Peruvian Native groups have in the past three months retaken efforts in the Amazon to prevent the transit of ships as their means to push for several demands in the first intensification of such actions since similar blockades of rivers and roads in June 2009 led to fighting with police that caused 34 deaths.
In the most recent river barricade, Natives were holding as of Dec. 28 a blockade of the Corrientes River in the Peruvian Amazon that had lasted the previous eight days. Natives threatened to continue that barricade indefinitely in an action aimed at getting oil producer Pluspetrol to pay for alleged environmental damages.
Also, in late October tribes along the Maranon River set up river barricades – the first since June 2009 – to demand authorities test the condition of the waters and also to seek greater compensation from oil producer Pluspetrol Norte which is the only operator in the area. Protests ended after agreements for new testing were reached with authorities.
Pluspetrol extracts in the northern Peruvian Amazon roughly 30,000 barrels per day of a rather heavy, sour mid-grade of crude oil known as Loreto from fields that have been exploited for decades and where output is slowing.
The crude is first collected by barges and later transported by a pipeline to the coast for export. The fields, known as Block 1AB and Block 8, were operated by Occidental Petroleum Corporation until a decade ago. The area has long been a source of conflict for Natives.
The latest blockade
According to Pluspetrol it is just one community named Boca de Copal which has been blocking transit along the Corrientes River since Dec. 20 demanding compensation for an incident that allegedly polluted the Piuri Pond in May of this year and over four minor incidents between 2005 and 2008.
“The blockade is still going on. We have preventively restricted all our logistical processes trusting that this show of force will appease in the shortest possible time,” a company spokesperson in Lima said Dec. 28 in replies to questions related to the blockade. No more detail was provided.
Pluspetrol has also issued a statement in recent days saying that the May incident is under investigation. A company source has said it may have been caused by sabotage because the company is often the target of demands for compensation to pay for incidents.
Pluspetrol also said in a statement that on Dec. 21 local authorities requested the Natives to withdraw the blockade but they defied. Pluspetrol said it has asked the local population for dialogue.
It was not possible to confirm the information and obtain the side of Natives as the community is very remote from Lima. The Inter-Ethnic Association of the Peruvian Amazon, or AIDESEP, which is based in Lima and normally is a voice for communities, has not replied for requests for comment about the latest protest since Dec. 24.
Natives normally block rivers by tying their canoes with ropes and putting them side-by-side, manned by people with spears. This is often enough to prevent ships from trying to get through. Occassionally small Navy patrol boats break the barricades. Incidents with armed boat captains have occurred in the past.
The relationship between Natives and oil companies exploiting the 1 AB and Block 8 fields has long been marked by dispute.
In the most prominent case, the Achuar Tribe filed a lawsuit over poisoning against Occidental that will be evaluated by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court in coming months after U.S. judicial authorities agreed in early December to judge a case over alleged negligence by Occidental in the Peruvian Amazon.