“We have the right to live in a healthy environment”

“We have the right to live in a healthy environment," claims Aurelio. "Our territory is our market; the forest is our pharmacy. It is our life ... but, it is very contaminated."
Aurelio Chino, indigenous leader

Aurelio Chino, the leader of “Federación Indígena Quechua del Pastaza” (FEDIQUEP), lives in Nuevo Andoas, Loreto-Peru. From his home, you can hear the constant movement of the waters of the Pastaza River.

“We have the right to live in a healthy environment," claims Aurelio. "Our territory is our market; the forest is our pharmacy. It is our life ... but, it is very contaminated," he says worried. He explains that his family and his community have been suffering for too long the consequences of 40 years of oil activities in their lands. Recently, medical tests showed that his daughter, a minor, has heavy metals in her blood.

 Adolfina Sandi Garcia, an indigenous mother of the Jose Olaya community in Loreto, has a very similar story.  Loreto and its surroundings have also been seriously affected by oil exploitation. She recalls with sadness, her raw and painful experience: "We are contaminated, how many children have I lost? Two girls and one boy died”.

Aurelio and Adolfina are two of hundreds of cases of community members affected by oil contamination. The Peruvian government has even declared a state of environmental and health emergency in the region. This area encompasses the basins of the Pastaza, Corrientes, Tigre and Marañón rivers in the Loreto region, where the Indigenous Peoples Kichwa, Quechua, Achuar and Urarinas live. Today, their home is better known as the “lot 192”.

The people of the Amazon claim their right to be properly consulted to ensure a sustainable management of their natural resources.

They ended up disappointed about how the consultation process carried on between May and August 2015 was carried on. Aurelio explains that they never reached an agreement on the issues the communities were proposing for the consultation agenda. As such, some communities did not sign the Final Consultation Act. Despite this controversy Pacific Stratus Energy, junior oil company is now operating on their ancestral lands without their consent. The company was granted a provisional two-year contract by the Peruvian government due to the lack of interest from  big oil companies. In two years, they would hope to hand the land over to a bigger company for  30 years of exploitation.

The communities continue to demand the Peruvian government to respect their right to live in a sustainable and healthy environment without pollution. Aurelio explains that they need new environmental management tools and technologies for monitoring, remediation and environmental preservation. Communities also demand a higher investment for remediation and to ensure a fair participation of the Indigenous communities in the development of the environmental impact studies for the proposed exploitation projects. Furthermore, they demand that the contaminated territory be thoroughly cleaned given that it is their home.

Aurelio and the communities hope that a new free, prior and informed consultation process will be held at the end of the two-year contract with Pacific Stratus; and that the demands concerning the damages on health and environmental remediation, amongst others, will be dealt with. But this requires political will!

In a scenario of this nature, it is fundamental to keep strengthening the Peruvian environmental governance and institutions and the free, prior and informed consultation  mechanisms . In a context of climate change, many governments are now implementing policies to defend and protect their environment and recognize indigenous people’s rights, as a critical element to prevent a climate crisis. Unfortunately it seems that Peru is going in the opposite direction. Aurelo, Adolfina and all of us wonder why… 

What is clear is that the impacts of recent legal provisions aimed at "promoting investment", and better  known as "environmental paquetazos" have weakened various environmental and social entities such as the Agency for Assessment and Environmental Control (OEFA)  and the Ministry of Environment (MINAM) In the current  electoral context, Adolfina, Aurelio, all indigenous communities, and the Peruvian civil society, are calling the Presidential candidates to further protec their  social and environmental rights, affected by the aggressive exploitation of our natural resources and to defend the right to be consulted! We do not want economic growth at the expense of our rivers, our biodiversity, our food and our health. It is essential that candidates discuss these important issues for the future of Peru.

Take action and ask the presidential candidates in Peru to protect our environment and indigenous rights to the prior and informed consulted: https://goo.gl/nEIvgw.

Chatting with Aurelio, I see his two year old son playing near the river. "He's called Herodito" Aurelio explains, “which means Revolutionary Hero in Defense of its Indigenous Peoples”.