Navy gunboat and Perenco Co. ship break indigenous Napo River blockade

A Peruvian Navy gunboat and at least one other boat belonging to oil company Perenco broke through an indigenous blockade on the Napo River, where indigenous communities are protesting the contamination of their ancestral lands by mining companies, and demanding the repeal of a series of laws they say are promoting unrestricted oil exploration.

The Interethnic Defense Front of the Peruvian Jungle, or Aidesep, condemned the use of a boat belonging to the armed forces, describing it as a “use and abuse of their power.”

“Although we were protesting peacefully, they broke the blockade to allow Perenco’s ships to pass through, and threatened to sink our canoes and boats,” said Wagner Mussolini, regional Aidesep leader in Loreto.

“All over the world tribal peoples are being forced to resort to blockades to try and protect their remaining land,” said Stephen Corry, Director of the London-based Survival International. “We’re seeing this in India and Malaysia as well as South America. We can expect this kind of action to escalate until the international law and UN declaration are actually applied. Using force against indigenous peoples trying to protect their land is colonialism and should not be tolerated.”

The blockade, which was part of an Amazon-wide protest that has been going on for about a month, was set up on the Napo River – one of the Amazon’s main tributaries, and the only way to get to the oil Block 67, which is licensed to Perenco.

Because Block 67 is an area inhabited by at least two of the world’s last uncontacted tribes, Anglo-French Perenco is under increasing pressure to withdraw from the project. But, according to Survival International, Perenco’s chairman Francois Perrodo met with Peru President Alan Garcia less than two weeks ago, pledging to invest US$2 billion in Block 67. Days later, Peru passed a law declaring Perenco’s work a “national necessity.”

Last August, Congress ratified a congressional committee’s motion to repeal two Amazon land development laws decreed by President Alan García, and over two days of negotiations lawmakers struck a deal with indigenous rights groups to lift protests that disrupted operations at drilling platforms and sections of the North Peru oil pipeline.

Indigenous rights groups, headed by Aidesep, maintained that the decrees weakened tribal control of ancestral lands – estimated to contain billions of dollars worth of minerals, oil and lumber – and made it easier for private investors to obtain permission from individual indigenous communities to set up business.

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