* in the Kokama language wikkaritama defines the strength of a people.
There is a corner of the Peruvian Amazon where the environmental
liabilities generated by the oil industry have already left passivity be-
hind. After forty years of hydrocarbon exploitation, the consequences
are alarming both for the land and for the indigenous communities
that live there.
Despite the fact that the government declared the area an environ-
mental emergency in 2013 and a health emergency in 2014, the
conflict continues to drag on without any action from the public ad-
ministration. Indigenous communities, abandoned by the State, fear
becoming environmentally displaced in the face of the growing threat
that affects their territory and their way of life.
It’s estimated that there are 45,000 people currently living in the area
from different indigenous peoples, amongst them the Kokama, Urari-
nas, Achuar, Quichua, Shawi, Wampis and Awajún, mostly communi-
ties dependent on tributaries of the Amazon, such as the rivers Mara-
ñón, Chambira, Corrientes, Pastaza and Tigre.
The Kokama Komilla, “men and women of the river” are one of the
ethnicities most affected by oil activity. As its name suggests, their life
revolves around the river, on which they also depend to survive. But
as a result of the oil industry, their rivers and wetlands are polluted,
but also the game and fish they consume. The land absorbs the pollu-
ted water from the river and it causes vegetation to dry up, and during
rainy season, the oil even reaches the crops of plantain, chilli or cas-
Through deliberate discharge of the formation waters –water with
very high concentrations of metals– they salinized their rivers. They
accumulated residual crude in unsealed ponds and “accidents” like oil
spills became usual. First from the hand of companies like Occidental,
then Pluspetrol, and now Pacific, Perenco, Talisman, Cepsa, Frontera
Energy and other brands.
According to a study by the Autonomous University of Barcelona, as a
consequence of this contamination, high levels of lead and cadmium
are calculated, already detected in the blood of the inhabitants of the
area. Although the impact on their health has not been specifically
evaluated, scientists recall that these compounds are neurotoxic and
carcinogenic, and although the lack of access to healthcare in these
communities makes it difficult to get a diagnosis, there are many who
got skin and stomach issues since contamination levels have risen.
In this context, notable projects are emerging such as the North Pe-
troleum Observatory, dedicated to the mapping of spills and the de-
tection of heavy metals, but even so, the vast majority of initiatives
come from the communities themselves, as is the case with environ-
mental monitors. These are people chosen by the community itself
who know the jungle better than anyone and have the mission of
discovering small and large sources of contamination left behind by
oil activity. Armed with machetes, sticks, and a cell phone to be able
to take photos and videos of what they find, they travel kilometres
of forest to discover sources and points of contamination. They are
community environmental monitors who pass the training from one to
The gravity of the situation spurred the Amazonian indigenous strike
of Saramurillo in 2016, where members of 125 communities from the
different basins of the region moved to take over a Petroperú pum-
ping plant, board the oil tankers and block the Marañon river to force
the state to initiate a process of dialogue to solve the environmental
and cultural impact of oil activity in the area. These types of protests
continue to break out in different parts of the Amazon basin, since to
date no notable solutions have been found and indigenous popula-
tions are increasingly displaced.