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Indigenous Peruvian Leader Olivia Bisa Tirko on Calls for Citigroup to End Coal, Oil & Gas Financing

Web ExclusiveApril 29, 2024
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Climate activists blocked the entrances of the global headquarters of Citigroup in Manhattan last Wednesday to demand the bank stop financing coal, oil and gas companies. The protests came on the heels of a first-of-its-kind Earth Day hearing where environmental activists from around the world gathered in New York this week to condemn what they call Citigroup’s environmental racism. Citibank is the world’s second-largest funder of coal, oil and gas. For an update, we speak with Olivia Bisa Tirko, president of the autonomous territorial government of the Chapra Nation in Peru, who joins us in studio while she is in New York City to participate in the week of action.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Climate activists have blocked the entrances of the global headquarters of Citigroup here in Manhattan to demand the bank stop financing coal, oil and gas companies. The protests come on the heels of a first-of-its-kind Earth Day hearing where environmental activists from around the world gathered here in New York to condemn what they call Citigroup’s environmental racism. Citibank is the world’s second-largest funder of coal, oil and gas.

For more, we’re joined by Olivia Bisa Tirko, president of the autonomous territorial government of the Chapra Nation in Peru.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. If you could start off, Olivia — tell us where Chapra Nation is in Peru.

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] Good morning. I’m very grateful to be here in this space. I come from very far, from the Amazon in the north of Peru. My nation is located in the department of Loreto, in the province of Datem del Marañón, in the district of Morona.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in the northern part of Peru, in the northern Amazon?

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] Yes. We are neighbors to the country of Ecuador.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, talk about why you’re spending two weeks here in the United States, and today, this shutdown, the blocking of the entrances of one of the largest banks in the world, Citigroup.

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] In brief, I came to participate in the U.N. Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues of the United Nations, where for the first time in 200 years of the existence of the Peruvian state, I am the first female president, Indigenous president, of the autonomous government of Chapra Nation. And I came here to hear what is the problems of Indigenous peoples have in all the world of Indigenous peoples.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are you calling on Citigroup to do right now? Talk about how this bank impacts the Indigenous people of Peru.

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] I want to communicate the world that as a mother, daughters, that we are, we should be conscious, because Citibank is financing the oil company Petroperú in Peru. They have a policy that is saying that they are respecting Indigenous peoples’ rights, to the right to self-determination, to the autonomous, but the client of Citi, Petroperú, is violating the same policies that Citi is putting into place. For that reason, we came from so far to tell Citi not to finance Petroperú, because they are impacting us, not only polluting our territories, but also they are causing fights and that we can have conflicts among us, among Indigenous nations, because Petroperú is using divisive tactics in the communities.

Since 2022, where I denounced an oil spill in my territory, I have been criminalized. I’ve been threatened. I have received six lawsuits against me from Petroperú.

So we want to tell Citibank that Petroperú is very desperate to exploit a block that is called Block 64, that is located in the district where I live. But for that, us, we are the door, the open door, to enter to this block. And we want to tell them that this door is closed. We have a very close link with nature. That is our mother. For us, the Chapra Nation, the mother cannot work well without their blood. Oil is the blood of the Earth. And with a mother, a mother cannot be with enemy. A mother cannot give — protect her children.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain more about the threats against you? As you said, you were the first female president of the autonomous territorial government of the Chapra Nation. Explain exactly what has happened over — and how long it’s been happening.

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] Since 2022, I have been denounced. I received a lot of lawsuits in 2023. They start calling me, insulting me to be the first female president, insulting me because I am an Indigenous, I am a chola — pejorative word. And it hurts me that this last month in this year, they started calling me that they are going to even kill my kids, my children. I have two children that they are very young. And this is not giving us life, because my children cannot go to the park to play. They have all the right to live their childhood. And I ask, what is the — I’m asking: What is the crime that I did? I’m defending our Mother Earth. What did I do for having this threat, Citi? I really ask you from my heart.

