More than 15,000 residents of Peru’s Loreto region marched on Wednesday to demand that the national oil company, Petroperú, takes over the largest oil field of the country known as Lot 192.
The field which is the source of 20 percent of the national crude production has been under the operation of transnational company Pluspetrol but their contract term ends on Aug. 29.
La Republica newspaper reported that the directing board of the state institution in charge of contract is in closed negotiations with the company Perenco based in the UK and France for the takeover of the field.
Many of Peru’s Indigenous people living in affected areas are also mobilizing to secure demands before the contract is given.
Protesters in Loreto say they are not only fighting to nationalize the Lot 192 oil field but they are also struggling against the centralized power of the government in an effort to defend the regional economy.
The peaceful march was supported by local political authorities, labor unions, social movements, and independent citizens who filled over 40 blocks armed with their voices, banners, and Peruvian flags.
Participants seem to agree that the contract for Lot 192 should not be negotiated behind closed doors because after more than 40 years of transnational companies exploiting the area, the results have not brought the development desired for Loreto.
The Minister of Mines and Energy, Rosa María Ortiz, responded to those protesting in Loreto by claiming Petroperú does not have the economic conditions to operate the field by itself.
She also promised that Petroperú would have a 25 percent participation in in the field and that would put the state company back in track in hydrocarbon explorations.
President Ollanta Humala said last week that the Petroperú should only continue with refining oil and it could increment its participation if in the future it shows more efficiency.
Lot 192 is comprised of areas inhabited by the communities of the river basins of Pastaza, Tigre, and Corrientes.
The leaders of the Apus indigenous people in the area have been protesting for years, demanding respect for their people and reparations for environmental destruction caused by oil companies.
The damage to the area started in 1971 with the oil activities in the close by Lot 1AB but it was only until 2011 that the communities were able to start a dialogue with the government about the contamination.
From Friday Aug. 14 to Sunday Aug. 16, representatives of these communities organized as the Quechua Indigenous Federation of Pastaza and the Federation of Native Communities of Corrientes will be meeting with high ranking government officials to restart the dialogue as indicated by the Previous Consultation Law.
Close to 30 Apus activists will be present at those meetings.
The state “must attend to the demands of the indigenous people providing land titles to their communities and fixing the damage caused to their environment,” said Congresswoman Verónika Mendoza.
Together with Congressmen Manuel Dammert, she met with the Apus leaders on Thursday and gave a press conference noting the indigenous leaders willingness to dialogue with the government.
At the press conference, indigenous leaders also claimed their demands are aimed at securing their right for a safe environment and guaranteeing the safeguarding of their ancestral territories for the upcoming contract that will secure the next 30 years of the field.
They stated that “we are not against development but we are against the supposed development that kills us.“