IT’S NOT OFTEN THAT YOU find yourself sympathizing with kidnappers, but a recent story out of Peru had me thinking, “Eh, I can see their point.” The story started last month when a pipeline belonging to the Peruvian state oil company, Petroperu, burst, and spilled between 2000 and 3000 barrels of crude oil into the Amazon. It took three days for the break to be fixed, and then, a week later, there was a second oil spill. Of course, the people worst affected were the Peruvian indigenous communities.
One such community was the Wampis community of Mayuriaga. Despite the fact that the spill occurred in their area — and is, indeed called “the Mayuriaga spill” by the Peruvian government, the Wampis community was not listed among the groups that were considered eligible for aid.
Unable to get the government’s help, the Wampis seized control of a state helicopter that had landed in their area last week, and held 8 people (including several Petroperu officials) hostage.
“This oil spill has already resulted in severe and irreparable harm to the community lands of Mayuriaga and to our collective territory as a people. Responsibility lies squarely with [the oil company] Petroperu, who have acted with complete negligence,” Wrays Perez Ramirez, the leader of the Wampis being careless to the point of catastrophe: there have been 20 smaller-grade failures on the part of the oil company since 2011, when Peru’s environmental agency started keeping track of such incidences.
Kidnapping, of course, is an extreme tactic that is virtually never justified, but it’s worth noting that this type of hostage-taking is a fairly common act in Peru, where indigenous communities don’t feel as if they can get the government’s attention — or cooperation otherwise. And while it’s easy to say kidnapping is always wrong, it’s also worth noting that if the government valued the lives and livelihoods of these indigenous communities at the same level that they valued the lives of the hostages, then this whole mess might never have happened in the first place.