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Thousands of indigenous block river to protest oil drilling
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Massive demonstration in northeastern Peru disrupts travel on key river as indigenous residents demand consultation for oil projects.

More than 4,000 indigenous people from the northern Peruvian Amazon in late October blocked the key confluence of the Marañón and Tigre Rivers, to protest Argentine oil company Pluspetrol, after more than 300 barrels of oil being transported from its block in the area spilled into the river last June.

The protest, which began on Oct. 25, was also sparked after indigenous groups in the area were not properly consulted previous to oil projects on or near their lands, a requirement of the International Labor Organization´s Convention 169 on indigenous peoples.

The Inter-Ethnic Association of the Peruvian Amazon, or AIDESEP, an umbrella organization, said that the contamination has still not been cleaned from the area, and has left a slick on parts of the important river.

Separately, indigenous groups filed an official complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in Washington, a branch of the Organization of American States, over the auction of 12 oil blocks in the Peruvian Amazon without their consent.

Peru´s government has aggressively sought investment for oil and gas lots, most of them within the Amazon basin, but indigenous groups from the area have long complained that they were not consulted over the projects.

In June 2009, 33 people were killed in clashes between police and indigenous protesters, who were demanding President Alan García revoke a set of decrees that streamlined laws to open the area up to investment. Garcia´s government eventually called for Congress to knock down two of the most contentious decrees in the wake of the violence.

But Peru has not halted oil projects in the area, and rights groups have warned that the expansion of the sector could have irreversible effects on the native communities. On Oct. 14, indigenous rights organization Survival International sent a letter to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples, James Anaya, warning about the impact of oil drilling and transport on uncontacted indigenous communities in northern Peru.

“By permitting the companies to operate in this region, Peru´s government is flagrantly violating international law,” said the letter.
—Latinamerica Press.

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