October has been a tough month for the Peruvian Amazon as the government continues to open up the jungle to increased hydrocarbon exploitation, and communities in areas already under exploitation continue to suffer from oil spills and environmental contamination. 

Most recently, more than four thousand inhabitants from communities living along the Marañón River in the northern Peruvian Amazon blocked the river this week in protest of severe contamination caused by an oil spill in June that leaked three hundred barrels of oil into the water.  More than ten thousand people have been affected by this spill, and local communities claim that the company responsible for the spill, Pluspetrol, is indifferent to the quality of life of people where they operate.  Local communities point to the fact that Pluspetrol even stopped supplying clean food, water and medicine to affected communities after just a few days claiming the problem had already been solved, even though recent water quality tests show pollutants clearly exceeding the national environmental standards.      

Similar criticisms of Pluspetrol are echoed by indigenous communities in other areas of the Peruvian Amazon where the company operates.  In Block 1AB, for example, Achuar communities along the Corrientes River continue to witness oil spills and suffer from diseases caused by lead and cadmium poisoning in their waters.  Even today, communities along the Corrientes River continue to use contaminated water for cooking and bathing, and accuse Pluspetrol of negligence, violating their rights, and showing indifference to their wellbeing.

Despite these conflicts and serious threats to the environment and peoples of the Amazon, the Ministry of Energy and Mines and Perú-Petro (the state agency that negotiates and signs hydrocarbon contracts) held the latest round of auctions for 25 new hydrocarbon concessions just two weeks ago.  Originally planned for 2009, the auction was delayed due to the popular uprising of Amazonian communities against new laws that aimed to open the jungle to increased oil, natural gas and mining exploitation.  In this most recent round, agreements were signed for a total of 14 concessions, of which 12 are located in the Amazon in areas inhabited by various indigenous groups.    

Even more alarming are reports that no prior consultations were conducted with indigenous communities living inside the hydrocarbon concessions up for auction, despite being required under Peruvian law.  Although the Ministry of Energy and Mines says it held informational meetings with indigenous communities, these meetings fall short of the standard required by a prior consultation, which seeks the opinions, participation and agreement of indigenous communities.  In response, the Peruvian organizations Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL) and Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP) have challenged the Ministry of Energy and Mines by submitting a letter requesting proof that prior consultations with indigenous communities were conducted.  According to IDL, if no prior consultation was conducted the agreements could be suspended by an acción de amparo, an instrument of the Peruvian legal system intended to help defend constitutional rights. 

Peruvian indigenous and civil society leaders* further denounced the granting of new hydrocarbon concessions in the Amazon without prior consultation with indigenous communities at a hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in Washington D.C earlier this week (hearing audio, in Spanish).  Citing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, these leaders called on the government of Peru to respect the rights of indigenous peoples throughout the country, as well as allow indigenous communities to pursue their own models of economic development.  Hopefully, the government of Peru will listen to these calls to respect the rights of all Peruvian citizens equally as it considers what to do with the 14 concessions illegally granted without prior consultation, as well as the remaining 11 concessions that remain open to investment.

* The participants in the hearing Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Energy and Extractive Industry Policy in Peru at the 140 Regular Period of Sessions of the IACHR were: Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDDHH); Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL); Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos (APRODEH); Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESP); Central Asháninka del Río Ene (CARE); Centro Amazónico de Antropología y Aplicación Práctica (CAAAP); Asociación Paz y Esperanza; Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR); Instituto del Bien Común (IBC); Servicios en Comunicación Intercultural (SERVINDI); and representatives from the State of Peru.