Peruvian protests persuade polluters to stop toxic dumping

Amazonian Indians have won concessions after blockading Peru's biggest oil facility in protest over continued illegal dumping of toxic waste in their lands.

Achuar Indians in the Peruvian rainforest. Picture courtesy of Amazon Watch.

Achuar Indians in the Peruvian rainforest. Picture courtesy of Amazon Watch.

The 14-day blockade of the airport, river and roads that link the Achuar oil production facility to the outside world came after talks with the government collapsed.

The negotation, which had been going on for more than two years, stalled after the government failed to act on the practice of oil companies pumping huge quantities of untreated waste waters directly into the rainforest on a daily basis.

Monitoring carried out on behalf of the native Achuar Nation Indians showed the waters, which have been dumped in the forest for over 30 years, to be heavily contaminated with a wide range of toxins.

The Achuar themselves have unsafe and illegal levels of a range of toxins in their bodies, including lead and cadmium, as a result and local waterways have been poisoned to the point where the fish and game populations on which the locals depend for survival are no longer fit for human consumption.

More than 800 demonstrators joined the blockade and the 200 police sent to disperse the protestors and restore oil production refused to use force against the picket, forcing the government and Argentinean oil company Pluspetrol back to the negotiating table.

They eventually agreed to adopt safer disposal methods for the waste water, build a hospital for the Achuar, provided emergency food relief for a year while the area recovers from the contamination and earmark a proportion of the tax revenue raised from the oil production for spending on projects which will benefit the Indians.

While both government and oil company acknowledged the native's request that no more oil facilities be built in the region, they refused to give any assurances that their would be a moratorium on future facilities.

"We have achieved 98% of our demands, and won recognition of our rights," said Andres Sandi, a spokesman for the Achuar people of the Corrientes River.

"This victory is the result of the strength of our people who came together and pressured hard and would not abandon our demands."

Lily la Torre Lopez, a lawyer acting for the Achuar, said: "This is a major victory and a glorious day for indigenous peoples' rights, not only in Peru but around the world.

"This victory represents the work of a proud and determined people who decided to risk all to rescue the future of their children."

Sam Bond



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