Peruvian Amazon Indigenous leaders to lobby banks to cut ties with state oil firm | Amazon rainforest

Native leaders from the Peruvian Amazon are to travel to the US this week to lobby banks to cut financial ties with Peru’s state oil company, Petroperú.

Leaders from the Achuar and Wampis peoples say the state company is responsible for oil spills in their territory that violate their human rights by polluting their water sources and irreparably damaging their fishing and hunting grounds.

They are also demanding the Peruvian government and banks stop oil exploration and investment in all Indigenous territories in the Peruvian Amazon, the second largest part of the rainforest after Brazil.

Nelton Yankur, the president of the Achuar Federation, said Petroperú had “caused so much damage to our population” over 40 years of drilling for oil and transporting it through their territory.

Yankur and other Indigenous leaders said they would meet representatives of Citibank, Goldman Sachs and HSBC in New York, with JP Morgan in Washington DC, and Bank of America in Lima.

The Indigenous leaders say they want to set out the social, legal and environmental risks of financing or investing in Petroperú. Those risks are highlighted in a report by the NGO Amazon Watch, which was presented at New York Climate Week in September.

Petroperú reported in September it intended to seek $1.6m in investment to reinitiate drilling and oil extraction in the Amazon.

“On this trip to the United States we want to warn the banks not to finance Petroperú, because [it] does not act responsibly and has left environmental damage in our territory,” said Yankur, who represents Indigenous people living on the Pastaza River in Loreto, Peru’s largest Amazon region.

“You can’t live just from money, in the jungle you live from nature,” he told the Guardian.

There have been widespread protests in Indigenous territories after two oil spills by the state company, one in 2014 and the second of an estimated 2,500 barrels in September.

The government declared a state of emergency and later Petroperú and the general attorney’s office said the spill was caused by an intentional cut to the oil pipeline.

As a result of that spill, on 4 November a boat carrying dozens of Peruvians and 23 foreign tourists was held for a day on the Cuninico River in the Amazon in an attempt to draw the government’s attention to the effects of the spill.

Peru’s prime minister, Aníbal Torres, responded by accusing the community of cutting the oil pipeline to later “claim compensation”.

Alfonso López, a local leader who represents 60 Kukama and Urarinas communities in the spill-affected area, rejected Torres’s allegations on Thursday, saying they were “incapable of doing harm to ourselves and our territory”.

“It’s serious that the state allows the pollution of our territory by the same company that should belong to all Peruvians,” said López, who is also president of the organisation for Amazonian Indigenous Peoples United in Defense of their Territories.

“The state should be aware that the regulations we have to protect the environment and the lives of Indigenous peoples are not being complied with,” he added.

The leaks occurred in the deteriorating 40-year-old state-run Norperuano oil pipeline, which pumps the Amazon crude westward to refineries and ports on Peru’s northern coast. Sixty-five per cent of the leaks were caused by corrosion, poor maintenance and infrastructure, according to The Shadow of Oil, a study by Oxfam and Peru’s human rights coordinator, based on official data.

Petroperú said the Norperuano pipeline received “permanent maintenance, including state-of-the-art technology to identify and prevent potential breakdowns”. It blamed most of the spills on “unscrupulous individuals and groups who deliberately cut the pipeline … without measuring the serious consequences for the environment”.

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