Perenco: Oil and Violence in the Mayan Forest

A refugee camp in the forest Uprooted community in the Petén department (Photo: Gregory Lassale) (© Gregory Lassale)
63,227 supporters

End of campaign: May 23, 2014

The Anglo-French company Perenco operates oil wells in the Laguna del Tigre National Park in Guatemala, the largest wetland in Central America. Deprived of their basic rights, local people are even being expelled from their home areas by an army battalion that is being financed in part by the proceeds of oil exploitation.

Call to action

To: The authorities of Guatemala

Respect for the rights of local communities and end to militarization in the Petén department in Guatemala

Read letter

Perenco Guatemala Limited, a local subsidiary of the Anglo-French oil company Perenco, has been operating oil wells in Laguna del Tigre National Park in the Guatemala department of Petén since 2001. In 2010, Perenco G.L. obtained a controversial contract extension of fifteen years for its operations in the heart of this protected natural area, in spite of the fact that the international importance of the site has been recognized by the Ramsar Convention.

Within the scope of the renewal agreement for oil contract no. 2-85, and after the creation of a “green battalion” funded by a direct financial contribution of Perenco G.L., the area has been heavily militarized. Since 2010, the number of military units in the area has almost tripled, and local communities have been repressed and intimidated by the soldiers.

The government has failed to stand up for the human rights of the inhabitants of the region. Instead, it has been forcibly displacing local communities that stand in the way of the development of megaprojects. Four communities have been evicted from the area since 2009, and eleven new evictions could soon be taking place.

Local communities are being deprived of their basic rights, for instance the right to education, the right to health, the right of access to title to the land they live on – often after forced resettlement – under the pretext that they are “invaders” in a protected zone. And yet, the Perenco G.L. oil company has had its operating contract renewed and the area has been remilitarized, in contradiction to the Peace Accords that promote, among other things, a reduction in military personnel.

The communities of San Andrés, La Libertad and Las Cruces need our support for an end to the violence against them and to ensure that their rights are respected.

Back­ground

Petén

Petén is the largest department in Guatemala. It has an area of 36,000 km² and makes up roughly one third of the country. It has several protected nature reserves, including Laguna del Tigre National Park (NTP). 

There have been population migrations to Petén since the 1960s. People resettled in Petén for two main reasons: to find better living conditions by acquiring parcels of land that, at the time, were allocated to anyone with a family, and to flee the massacres resulting from the intensification of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict (1960-1996). However, as civil war continued, more and more property deeds were distributed to people closer to power (military, big landowners, etc.). 

Nowadays, local communities in Petén are being threatened with eviction by the government because their presence hinders the development of megaprojects planned for Petén without advance information or consultation with the people: oil exploration, hydroelectric dam projects on the Usumacinta River, the tourism megaproject Cuatro Balam, or monoculture plantations for the production of biofuels. In villages where families have been evicted, schools have been transformed into military posts ...

Laguna del Tigre National Park

With 335,080 hectares, Laguna del Tigre National Park (PNLT) is the largest wetland in Central America. PNLT, which is part of the UNESCO Maya Biosphere Reserve, was declared a protected zone in 1990. It is the largest wetland in the Americas after the Pantanal area of South America, and its international importance has been recognized by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

In 2010 the government renewed operating contract no. 2-85 of the Perenco G.L. oil company, to the detriment of both international environmental conventions (Ramsar) and national legislation prohibiting oil industry activity in Laguna del Tigre National Park (1989 Law on Protected Areas).

Environmental and social impact

The environmental organization Parks Watch has documented various environmental impacts of the Perenco G.L. oil exploration activity on PNLT: air and soil pollution, cutting back trees for the construction of wells (deforestation), or abnormal decline in the number of birds near the wells. In addition, a U.S. biologist has demonstrated the presence of hydrocarbons, which are suspected of causing genetic damage to fish and aquatic species, in some surface waters of the PNLT.

No socio-environmental study has been made of the impact of oil activities in the area, nor have the Guatemalan authorities followed up on the assessment of the various types of impact.

Perenco 

Perenco is a Franco-British oil exploration and production company. Although discrete and relatively unknown to the general public, Perenco is nevertheless a major player in the oil industry. It has a daily production of 250,000 barrels and employs 4,000 people worldwide. Perenco’s special area is the operation of older oil wells; it buy concessions that larger companies consider unprofitable. These concessions are often located in areas where the risk of human rights violations is high and where environmental issues are particularly sensitive. 

