Eye on the Amazon

COVID-19: Is GeoPark Contaminating Amazon Communities?

Photo credit: Wampis Nation

The Wampis Nation, one of the most organized Indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon, is calling out Chile-based oil company GeoPark for putting their communities at risk of the COVID-19 contagion. As outlined in a pair of public denunciations – issued on May 12th and April 30th, respectively, and translated below – leaders of the Wampis Nation have received information that GeoPark community-relations workers are violating Peru's national quarantine by continuing to visit communities as part of a divide-and-conquer strategy to fraudulently manufacture consent for oil operations.

The most recent statement denounces that GeoPark boats have been shuttling personnel in and out of Sargento Puño, escorted by the Peruvian military. According to the Peruvian business magazine Gestión, GeoPark stated that it has "limited its personnel in the Morona Encampment, in compliance with the state of emergency and they have avoided contact with the neighboring communities within the Block 64 area of influence." This public statement is in obvious contradiction to the information received by the Wampis leadership.

Alarmingly, the leadership of the Wampis Nation received reports from local community contacts that there are at least two positive COVID-19 cases in the military base camp of Sargento Puño, whom the Indigenous leaders believe must have been infected by Geopark's workers. Nearby Wampis communities include Nueva Alegría, Ankuash, Santa Cruz, and Shapaja.

These cases could set the path for the Wampis Nation's worst fears. As noted in the April 30th statement, "the impact of COVID-19 on the Wampis could be large-scale deaths, given the factors of inequality and the health gap that exists in our communities, where health services are precarious and there is a lack of medicines and equipment to deal with possible emergency cases."

In an urgent call to governments and corporations, hundreds of international non-profit organizations are demanding a strict moratorium on any extractive activity within or near Indigenous territories throughout the Amazon given the pandemic. Amazon Watch sent this Declaration to GeoPark, along with the Wampis statement, on Friday, May 1st. To date, we have received no reply.

Ultimately, the Wampis Nation isn't simply concerned about GeoPark's operations in the context of COVID-19. As it has stated on multiple occasions at least since 2018, it is entirely opposed to any oil operations within their territories. In its April 30th statement, "the [Wampis Nation] reiterates our strong rejection of the "Situche Central" oil project within Block 64, which the oil companies GeoPark and PetroPeru are attempting to impose by force, without either the consent or the approval of affected Indigenous peoples, especially the Wampis and the Achuar People of the Pastaza."

We join the Wampis Nation in calling for GeoPark to immediately cease operations related to Block 64 and to pull all personnel from the Morona River. Furthermore, we believe the current circumstances are highly opportune for GeoPark to declare force majeure (unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract) and withdraw from Block 64 entirely.

Arco, Occidental Petroleum, and Talisman Energy all withdrew facing unmovable community opposition. So must GeoPark, sooner or later. Given that GeoPark's workers could be carrying Coronavirus into Indigenous communities, sooner would protect the communities and reduce the risk of GeoPark being held liable for deadly contamination.

MAY 12, 2020 STATEMENT
Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation

We demand the withdrawal of GeoPark personnel and the cessation of its activities that are putting the population's health at risk

The Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation (GTANW), representing 85 Wampis Indigenous communities between titled communities and their annexes within the watersheds of the Kankaim (Morona) and Kanus (Santiago) Rivers, facing the seriousness of the situation happening within their territories and communities and given the irresponsible and deliberate actions of the GeoPark oil company, its partner Petroperu and the Peruvian government, once again speaks out in the following terms:

  • Wampis leaders from the basin of the Kankaim (Morona) River have reported the river transportation of GeoPark personnel in boats that, outrageously, are guarded by the Peruvian Army. The flow of company employees that come from Lima, Iquitos, and other cities that are the epicenters of the contagion, constitutes a lethal and unpredictable threat to the health of the Indigenous population along the Morona River.
  • They also report that there are two cases of COVID-19 in the military base at Sargento Puño, who could have been contaminated given their contact with GeoPark workers for having guarded their boats.
  • Given similar facts, on April 30th we denounced that GeoPark was maintaining their community relations personnel within our territories, continuing their work of divide-and-conquer in order to obtain a fraudulent social license and exposing Wampis men and women to the COVID-19 illness.

