In startling recent developments, the Wampis community of Mayuriaga, a local Amazon tribe, kidnapped crew members, a Petroperu official, and Ministry of Energy & Mines and OEFA government workers (Cunningham). The civil servants were held hostage in relation to how the oil spill was being handled. This sample research paper from Ultius investigates the disaster and turmoil which followed.
The disastrous oil spills in Peru
Petroperu, a state-owned exploratory and commercial crude oil refinery, transporter, and distributor, is at the core of a pipeline rupture which spilled over 3,000 barrels of oil in a remote indigenous area in northwestern Peru (Taj & Aquino). The oil spill emptied into the Chiriaco and Morona rivers which provide fresh water to several native Achuar communities. The pipeline, which has two ruptures, was initially likely breached by a landslide, but the cause of the second rupture is not clear.
OEFA, the Peruvian regulatory agency which assesses environmental and enforcement issues, will assess approximately $17 million in fines if it is determined that the health of locals has been hurt. The Amazonian jungle region is covered in black sludge with cleanup crews hoisting oil filled buckets from the previously pristine rivers (“Damaged Peru”). The health ministry of Peru has announced an emergency surrounding the water supplied to at least five neighborhoods near the spill. Petroperu’s distribution of crude had recently decreased to only 5 to 6 thousand barrels per day due to the recent collapse in oil prices (Taj & Aquino).
Peru government oversight leads to hostility
While developing their emergency response efforts, Petroperu failed to add the Mayuriaga area to the lineup targeted for cleanup, despite the adverse impact the spill had on the region. Consequently, feeling neglected and helpless to correct the catastrophe, the Wampis took matters into their own hands, in the best way they knew how (Cunningham). The Wampis tried to initiate the cleanup on their own. They experienced breaches in food and water security because of the impact that the rupture has had on their livelihoods. The president of the Wampis community, Wrays Perez Ramirez, citing gross negligence said,
This oil spill has already resulted in severe and irreparable harm to the community lands of Mayuriaga and to our collective territory as a people. Responsibility lies squarely with Petroperu, who have acted with complete negligence over more than 40 years they have failed to maintain and repair their pipeline knowing full well that it needs constant maintenance and replacement every 10-15 years (Cunningham).
A former official of Petroperu indicates that the company does not have the resources it needs to properly maintain the pipeline (Cunningham).
Continuing pipeline issues
A conservation biologist added that the problem is systemic, ruptures happen regularly, and the issue is not likely to go away any time soon. A U. S. environmental consulting company chief engineer working in Peru clarified that the probability that Petroperu will be successful at improving pipeline infrastructure is borderline nonexistent.
He added that the conduit is antiquated and disintegrating, while the Amazonian terrain the pipeline traverses is harsh, remote and inaccessible. In addition, Petroperu does not place repair high on its list of priorities. More spills are inevitable (Cunningham).
Mistreatment and mismanagement of cleanup efforts
Accusations that Petroperu hired children to scoop up buckets, tins and bottles of oil with no protective gear, paying them $43US for each bucket worth they removed successfully, fly amid denials that this ever occurred (Fraser). Yet several children of the Awajun indigenous community of Nazareth showed photographers the oil-sodden clothes they were wearing when they said they were scooping oil from the river.
The Wampis have released half of the hostages, but have retained the others in captivity, demanding emergency rations and supplies for their people (Cunningham).
The Autonomous Nation of Wampis
The Wampis nation, on November 29, as a matter of historic record formed the first Autonomous Indigenous Government in Peru (Cregan). The area, approximately the size of Connecticut, has a population over 10,000, comprised of people who celebrate the subsistence lifestyle, where farming, hunting and fishing are a way of life.
The formation of the autonomous government is not an effort to annex from Peru, but an effort on the part of the original inhabitants to sustain ancestral lands and advocate their sustainable existence that champions well-being for their people, protection of the food chain and ensures a well-balanced and harmonious relationship with nature similar to Native American tribes of North America (Cregan).
Industry disregard for indigenous culture
The Wampis’s way of life is disregarded and their livelihoods threatened in the face of the aspirations of oil companies like Petroperu, mining companies who strip their lands, loggers who destroy their trees, mega dam building, and biodiesel producing palm oil plantations which destroy biodiversity and their ecosystems. The threat to the Wampis people increases incrementally year after year.
It has been expressed that the companies who intrude upon their land view the indigenous people like a gnat that they want to crush. Through establishment of an autonomous government, the people gain the political strength to protect their resources the way that only they can do effectively. The newly formed government will operate at the behest of the people it serves and will help the Wampis communities to live an empowered and sustainable lifestyle.
The government has a president, vice-president and a parliament with at least 80 members who are nominated by their Wampis community by way of assemblies. It is expected that in time, there will be 22 more members for a total of 102.
Their governance is sustained through the law called the Statute of the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation, similar to our federal code of laws. The laws were drafted through the process of a number of years of meetings conducted for debate of the issues. The statute involves Wampis:
- Recovery of ancestral place names (Cregan)
Rights for Wampis women
Interestingly, there is a focus on advancing the rights of women, as well. The nation wants to achieve gender equality amongst its people, including eliminating violence against women, giving respect to women, providing access to education for women, and eliminating such historical cultural practices like polygamy (Cregan). In addition to prescribing the laws applicable to the populace, the statute also addresses how the Peruvian government must interact with the Wampis people.
