LIMA – Authorities, labor unions and indigenous organizations in the northern Peruvian region of Loreto staged a 24-hour strike to demand that state-owned oil firm PetroPeru take over operation of the country’s largest oil block, which was awarded last week to Canada’s Pacific Stratus Energy.
Loreto Gov. Fernando Melendez said the population showed its “patriotic conviction” by halting activities because it “understands that its economy is at risk.”
Stores, schools and public transportation were paralyzed Tuesday in Loreto’s capital, Iquitos, and some demonstrators even clashed with police near the airport and on access roads.
Interior Minister Jose Luis Perez Guadalupe said several arrests were made during the protest but that police had brought the situation in Iquitos under control.
The regional government, the CGT labor federation, a group known as the Patriotic Front for the Defense of Loreto and at least four indigenous federations backed the protest.
In an interview with RPP Noticias, Melendez criticized the government for awarding Pacific a two-year contract for operating Lot 192 without taking into account the environmental damage caused by 45 years of oil production in that area.
The block had been developed since 2001 by Argentine oil company Pluspetrol, accused by indigenous communities of polluting the area. With that firm’s contract expiring at month’s end and an international bidding process failing to attract interest, the Peruvian government directly awarded the block to Pacific on Friday.
But the governor predicted that the block’s output will fall and adversely affect the regional economy. He said indigenous peoples in Loreto want investment guarantees covering a span of 30 years and reject the short-term deal with Pacific as “irresponsible.”
The block, located near Peru’s border with Ecuador, yields around 11,000 barrels of crude from 16 wells and accounts for 17 percent of the country’s total oil production.
PetroPeru, for its part, issued a statement Tuesday saying that it lacks the technical conditions and economic resources to operate Lot 192.