Spanish oil company REPSOL invades indigenous territories in the Ucayali region of Peru.


N. Weemaels – EarthRights International

The Spanish oil company Repsol is currently exploring for oil in the Ucayali region of Peru, in the headwaters of the Amazon River. The company shares two lots (57 and 90) with the US based company Burlington Resources (respectively 76,15% and 23,85% of the shares), which represents a total area of approximately 1.500.000 hectares. The ancestral territories of several indigenous peoples (Asháninka, Ashéninka, Yine, Shipibo-Konibo, Amawaca, Nawa) are already negatively impacted by these operations.

The indigenous peoples who are affected haven’t been informed of the impacts oil activities will have on their environment and life. Most of them are illiterate and don’t know anything about oil as their way of living is still very traditional. As hunters-gatherers, they are highly sensitive to any kind of industrial activities with heavy impacts on the environment, like oil extraction. Some communities don’t have land title, which makes it more difficult for them to claim their rights, especially those concerning their land.

In such a situation, oil impacts could be as terrible as the ones Texaco generated in Ecuador 30 years ago where people are now dying with a cancer rate higher than anywhere else in the country. Indeed, when people don’t know about oil impacts, they not only fail to oppose them but, being ignorant of their toxicity, they also fail to take precautions to avoid the contact with hydrocarbons.

To face this situation, the indigenous organizations ORAU (Organización Regional Aidesep Ucayali) and OIRA (Organización Indígena Regional de Atalaya) organized a workshop in Atalaya, the capital of the affected region, from October 10th to 14th. About 150 chiefs and leaders of 50 indigenous communities participated at the workshop, as well as representatives from regional, national and international indigenous organizations. The main goal of the workshop was to inform indigenous leaders about the environmental, social and cultural impacts of oil activities, but it also helped to gather information on the impacts already generated by seismic exploration in the area.

Seismic exploration started about a year ago in lot 90 but impacts are already worse than those usually generated by this kind of activities. This clearly shows that the company is already abusing the fact that the communities are isolated and unable to insist upon their rights being respected.

During the workshop, participants denounced severe environmental impacts such as the decrease in the size and numbers of fish as well as the disappearance of many fish species. Game is also disappearing and men have to hunt for a longer time in order to bring back food for their family. These impacts are already affecting the diet and thus the health of the indigenous people living in these areas. Noise, deforestation and garbage left by oil workers in the villages also affect the well being of the communities.

As a result of oil activities, sexual abuses against indigenous women have also been reported as well as prostitution and alcoholism. Participants at the workshop also mentioned an increase in contagious and unknown sicknesses, including sexual ones, due to the presence of oil workers in the communities. It has also been reported that a member of a community living in Lot 90 died of asphyxiation after falling in a seismic exploration hole.

For the above reasons and in a struggle to defend their life and environment, the indigenous representatives present at the workshop decided to:

- Declare a state of emergency in the indigenous territories located in the regions of Ucayali, Cuzco and in the province of Atalaya.
- Not to allow the entry of the oil companies Pluspetrol and Repsol into their territories, nor mining, timber or other transnational companies.
- To sue the Peruvian government for noncompliance with the WTO’s Convention 169, The Convention of Biological Diversity in its article 8 J and San José’s pact on Economical, Social and Cultural Rights.

The workshop concurred in time and place with a regional strike against the gas exploitation project of Camisea, for the contamination it has brought to the region (already 3 spills in a year of function) and the lack of benefits for the region. Participants at the workshop supported the strike as victims of the same problems.

24th of October 2005