GIVEN THIS, and facing these facts, we declare the following:

  • We hold GeoPark and its partner Petroperu responsible for any COVID-19 infections that could appear along the Morona River and the tragedy that such would generate among the Indigenous population. Therefore, we demand that they immediately withdraw from our territory.
  • We condemn the fact that the Peruvian government is permitting an oil company like GeoPark, which does not benefit from an approved Environmental Impact Study, to operate within Indigenous territories.
  • We hold responsible the Peruvian government, which, from the beginning of this pandemic, has not carried out any relevant or coordinated initiative to safeguard Indigenous peoples in respect to our human rights.
  • We denounce that by putting our territories to the disposition of irresponsible companies, transporting their workers who carry COVID-19, the Peruvian government is putting our populations at a mortal health risk, which is genocidal behavior.
  • We are advertising that after having made this denunciation public and seeing that the company continues its bad practices, enabled and protected by the Peruvian government, we have no other remedy than to take legal action before the relevant fora and to take territorial actions within the framework of our rights and autonomy.

The Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation is not willing to offer up our ancestrally inherited territories or its bounty which houses, as we constitute our own lives, the lives of our generations to come. As such, we maintain our rejection of all activities that imply a direct negative impact on our territories, above all if these activities inevitably leave irreversible socio-environmental impacts. The bounty of the natural world that exists with our ancestral territory, inheritance from our ancestors who took care of it, are also the inheritance of the generations to come of the Wampis that we should continue protecting to assure our survival and the continuity of our lives and culture.

APRIL 30, 2020 STATEMENT
Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation

GeoPark Puts Their Interests Above Human Life

The Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation (GTANW), representing 85 Wampis Indigenous communities located along the Kanus (Santiago) and Kankaim (Morona) Rivers, for time immemorial protectors of the biodiversity and the forests of the Kampankias cordillera, rejects the opportunism of GeoPark to take advantage of the health crisis in order to carry out activities in our territories, with no thought to the consequences and the danger such implies for our Indigenous populations in the midst of this pandemic.

Regarding this, we underscore the following:

  • We have information that personnel of the community relations section of GeoPark are moving around Wampis territory during the quarantine, potentially with the mission of implementing divide-and-conquer strategies in favor of approval of the "Situche Central" project in oil Block 64.
  • We have been informed that personnel of GeoPark have stayed within our territory following declaration of the national emergency, and they continue working. We consider such actions irresponsible given that it exposes the population to potential infection with COVID-19, in a context in which Indigenous peoples, making use of our rights to autonomy and self-determination, have decided to isolate ourselves and close our territorial borders.
  • We denounce this presence of personnel of the GeoPark company within the territories of the Wampis Nation which puts Wampis men and women in a situation of serious risk to their health and of contamination with the pandemic, for which we hold responsible the company and the Peruvian government as direct actors of the COVID-19 contagion. They should take responsibility to not help disseminate the virus in our territory. The impact of COVID-19 on the Wampis could be large-scale deaths, given the factors of inequality and the health gap that exists in our communities, where health services are precarious and there is a lack of medicines and equipment to deal with possible emergency cases.
  • Through this statement, the GTANW reiterates our strong rejection of the "Situche Central" oil project within Block 64, which the oil companies GeoPark and PetroPeru are attempting to impose by force, without either the consent or the approval of affected Indigenous peoples, especially the Wampis and the Achuar People of the Pastaza.
  • As the Wampis Nation, we have assumed the work of protecting the territory in which we live, for which going back years we have initiated measures against the project of oil extraction in the block. In this sense, in June of 2019 we achieved, jointly with the Federation of the Achuar Nationality of Peru (FENAP), that GeoPark was forced to withdraw their draft Environmental Impact Study from SENACE.
  • We were surprised and immensely concerned by the statements of the current President of Petroperu, partner company to GeoPark, regarding the need of the companies to accelerate the initiation of oil exploitation in Block 64 given the crash of the oil sector that has resulted from the health emergency.
  • We have no doubt that this situation constituted part of the divide-and-conquer tactics that the Peruvian government, Petroperu, and the oil companies tend to implement within Indigenous communities to obtain fraudulent social license and implement extractive projects.
  • Consequently, we demand that GeoPark, Petroperu, and the Peruvian government immediately cease all activities of the company within Wampis Territory. We also demand the immediate withdrawal of all GeoPark and Petroperu personnel, not only because their intentions are not welcome, but also because they represent a risk factor for contagion in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic.
  • We advise that if GeoPark and Petroperu continue with their divide-and-conquer tactics and if they continue placing Wampis communities in serious health risks, we will take actions for the protection of our territories and the integrity of our population within the framework of our rights to autonomy.

The Wampis Nation rejects all environmentally destructive activities like the hydrocarbons industry, and makes a call out to humanity for the protection of the Amazon, especially in the midst of this global crisis which has shown the need for systemic change and a new energy matrix for the conservation of our Life Territories.

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