Indigenous group hold dozens of tourists, including Americans, hostage during protest over oil spill in Peru’s Amazon
A group of indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon have taken dozens of foreign and Peruvian tourists hostage while cruising through the area on a river excursion boat. The indigenous group said it took the measures to protest the lack of government aid following an oil spill in the area, according to local media and members of the tour group.
“(We want) to get government attention with this action, there are foreigners and Peruvians, there are about 70 people,” Watson Trujillo Acosta, the leader of the Cuninico community, told the country’s national RPP radio station.
Tourists include citizens from the United States, Spain, France, Great Britain and Switzerland.
Lon Haldeman, one of the Americans held captive, said in a statement his wife told CBS News on Friday that the group had been held “for the past 26 hours.”
He said the kidnappers were demanding “medical assistance and clean water and food” after an oil spill in the area “contaminated the wells and the river.”
“The villagers are peaceful towards us, but they took over the boat with spears and clubs,” Haldeman said in the statement. “Nobody had guns. We were parked near an island last night and the villagers took the battery out of the boat motor. The captain and drivers are being held in a village jail. The village wants to keep the big boat for ransom. We could get some small lifeboats. There are new promotions every hour.
Angela Ramirez, a Peruvian national who said she was among the hostages, said in a Facebook post Thursday afternoon that those seized on the boat included children, pregnant women and the disabled.
Ramirez also said the indigenous community treated them with kindness and respect, adding that holding the tourists “was the only way they found to seek solutions for their community” after oil spills that spilled the allegedly resulted in the deaths of two children and a wife.
“The sooner they’re heard, the sooner they’ll let us go,” Ramirez said in the online post. “Help me to help them be heard.”
Acosta said his group took the “radical measure” to pressure the government to send a delegation to assess the environmental damage from a Sept. 16 incident in which 2,500 tons of crude oil spilled into the Cuninico River. He said the detainees would spend the night on the ship while waiting for the situation to be resolved.
Susan Notorangelo, Haldeman’s wife, told CBS News that her husband sent her sporadic updates to say he was fine but didn’t respond to many questions, which she said was an attempt to conserve the battery on his iPad. Notorangelo said she was told the US State Department was sending a boat with food and water but didn’t think it had arrived at the remote location yet.
Haldeman is a tour guide but did not lead the arrested tour. Notorangelo said her husband and the other tourists should have finished their boat trip Thursday noon and then cycled to the nearby town of Iquitos. She said her husband had a plane ticket to leave Peru on Tuesday and hoped he and the other hostages would be released in time for him to make the flight.
Ramirez told RPP that the Cuninico community said it was prepared to hold the hostages for six to eight days until receiving a response from the government.
She said they were “physically fine,” but in a new post Friday morning, she said the sun was strong, babies had been crying and they were almost out of water.
Local media showed no public comment from the Peruvian government or police on the incident, which took place on a tributary of the Maranon.
Indigenous communities had already blocked the passage of all ships on the river in protest at the oil spill caused by a rupture in the Norperuano oil pipeline.
On September 27, the government declared a 90-day state of emergency in the affected region, home to around 2,500 members of the municipalities of Cuninico and Urarinas.
The approximately 500-mile-long Norperuano Pipeline, owned by state-owned Petroperu, was built four decades ago to transport crude oil from the Amazon to the coastal ports of Piura.
According to Petroperu, the spill was the result of a deliberate eight-inch cut in the pipeline, which the company said had suffered over a dozen similar attacks in the past.
CBS News’ Maddie Richards and April Alexander contributed to this report.