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The Amazonia suffers and candidates show no concern
Ramiro Escobar
4/28/2016
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Two oil spills, a case of mercury pollution and an outbreak of animal rabies wreak havoc among Amazonian indigenous communities, while the presidential campaign presses on.

A report by the National Fisheries Health Agency (SANIPES), a unit within the Ministry of Production, has just determined that fish of the Chiriaco and Morona river basins, located in the departments of Amazonas and Loreto respectively, that were affected by oil spills earlier this year are unfit for human consumption. The SANIPES report contradicts claims by the state-run oil company, Petroperu, that fish from the two rivers were not affected.

A few weeks after the electoral whirlwind that had absorbed all of Peruvian society — who often ignores its Amazonian territory that has a reduced number of voters — this news has put again the environmental issues on the public and political forefront.

“The electoral agenda has focused on a debate regarding the system, the plan and the economic model, overshadowing some very important issues such as are healthcare and education,” says Vanessa Cueto, from Law, Environment and Natural Resources (DAR) a non-governmental organization that watches over environmental management, to Latinamerica Press.

Since January, the Peruvian Amazonia has been shaken by a series of events that reveal, dramatically, the brushing aside to which it is subjected to, socially and politically. To begin with, an oil spill was detected the 25th of that month in Section II of the Norperuano pipeline, located in the district of Imaza, which is in the jurisdiction of the province of Bagua, department of Amazonas. That is to say, in the all but forgotten northeastern region of the country.

Just a week later, not far from there, in the district of Morona, province of Datem del Marañón, department of Loreto, another spill occurred in the same pipeline. Initially, after the first spill, the state run company Petroperu reported that “no river or waterway in the area” was affected. After the second incident, however, it announced that it had launched a contingency plan to contain the effects of these events that had caused environmental damaged in several indigenous communities.

By then, the Office of Environmental Evaluation and Enforcement Agency (OEFA) had issued resolution 012-2016 ordering Petroperu to activate an effective and immediate maintenance plan for those sections of the pipeline that had not suffered severe damage, and to repair those that had been damaged. The term given: one week. As the company failed to comply, it was fined for 59.2 million soles (US$ 17 million).

Environmental emergencies
Both incidents, however, are not an exception in the history of oil exploration in the Peruvian Amazonia. Richard O’Diana, a lawyer for the Amazon Center for Practical Anthropology (CAAA), told Latinamerica Press that “this is not a new situation in the country.” Between 2011 and so far in 2016, the OEFA itself has recorded 20 environmental emergencies. Of these, 11 occurred in the departments affected by the spills mentioned above (five in Amazonas and six in Loreto).

The drama is not new by any means, and this saga, which fails to stir much public opinion, has meant the spill of 3,000 barrels of oil into waterways in the area so far. This provides an explanation of why the Presidency of the Council of Ministers passed Supreme Decree Nº 016-2016 PCM on March 3, declaring a state of emergency in 10 towns in the district of Imaza, among them Chiriaco, Chipe, Inayo, Pakun, Wachapea and Samaren.

Another six communities located in the district of Morona were included in the declared emergency shortly thereafter. But, for the indigenous people in the area who suffer now and have suffered most of the consequences of the continuous spills in the past, the number of affected communities was 20. By Mar. 7, feeling that their claims had not made an impact, they retained a helicopter of the Peruvian Air Force that had been sent to inspect the area. Four days later, the government issued a new supreme decree extending the state of emergency to include six more communities, bringing the total to 22.

All this situation does not seem casual nor is it caused by an evil forest spirit. According to Cueto, this shows “the idleness of the State to comply with the highest environmental and social standards when dealing with extractive projects.” The magnifying glass placed on this situation sheds evidence that he has proof to make such a statement: the pipeline infrastructure is more than 40 years old and the Environmental Compliance and Management Program (PAMA) dates from 1995.

Moreover, Cueto states that Law 30230, known as “paquetazo ambiental” (anti-environmental package), enacted in 2014, whereby companies that pollute are only required to apply “corrective measures” for a period of three years if a case is presented as those happened in the jungle. In the end, the authorities had turned a deaf ear to a law promoted by several institutions, including DAR, allowing the indigenous population to monitor the facilities such as the pipeline.

The Huambisa and Awajún ethnic groups have been affected by these events that have unfortunately not been the only ones that have harmed the health of the population and the Amazonian ecosystems. In February, almost coinciding with the spills, the health authorities confirmed the death of 12 indigenous from bites received from bats infected with rabies. The place of the events was again the province of Datem del Marañón.

7,500 vaccines were sent to treat members of the Achuar ethnic group, the most affected, although the dramatic situation also responded to something that Hermann Silva, Regional Health director of Loreto, reported: two of the children who were among the dead were suffering from malnutrition, which made them more vulnerable to the disease. Since 2015, according to DAR, both the national government and the regional government have declared health emergencies in several areas for wildlife rabies.

Mercury contamination
In 2015, the Ministry of Health reported that after testing 106 people of Nahua ethnicity, some of whom are in voluntary isolation and another part are in initial contact, determined that 82 percent of them had mercury concentration present in the urine. The pollution is likely related to the Camisea gas extraction megaproject, located within the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Territorial Reserve, encompassing the departments of Cusco, Madre de Dios and Ucayali.

“Once these indicators were first reported, the measures taken by both the regional and national authorities came up short,” says Cueto indignantly. The figures that he has to support his statements are conclusive. In November 2014 the presence of mercury in the blood of a girl who lives in a neighboring area was detected; towards the end of that year, new cases were detected, and the study already mentioned came in 2015.

The death of a minor who was interned due to mercury contamination was reported in March of this year. Just recently, stemming from that case, the government, at the request of the Ministry of Culture and other entities, declared a health emergency in the native community of Santa Rosa de Serjali, located in the district of Sepahua (Ucayali). An action plan was launched, but as Cueto says, all of this “only reaffirms the historic abandonment of the indigenous peoples, especially in the Amazonia” and the need to expand “the implementation of intercultural policies.”

Is this drama of any importance to the candidates campaigning now? When the news of the spills was reported, the first one to go to the area was Verónika Mendoza, the candidate of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front), a leftist conglomerate. Then came Miguel Hilario, a Shipibo candidate of Progresando Perú (Progressing Peru) front, César Acuña, of Alianza para el Progreso (Alliance for Progress), who would later be disqualified from the race, and Keiko Fujimori of Fuerza Popular (Popular Force), who went on to the second round.
Fujimori and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, of Peruanos Por el Kambio (PPK-Peruvians for Change) — who will face off in the second round on Jun. 5 —, have succinct lines in their government plans regarding prior consultation with indigenous peoples. “It will continue to be implemented,” states the PPK party program, while his contender’s program makes it clear that this will be done “where appropriate.” As far as environmental issues, both commit to strengthening the now questioned environmental enforcement.

However, no particular enthusiasm for the indigenous and environmental issues is perceived from any of the candidacies. When attending rallies, the candidates never announce who their Minister of the Environment will be or who will be the person responsible for matters relating to indigenous peoples.

“This campaign has focused on the economic model,” says Cueto, while O’Diana notes that there is a lack of interest in issues related to human rights.

The electorate from other parts of the country does not look much in the direction of the jungle, towards that part of the country that is the largest, where thousands of citizens make it their home and where there are complex ecosystems that support life in the region and in the country in general. For politicians and for those who do not live in the jungle the spills are very distant, and they see the possibility of contamination with mercury to be remote as well. —Latinamerica Press.


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National and international voices were raised calling for protection of children from Amazonian communities affected by oil spill. / AIDESEP
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