Tourists on Peru riverboat freed after pollution protest

LIMA, Peru (AP) — An Indigenous leader in Peru’s Amazon region said Friday that his community had released 98 riverboat passengers — 23 of them foreign tourists — who had been detained overnight as a protest to demand government attention to complaints of oil pollution.

Wadson Trujillo said the passengers, including citizens of Germany, Great Britain, Spain and France as well as Peru, set off along the Maranon River at 1:45 p.m. local time aboard the vessel named Eduardo 11, which had been held since the day before by residents of Cuninico. The passengers were en route from Yurimaguas to Iquitos, the main city in Peru’s Amazon region.

But he said the people of Cuninico would continue protests — and blocking the passage of boats — until the government gives them concrete help.

“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.

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.

Prime Minister Aníbal Torres said in response to Indigenous demands that the “evils of 200 years of republican life cannot be resolved in a day, in a few months or in a few years.”

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