Who’s watching multinational companies operating in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest?

Environmental monitor from Kukama Kukamiria indigenous people (Northern Peru). ©PUINAMUDT,
Environmental monitor from Kukama Kukamiria indigenous people (Northern Peru). Photo: PUINAMUDT

Who knows better the Amazon forest than the indigenous communities that occupy and own its spaces? In the northern Amazon in Peru, in the region of Loreto, it’s been now years that indigenous leaders are patrolling, watching, monitoring, taking pictures and filming any environmental incident that might have been caused by multinational oil companies operating in their ancestral territories.

Last week, Peruvian Congresswoman Verónika Mendoza Frisch, presented a draft law to promote the official and legal recognition, by the Peruvian State, of the environmental and social monitoring carried out by indigenous and members of civil society.

In Peru, it is the Environmental Evaluation and Control Organisation (OEFA), officially competent in environmental matters, that monitors, supervises and imposes administrative penalties or corrective measures if required. Its competences apply to all economic activity carried out in the national territory, by the private sector – national and international. From oil to mining companies, from energy to fisheries sectors, among others.

The present draft law falls in a very specific context, in view of the Climate Change Conference “COP20” which will take place in Lima next month. And could be approved by National Congress before the COP20 to begin.

Indigenous and civil society members environmental monitoring is essential to reduce deforestation.

Congresswoman Mendoza Frisch says “watching and monitoring is a right, and the State has to ensure it and understand that the involvement of citizens is not a threat but an opportunity that will allow improvements and also working hand-in-hand with the population, for their own development“.

Who knows better the Amazon forest than the indigenous communities that occupy and own its spaces?

Members of indigenous federation FEDIQUEP monitoring water sample. ©Digital Democracy
Members of indigenous federation FEDIQUEP monitoring water sample. Photo: Digital Democracy

According to the article 13 of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of the International Labour Organisation, the “governments shall respect the special importance for the cultures and spiritual values of the peoples concerned of their relationship with the lands or territories, or both as applicable, which they occupy or otherwise use, and in particular the collective aspects of this relationship“.

Territory is essential to the indigenous peoples.

Over the past decades, Peru has been offering granting many concessions over indigenous territories (oil concessions, mining concessions, gas concessions etc.). Often, without any consultation or any land planning (“ordenamiento territorial“).

In the northern Amazon of Peru, in the region of Loreto, indigenous peoples themselves are patrolling, watching, monitoring, taking pictures and filming any environmental incident that might have been caused by PLUSPETROL Norte S.A., current operator in blocks 1-AB and 8. Indeed, it’s been more than 40 years that oil companies have been extracting oil in their ancestral territories, causing severe social and environmental damages.

This is what’s better known as “monitoreo ambiental comunitario” (community environmental monitoring).

For example, in the Pastaza River Basin, indigenous communities from the Quechua people, created the “Programa de Vigilancia Territorial Indígena” in 2007 (Indigenous Land Monitoring Programme).

Ene River. Photo: Camille Cordasco

David Chino Dahua, Vice-President of indigenous organisation FEDIQUEP, explains: “There was no accurate evaluation, there was no official reports coming from PLUSPETROL [oil company], some information was given but there was never precise answers: to what extent the river was contaminated, how many oil spills. This has led to cause mistrust within the indigenous communities” (1).

Indigenous communities decided to assume this task to ensure that any environmental infringement will not be left unknown, ignored and therefore, unpunished. It is a way to guarantee that their communities members are kept informed of what’s happening in their traditional lands.

It’s about protecting indigenous peoples’ own rights: to health, to development, to a healthy environment, to lands and territory, to natural resources etc.

The problem is that there is currently no legal obligation for public authorities to take into account the evidences presented by the indigenous monitors, for the opening of an investigation and/or administrative proceeding.

However, it must be pointed out that there is, to some extent, a certain willingness on the part of the environmental national authority (OEFA) to work hand-in-hand with the environmental indigenous monitors (2).

Indigenous environmental monitoring: towards more transparency

In this context, indigenous environmental monitoring is presented as complementary to the current State-led system. The main objective of the draft law previously mentioned is precisely to articulate these two system.

