- BLACK WATER
The Mapuche Indigenous Community vs. RPF/Repsol
- by Eugenia Zicavo
- (original article appeared in Hecho en Buenos Aires, April
- The territory occupied by the indigenous Mapuche communities
Paynemil and Kaxipayin, located 90 kilometers from the capital
of Neuquen, is situated on a petroleum deposit of thirty six
thousand hectares, the largest petroleum deposit not only in
Argentina but in Latin America. This land is currently in the
hands of the private energy company Repsol/YPF. YPF has been
in Loma de la Lata, in the Paynemil community since the 1960's,
and currently owns 45 drilling wells, says Mapuche leader Jorge
Nancuchea. Ever since the land was taken by the private company,
the Mapuche community's own sovereignty and resources have been
violated, the very life of the people is in danger, and the ecological
devastation is irreversible.
- Though the Mapuches lived for years with respect for
the biodiversity of the region, in only twenty years the area
has been totally destroyed, and the water sources contaminated,
according to Dr. Falashi, professor and researcher from the University
of Comahue and member of the community team of Mapuche leaders
- The Mapuches, even though they live on the edge of a
river, need to resort to buckets of mineral water, which provide
only enough for cooking and minimal personal hygiene. Blood
analysis of members of the community has shown high levels of
neurotoxins, metals and chemicals which have dangerous effects
on learning and behavior.
- The first region of contaminated water, in the Paynemil
community ,was discovered in 1995. IN 1999, the community filed
a formal accusation of contamination to six national and regional
organizations. That same year, the regional government asked
the UN program for Development (PNUD) for an environmental evaluation
of the damage done to the region. The results of the study indicated
that 925 million dollars worth of damage had been caused. The
scandal resulted in an investigation of toxic damage by the
Regional Secretary of Health, an investigation which has yet
to produce any results, according to Dr. Falaschi.
- The Mapuche communities of Paynemil and Kaxipayin which
are situated in outlying areas of the Neuquen river, are living
an intricate and tragic paradox: they find themselves on the
edges of a river, with underground water sources and springs
that they have used for over a century, and now they have no
access to drinking water. Despite living on the largest petroleum
reserve in the country, right next to a huge thermoelectric generator,
many families have no gas or electricity.
The region, referred to as a "zone of development"
is everything but that for its population, who don't enjoy any
of the benefits of the exploitation of their land.
- In the oil fields of Loma de la Lata, the national company
YPF was the principal operator until it was privatized in 1991
by the government of ex-president Carlos Menem and sold to the
Spanish company Repsol. There was no doubt about the interest
generated in investors: the oilfield could generate profits of
$35 million a month, and between three and four million a month
in "bonuses" to the province, according to research
done in 1996. Thus the total profits of Repsol in 2000 reached
$2,292 million, 65% of which came from YPF, according to Dr.
- Despite these earnings, and despite the soil erosion and
contamination it caused, in 1993 the company awarded the generous
sum of $700-900 a month to the Paynemil community, and not one
cent to the Kaxipayin community. And while the Mapuches didn't
benefit from Repsol's exploitation, the regional government
treasury did, receiving 12% of each extracted barrel or cubic
- According to Dr. Falaschi, the provincial government officials
acted as "associates" of the company in return for
fees that were never used for development but to cover their
own "expenses", thus aligning themselves with private
investors and not with the indigenous communities. Nontheless,
other oil companies associated with Repsol have paid higher
fees to other countries, as was the case with Pluspetrol who
committed to a payment to Peru that was the equivalent of 35%
of what they will receive for the oil reserve Camisea.
- "We are tired of being poisoned, of being stepped on
and discriminated against by the company and by the government,"
said Gabriel Herqui of the Kaxipayin community during a Mapuche
blockade of an oil deposit in October 2001. At that time, the
Mapuche community accused the company of not following environmental
controls and undertaking drilling projects without the permission
and participation of the Mapuche community.
- In October of 2001, the government of ex-president Fernando
de La Rua gave Repsol-YPF an extension of their right to exploit
Loma de la Lata until the year 2027, once their current contract
expired in 2017. To renegotiate the contract for a 16 year extension
violates the law of hydrocarbons, which in article 35 states
that in order to qualify for an extension, the company "had
to have performed all of its obligations. " For this "favor",
the Spanish company paid the national government 300 million
dollars. Its profits for the first trimester of 2000 were 1,100
million dollars, according to the October 27, 2000 edition of
the Buenos Aires newspaper, Clarin.
- In Loma de la Lata the logic of private enterprise and
of official decisions--for whom the earth is another form of
currency--confronts another logic, one that defends the environment,
biodiversity and the earth as a way of life. Mapuche means "people
of the earth", and as the Mapuches say, "The earth
doesn't belong to us, we belong to the earth."
- (translation: Lisa Garrigues)