Of particular relevance is the fact that Peru must secure the will of the people through prior informed consent. Specifically, no more crude oil or mining concessions given to companies regarding their land without their input (Cregan).
Blockage of local mining
The Wampis indigenous nation is blocking a concession given to Afrodita S. A. with respect to gold mining in an area near the Ecuadorian border that has been designated as a protected area (Cregan). Afrodita had its license to mine in Cordillera del Cóndor deferred as a result of objections made by numerous indigenous communities due to toxins, such as mercury and cyanide, which drained into the Cenpea and Maraño rivers because of their activities.
Wampis remain committed despite lack of outside support
Ramirez understands that the road ahead for the Wampis nation will be a contentious one, and that getting the full support of the Peruvian government will not come easily, but the Wampis are in solidarity and committed to doing what is necessary to enforce their will and bring about the change needed to exert control and ensure protection of their territory and preservation of their lifestyle (Cregan).
The nomination and voting process was not performed without the awareness of the Peruvian government. In fact, Peruvian officials from a number of different agencies were invited to attend, yet all declined. The Wampis are strengthened by the encouragement of those who support their goals on the local level (Cregan). Further, the actions taken by the Wampis may serve to inspire other indigenous people in Latin America to take the reins of destiny into their own hands (Cregan).
Petroperu was founded in 1969, and has contributed to the economic advancement of the country (“History”). From its early beginnings, it experienced and overcame major administrative and economic challenges. The company confiscated the entire operation of the oil industry within the country from local oil companies and a subsidiary of Esso Corporation, now ExxonMobil.
Petroperu expropriated resources and facilities through the process of Peruvian nationalization. The company received no external support from the international oil community because of the manner in which they took over, but managed to move forward despite the circumstances (“History”).
The continuing danger of the Peru spill
Raul Loayza Muro, of Peru’s Cayetano Heredia University, and director of its ecotoxicology lab, feels that what we know now about the toxins and their impact on the ecosystem provides a sufficient basis for dire concern and disregard of the over-zealous assurances given by Petroperu (Bajak). Muro views the spill as an environmental disaster causing marine pollution, and warns of its toxic effect on the “flora, fauna and human health” (Bajak). He indicates that the composition of crude oil is extensive, at times it can be composed of hundreds of compounds, such as:
The compounds are readily absorbed through a person’s skin or can be easily ingested by fish or organisms in the natural. The effects can impair a person’s:
- Reproductive system
- Gastrointestinal system
- Developmental system
In fact, the hydrocarbons and metals contained in crude oil can imitate hormones, thus upsetting the digestive, renal, endocrine and reproductive systems (Bajak).
Petroperu has enlisted the services of an environmental cleanup company to remediate the oil spill (Bajak). Petroperu has advised that counteractive measures might take as long as a year to complete, while advising environmental officials that the waters are perfectly safe to drink and the fish are safe to eat. Not everyone is buying this rhetoric, however, convinced that the negative impacts to the communities could last indefinitely.
In fact, the answers to these questions are not easily determined. There are not a lot of oil impact studies performed on the Amazon jungle ecosystem. Studies have been conducted on the BP Oil Spill and the Exxon Valdez Disaster, yet not true for the hot equatorial territories of the Amazon (Bajak).
Prevention of future spills
Paul Arellano, a geographer who studies oil spills in the Amazon, is making efforts to spot oil spills from space, a technique taught at the University of Leicester (Bajak). Through the use of hyperspectral cameras mounted from satellites, images can be collected on a wide electromagnetic spectrum. Arellano hopes that this research will help fill the information gaps on the effect of crude oil ruptures on tropical vegetation (Bajak).
It would be productive for Petroperu to state that the cleanup can be completed in a year and the water is ready to drink and fauna is ready to eat, because the health effects would not be immediate, and if they can hoodwink the citizens into thinking that there is no real health hazard, they will not have to spend the $17 million dollars in fines. As the environmental policies in Peru are far more lax than in the United States, the Wampis struggle will continue. Although kidnapping is never a good thing, it is clear that the indigenous people were crying out for help with an overwhelming environment problem that was not of their making.
Interested in oil? Check out this economics essay on Turkmenistan.
Bajak, Aleszu. “A Scramble to Fix, and Understand, Peru’s Oil Disaster.” Undark. 21 March 2016. Web. 15 April 2016. .
Cregan, Fionuala. “Wampis nation establishes the first autonomous indigenous government in Peru.” I C Magazine. Center for World Indigenous Studies. 4 December 2015. Web. 15 April 2016. .
Cunningham, Nick. “Amazon Tribe Kidnaps PetroPeru Workers Following A String Of Oil Spills.” Oil Price. OilPrice.com a CNBC partner site. 10 March 2016. Web. 15 April 2016. .
“Damaged Peru pipeline leaks 3,000 barrels of oil into Amazon region.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. 22 February 2016. Web. 15 April 2016. .
Fraser, Barbara. “Health Risk from Peruvian Oil Spills Still Unclear.” Sci Dev Net. SciDev.net. 11 April 2016. Web. 15 April 2016. .
“History.” PetroPeru. PETRÓLEOS DEL PERÚ – PETROPERÚ S.A. n. d. Web. 15 April 2016. .
Taj, Mitra and Aquino, Marco. “Peru pipeline leaks in Amazon; two rivers polluted, agency says.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters. 23 February 2016. Web. 15 April 2016. .