman, former staff.

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