In Guatemala, oil is a major source of funds for the military. In connection with the renewal of oil contract no. 2-85, the army created a “Jungle Infantry Battalion”, nicknamed the “green battalion”. This unit is funded in part by Perenco G.L., which contributed USD 3 million and continues to contribute $ 0.30 per extracted barrel. The official mission of the “green battalion” is to fight for the preservation of the environment and against drug trafficking. In reality, the military presence intimidates members of the local population who oppose projects to exploit natural resources, violates the right to free movement of persons and goods and puts pressure on communities to prevent them from organizing to claim their legitimate rights.

Perenco Guatemala Limited, the Guatemalan subsidiary of Perenco, operates the Xan oil wells in Laguna del Tigre National Park, which it purchased from the Basic Resources company in 2001. In 2010, it obtained a fifteen-year extension of its operating contract no. 2-85 for its oil exploration activities in PNLT despite the protected status of the area, and without a viable environmental impact study or consultation with affected communities. Perenco G.L. currently produces 13,000 barrels per day, which corresponds to approximately 94% of Guatemala’s domestic oil production.

Support to communities: “Collectif Guatemala”

Since 2010, “Collectif Guatemala” has been running a campaign to expose abuses by the multinational company Perenco in violation of the rights of local communities in the department of Petén. It has published a highly comprehensive report – “PERENCO: Exploiter le pétrole coûte que coûte” (Exploit oil at all costs) – and a documentary – “Des dérives de l’art aux dérivés du pétrole” (From artistic diversions to oil by-products) – on Perenco G.L., its highly questionable patronage of a exhibition of Maya art presented in Paris in 2011 and the social and environmental consequences of its operations in Guatemala.

Recipients of the petition

In addition to signing the petition, you can contact the Guatemalan authorities directly:

• Mr. Otto Pérez Molina, President 
Ms. Roxana Baldetti, Vice-President
Mr. Erick Archila, Minister of Energy and Mines
Mr. Erick Cabrera, Executive Secretary of the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP)
Ms. Claudia Paz y Paz, Attorney General of the Republic, President of the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ)
Mr. Gabriel Medrano, President of the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ)
Mr. César Barrientos, President of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ)
Mr. Jorge de León Duque, Human Rights Ombudsman

Embassy of Guatemala in France
2 rue Villebois-Mareuil
75017 Paris
Tel: +33 1 42 27 78 63
Fax: +33 1 47 54 02 06
E-mail: embfrancia@minex.gob.gt

Letter

To: The authorities of Guatemala

Dear Sir or Madam,

I wish to express my deepest indignation regarding oil exploitation by Perenco Guatemala Limited in the midst of a protected natural area in Laguna del Tigre National Park, and at the same time voice my concern about the human rights situation of local communities in the municipalities of San Andrés, La Libertad and Las Cruces in the department of Petén.

I hereby wish to express my solidarity with the communities involved. My demands are:

1. Cease militarization and the installation of new military units and, in accordance with the 1996 Peace Accords, remove military detachments that are already in place;

2. Put an end to the acts of intimidation and pressure against members of local communities and to the policy of forced evictions they have been subjected to;

3. Commission an independent study of social and environmental impact in the department of Petén in order to accurately determine damage to the environment and violations of social, economic and cultural rights of local populations as a result of oil exploitation under contract 2-85 of Perenco Guatemala Limited;

4. Guarantee the rights of local population groups by ensuring that the Guatemalan authorities respect international human rights treaties, including Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;

5. Give local communities legal certainty with regard to their land without forcing them to sign the “cooperation agreements” that are being imposed by the National Council of Protected Areas and that run counter to their interests;

6. In accordance with international law, take the protection of persons and respect for economic, social and cultural rights into account when the 1989 Act on Protected Areas is implemented;

7. Suspend oil contract 2-85 of Perenco Guatemala Limited. Furthermore, this petition also includes a demand for all other megaprojects in the area to be suspended: tourism development megaproject Balam IV, five hydro-electric dams, five new concessions for oil exploration and exploitation and concessions for intensive monocultures. Affected communities must be consulted and their views taken into account in a manner which reflects their right to prior consultation and their right of participation in policy development as guaranteed by the 1996 Peace Accords and recognized under the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala and under international treaties ratified by Guatemala.

Please accept, Madam, Sir, the assurance of my highest consideration and the affirmation of my civic vigilance.