Peru promises Amazon investment after indigenous deaths

© Agence France-Presse

Indigenous protesters gather at the Canadian-owned company called PetroTal oil company’s settlement in the remote town of Requena, hours away by boat from the city of Iquitos, Peru, on August 9, 2020

Lima (AFP) - Peru promised on Monday to invest in its Amazon region, which is a focal point of the coronavirus pandemic, following the death of three indigenous protesters in clashes with police.

Around 70 indigenous people armed with spears tried to overrun a settlement for oil workers deep in the Amazon late on Saturday night in a bid to halt work at a well in the remote town of Bretana in the Loreto region.

They were angry at what they see as government neglect of their communities during the pandemic, but the clash with police left three people dead and 17 in hospital.

"We've agreed to reinforce the primary health attention ... specifically in Bretana, but in general in the Loreto region," said Culture Minister Alejandro Neyra on state television.

Neyra was visiting a hospital in Iquitos, Peru's main Amazonian city and the focal point for coronavirus infections in the country. 

"We've come to see the injured," added Neyra, who is in charge of relations with Peru's indigenous people.

He traveled to the oil-rich jungle zone on Sunday where he met with indigenous leaders before calm was restored.

"We have agreed to resume the plan to close the gaps" in wealth and health care, he added.

The indigenous people complain that the well, known as Lot 95 and operated by a Canadian-owned company called PetroTal, has caused pollution in their lands through a series of oil spills.

The company said after the clash it was suspending work at the site, where it employs about 100 people.

"We're calling on the central government to take care of the indigenous communities, but also on the indigenous people to not react violently, that doesn't help us reach agreement," said Elisban Ochoa, the governor of Loreto.

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the Amazon region, home to dozens of indigenous ethnicities and where poverty rates are high.

Peru is one of the worst affected countries in the world by the coronavirus with 478,000 cases and 21,000 deaths.