The police crackdown on a protest by indigenous individuals of the Kukama people against the Canadian oil company PetroTal left three protesters dead and 11 injured, six of whom were in serious condition, in the Loreto department in northeastern Peru, in the early hours of August 9, when the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is celebrated. Six policemen were also injured. The information is from the RPP news website and the OjoPúblico news agency, both from Peru.

The protesters asked for PetroTal to stop its activities in their region and for the government to send medicines to help treat Covid-19 in hospitals in the region, very affected by the pandemic. They also demanded better compensation for the company’s use of the land and resources where it operates.

According to the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the East of Peru (Orpio), the three dead people had gunshot wounds to their bodies. Local police, however, said they were investigating whether the deaths were due to gunfire or other causes.

Protest participants reported that the police acted with disproportionate violence to repress their demonstration. The indigenous leader Mayter Flores Crispin, brother of one of the murdered protesters, Cheminson Flores Crispin, told to journalists from OjoPúblico that protesters only carried spears, but that the police did not hesitate to use firearms when the situation became tense.

“The police practically came to kill us. We are a peaceful people”, said Mayter.

In the Police version, the Indigenous people also carried shotguns with pellets and fired at the police first, which motivated the reaction of the law enforcement forces. Peruvian Interior Minister Jorge Montoya said the six wounded policemen had marks of pellets on their bodies.

Even after the confrontation, the climate in the region remained tense. The police sent reinforcements to the site and a commission formed by representatives of the federal government, among them the Minister of Culture of Peru, Alejandro Neyra, traveled to the region to seek a “prompt solution” to the conflict.

Orpio’s president, Jorge Pérez Rubio, said that the region’s Indigenous people are now demanding an investigation of the Police action over the weekend, an end to the repression of protests and the opening of a dialogue so that the demands of the peoples of the region are met.


Oil exploration brought contamination, but not development

In an interview with OjoPúblico, the Indigenous communities researcher Alberto Chirif Tirado, one of the greatest Peruvian experts on the subject, said that the Indigenous Peoples of the region are tired of extractive companies. In the view of these peoples, companies do not benefit their communities and withdraw from the territory after the oil or gas runs out, leaving only contamination as a legacy.

The protest on August 9 was specifically aimed at Canadian oil company PetroTal, which operates on two lots in the Peruvian Amazon, including Lot 95, in the Puinahua district, in the Loreto department. Granted to the company by the Peruvian government in 2005, the lot covers an area of ​​345,000 hectares and accounts for the production of 12 thousand barrels of oil per day.

Operations on Lot 95 began in November 2018 and were announced by Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra, who at the time acknowledged that there was “wealth in the soil, but poverty on the surface” of that region.

Almost two years later, the scenario remains bleak. Official data show that only 45% of the department’s population consumes treated water from the public network and that only 42% have access to the sewage network. In the province where lot 95 is located, there are four public health centers, all of them focused only on basic care and suffering of inadequate infrastructure, according to an assessment by Peruvian Ministry of Health itself.

The leader of the Indigenous Development and Conservation Association of the Low Puinahua Region (Aidecobap), Hans Pérez, who participated in the weekend’s protest, the demands of the Indigenous people include that PetroTal create an economic fund with values corresponding to 10% of the production of oil in Lot 95. These funds would be used to provide food security, water supply, sewage and electricity projects to the communities, as well as medical supplies for the treatment of Covid-19 in the health centers of that region.

What thinks deeply regrets the death of the protesters who lost their lives in the August 9 protest and supports the search for non-violent solutions to the demands of Indigenous Peoples in the region.

For centuries, Indigenous Peoples have been attacked across the American continent and their rights have been denied. It is high time for our countries to correct this historical error and offer indigenous communities the appropriate public services, the security and the respect they deserve.

The respect from governments and companies must also extend to Indigenous territories. supports the demand of Indigenous leaders and movements for an end to the exploitation of their lands and for a vision of development based on a world free of fossil fuels.

“We do not need oil, gas and coal to guarantee resources that allow investments in a fair recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. On the contrary, the world will be much better economically, socially and environmentally if we invest in clean and community-controlled energy ”, said Ilan Zugman, interim director at in Latin America.


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