the Kukama Kukamiria’s march to the city of Iquitos. They are protesting the toxic waste land left behind by over 40 years of oil contamination in their territories; and demand respect for their most basic human rights: access to clean water, safe food, and healthcare, June 16, 2014.
Peruvian officials have met with representatives of hundreds of indigenous people from the country’s Amazon rainforest after they threatened to go on hunger strike in protest at what they say is government failure to aid communities affected by oil contamination.
For almost two weeks, around 500 Kukamas were camped in a square in Iquitos – the biggest city in Peru’s Amazon – after travelling from their homes along the River Marañón, by boat and on foot.
“The lives of our children are at stake following oil contamination,” the Kukamas announced in a statement circulated by Puinamudt, a collective of indigenous organisations. “We urgently request water, food and healthcare. We want the government to listen to us and take concrete actions respecting the cosmovision of the Kukamas.”
The government declared an environmental emergency in May in 17 indigenous communities along the Marañon, describing the lives of the people living there, their health, and the environment as at “significant risk.” But since then the government has done “nothing, nothing, nothing … until now,” says Alfonso Lopez, president of the Kukama organisation Acodecospat.
The decision to go on hunger strike was taken on 22 June. It was scheduled to start five days later and last “until the state demonstrates the political will for dialogue”, but following a meeting with the energy ministry on 27 June, the strike was abandoned and protesters began to disperse.
According to Puinamudt and Acodecospat, the government’s promises include testing the water quality in rivers, introducing portable water purifiers to affected communities, and holding a cross-sector government commission meeting in the region.
Lopez says the Kukamas “want to have faith in these promises”, but will take more “radical” measures if the government backtracks.
“We’ll take over the San José de Saramuro oil installation,” he told the Guardian. “We don’t want to do it, but if the government forces us we don’t have any other option.”
Oil production began in Kukama territory in the 1970s. Today operations are run by Pluspetrol, partnered by Petrochina, which is controlled by China’s state firm CNPC.
More than 100 Kukama children recently wrote to Peru’s president, Ollanta Humala, highlighting the environmental problems in their territories.
“Dear president, I am a 10-year-old girl and live in the Parinari district. I’m concerned because the Marañón is contaminated. What are we going to drink?” read one letter.
Peru’s council of ministers could not be reached for comment.