Also, it allows indigenous and citizens to enjoy full independence in their monitoring activities. Indeed, in order to comply with their corporate social and environmental responsibility, companies usually set up a participatory monitoring programme, which they also finance. The problem with those programmes is that they are generally strictly controlled by the same companies.

Moreover, indigenous monitors generally know better than governmental authorities when it comes to explore remote parts of the Amazon Rainforest. As key informants, they are most likely to expose severe damages that may have been caused to the environment and natural resources.

By recognizing its existence as legal and official, it guarantees their participation in relevant public spaces, their autonomy, the official status of their reports and also that, any complaint will have to be proceeded by the competent authorities, whether it leads or not to a sanction (3).

(1) See article “Una experiencia propia de vigilancia territorial en la cuenca del Pastaza
(2) See article “Severe Oil Contamination Found in the Largest National Reserve in Peru
(3) Note that the draft law before mentioned covers several types of indigenous and citizen environmental monitoring system (draft law No. 3937/2014-CR). This article focuses however mainly on independent indigenous monitoring


Oil company Pluspetrol’s environmental management of Lot 1-AB: between inefficiency and impunity

Last Saturday – November 10, took place the first decentralized session of the Congress’ Indigenous Peoples, Environment and Ecology Commission, in Iquitos. On that occasion, approximately 70 indigenous leaders traveled there to take part in the session. On the agenda’s session, regrettably figures a topic which is today quite known: the environmental contamination because of Pluspetrol’s oil extraction activities and the remediation of the environmental damages.

During the last month of June, several members of Congress (Eduardo Nayap, Leonardo Inga, Marisol Perez Tello y Verónika Mendoza Frisch) – within the framework of a Congress Working Group on the Environmental and Social Situation in the 4 basins of the rivers Pastaza, Corrientes, Tigre and Marañon, visited the Lot 1-AB. It’s been the occasion to see the environmental disaster remaining in Pluspetrol’s influence zone – despite the adoption of environmental management instruments (Environmental Management Plan – PAMA: Environmental Complementary Plan – PAC): rivers and waters are literally filled with oil, soils are stained by crude, fishes and animals contaminated and therefore unfit for consumption etc. They also could observe how, in some parts of the Lot, the oil company tried and managed to hide evident environmental damages with sand, dust and mud (1).

The final inform of this Working Group, denounced the fact that serious environmental damages like the contamination of the Shanshococha Laguna were not registered in a environmental management instrument such as a PAMA or a PAC (see up above). This means that theses environmental damages were not even reported to the competent authorities –OSINERGMIN and OEFA (2). The company argued that the competences confusion between the two entities prevented it to report the damages – Pluspetrol didn’t know to whom it should have referred. Indicating and reporting environmental incidents (which, over time, turn into “pasivos ambientales”) to the competent authorities is an obligation for the company as mentions the article 80 of the Exploration and Exploitation Activities Code (D.S N°032-2004) or the article 53 of the Code for the Environmental Protection in Hydrocarbons Activities (D.S N°015-2006). The term “Environmental accidents” refers to: “oil spills and/or leakages, waste treatment or inappropriate disposal, plants cuttings, fauna and flora lost, other that affects the environment” (2).

During the Commission decentralized session, FEDIQUEP (the Quechua Indigenous from Pastaza Federation) – through a photographic exhibition, denounced the actions and irregular activities of the company regarding the environmental damages that are still not remedied. The purpose of these operations seems to be seeking to hide serious environmental damages (that, legally and contractually, Pluspetrol should correct), as “making disappear the Shanshocha Laguna “ (see picture below). These pictures were taken by FEDIQUEP during the researches of the Multisectorial Commission (RS N°200-2012-PCM) in charge of investigating the social and environmental contamination problems in the 4 river basins before mentioned.

This “episode” is part of a very much larger chapter of complaints against Pluspetrol, which impunity is regrettably evident – since its responsibility has never been really and severely engaged (3). Besides not reporting and not remedying all the environmental damages – all those left by Occidental Petroleum (which Pluspetrol committed to correct when it signed the respective license contracts for lot 1-ab and lot 8) but also all the new ones generated by Pluspetrol itself, the oil company is not only aggravating the situation but also committing new and intolerable environmental crimes.

Apu Aurelio Chino in what’s left of Shanshococha. ©PUINAMUDT

Source: “¿Pluspetrol puede desaparecer una cocha impunemente?

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