Eye on the Amazon

Kukama Communities in Peru Still Being Poisoned Three Years After Oil Spills

Pollution of indigenous communities in the Amazon is not a new phenomenon. Over the last 50 years, the oil industry has viewed the rainforest as one big "sacrifice zone," where they can poison people with impunity in order to save a dollar or two per barrel.

The highest profile case is the destruction of the northern Ecuadorian Amazon by Texaco (now Chevron). In recent years, Peru has come under scrutiny. In early 2016, Leonardo DiCaprio helped bring attention to oil pipeline spills in the Peruvian Amazon when he tweeted about them the day after winning an Oscar.

Among the many polluted communities, two of the most notorious cases are those of Cuninico and San Pedro, Kukama indigenous communities that suffered oil spills in 2014. Amazon Watch had the honor of visiting them in December of that year along with a delegation of international journalists. Academy Award nominee Josh Fox included a segment about the devastation there in his personal reflection on dealing with climate change titled, How To Let Go of The World and Learn To Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change.

Our trip was three years ago. Shamefully, the people of Cuninico and San Pedro (as well as many other communities) still have to persevere while using polluted water for cooking, drinking, and washing. On the bright side, international pressure for the government to take concrete action is mounting, complementing the advocacy being done by the communities themselves and their Peruvian allies like the Legal Defense Institute.

Earlier this month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, based in Washington, D.C., issued what are known as "precautionary measures" designed to help protect the rights of individuals or communities at risk. In the cases of Cuninico and San Pedro, the specific measures include medical exams to determine just how poisoned the people are, appropriate medical care with a priority given to children, and the provision of clean water. And all this should be done in keeping with the duty to consult on proposed measures with the affected communities themselves. Much respect to all the hard work of our colleagues at the Legal Defense Institute (Instituto de Defensa Legal), Peru's National Human Rights Coordinator, and EarthRights International, without whom the IACHR wouldn't have taken action.

Our colleagues at Amnesty International have also launched a campaign called "Toxic State" focusing on two cases of industrial pollution threatening the health of indigenous and peasant communities in Peru. In addition to implementation of a robust health plan in the cases of both Cuninico and Espinar (a community in the Andean mountains), Amnesty recommends that an investigation be carried out to find the source of the pollution. You can see more information and sign their petition here.

Will these campaigns be enough to finally force the Peruvian government to take real action? We hope so and support them, though after three years we are not holding our breath. Ultimately, we believe that all oil production in the Amazon must cease, as part of a broader global transition to 100% renewable energy for humanity. In the short term, we have identified several institutional investors who are currently key financiers of Amazon crude projects, and we are encouraging them to divest. Join us in telling JPMorgan Chase and BlackRock to stop financing Amazon destruction!

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