Indigenous people detain passengers aboard Peru riverboat

Man in canoe in Peru
The jungle hamlets of the Amazon in Peru remain very isolated, only reachable via motorized boats and/or canoes, sometimes hours or days from Iquitos, Belen or Nauta, often through very small inlets in the great Amazon river and its tributaries like the Maranon or Itaya, that traverse the zone.
(Liliana Nieto del Rio / For the Times)

An Indigenous leader in Peru’s Amazon region said Friday that his community was holding 98 riverboat passengers — 23 of them foreigners — to demand government attention to complaints of oil pollution.

Wadson Trujillo said the foreign passengers include citizens of Germany, Britain, Spain and France who had been traveling along the Maranon River when the vessel named Eduardo 11 was halted Thursday by residents of Cuninico. He said all the passengers were in good health.

“We have seen ourselves obliged to take this measure to summon the attention of a state that has not paid attention to us for eight years,” he told the Associated Press by telephone.

But he said that the community would allow the boat to continue its trip “in the coming hours.”


He asked the government of President Pedro Castillo to declare an emergency in the area to deal with the effects of oil pollution.

Trujillo said oil spills in 2014 and again in September this year “have caused much damage” to people who depend on fish from the river as a significant part of their diet.

“The people have had to drink water and eat fish contaminated with petroleum without any government being concerned,” he said.

He said the spills had affected not only the roughly 1,000 inhabitants of his township but nearly 80 other communities, many of which lack running water, electricity or telephone service.

Peru’s Health Ministry took blood samples in the region in 2016 and found that about half the tests from Cuninico showed levels of mercury and cadmium above levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

“The children have those poisons in their blood. The people suffer from stomach problems — that is every day,” Trujillo said.


The government had made no comment on the holding of the passengers, who were en route from Yurimaguas to Iquitos, the main city in Peru’s Amazon region.