People that work at Citi, they are fathers, they are mothers. Please, don’t finance more Petroperú, because if you keep financing Petroperú, they are going to keep killing more people, more mothers. How are our kids going to be in the future? The only thing that we want is to live in our territory, that they respect the decision that all the alliance of the nine autonomous nations in Peru, that we have this decision to say no more oil in our territory.

Oil for us is assured that since 1977 — 1997 until 2022, Petroperú has had 139 oil spills, and it has a historical debt, environmental, and a lot of violations to human rights. So we have made an alliance with the coast, Amazon and coast, because we don’t want more oil, because it’s our kids that are going to suffer the consequence. We are almost going to disappear. The Amazon is almost going to disappear. Our territory is very intact, untouched. We are a very biodiverse territory. And it’s not just that Citi wants just to greenwash and say that they have a policy that they are respecting Indigenous rights, that they respect autonomies, but now they are doing the contrary. We are asking them to respect our decision, to respect our right to the autonomy, because we are mothers. Like all the mothers in the world need to have their — want to see their kids good, we’re asking that to Citi.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Olivia Bisa Tirko, more about the biodiversity of your area of the northern Amazon and what exactly is threatened?

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] The Amazon north, it has a lot of biodiversity. I invite you to know the Amazon. For thousands of years that we exist there, we have all the biodiversity untouched. All the autonomies, we have made an alliance to protect more than 60 million hectares. And we want there that same as we can enjoy the nature, we also want our children to enjoy nature. And when we protect our forest, we are not only protect our life and the life of our children, but also the life of whole humanity, because all of us need oxygen, because all of us want food. But with all the behaviors, people are doing the opposite. We want to ask to banks to rescue the water in our communities. But because we’ve continued polluting, everything is going to disappear.

AMY GOODMAN: As you talk about the threats to you, to your family, to the biodiversity of your area, the Amazon, known as the lungs of the planet, you have also met with investment banks. As we speak, you have not yet spoken to Citibank. But can you talk about how these banks respond, Olivia?

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] We have had yesterday a meeting with Goldman Sachs, a bank that has given money to Petroperú for the Talara refinery. We have told them that the refinery, to function, they need to take this oil from the Amazon and from other blocks in the coast. We have told them our positions, that we will not allow them to have activities of oil in our territory. And this is what is very worrying for us, because, for us, if we are resisting, we are going to have much more threats. There’s going to be more killings. And moreover, I am the first female woman president, that is very strong and resistant, and I don’t want to be the only and the last female president. They have come to my house three times to look for me with firearms to kill me. Please don’t allow this. Please don’t allow that they kill me.

AMY GOODMAN: And who exactly is coming there to kill you?

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] I have announced the police to know who are the responsible behind. But, unfortunately, the laws in the Peruvian state, they are very complicit. And it’s taking a long time to do the investigations. And that’s what is making that we are risking more our lives. They are just reacting when the defenders are killed. And that’s not the idea. The idea is to save the life of the defenders.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m sure you know the story of the Honduran environmentalist, also Indigenous, of the Lenca people, Berta Cáceres, and what happened to her. Is this something that frightens you, as well? Was this, do you feel, the killing of Berta Cáceres, a message to all Indigenous people, particularly women in Latin America?

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] Sometimes we say the women are the one that suffer most, when they take the blood from our Mother Earth. There is a say in my territory that the Earth gave me life, and for the Earth, I’m going to give my life. But if they kill me, there are going to be more Olivias that are going to be protecting what for us is life.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the Equator Principles, the fact that Citibank recently pulled out of these principles, and the impact on human rights?

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] Really, this is very worrying, because they talk about their policy where they want to wash their hands. They want to greenwash that they are fulfilling the international standards of the United Nations. We have an alliance with Ecuador to protect our Amazon. We are one nation. We want to be one voice. Latin America is getting united to defend the defenders. They are uniting to defend their right to self-determination.

AMY GOODMAN: You just handed me a report. This is a report of Citibank. It says “Respecting the Rights of Indigenous People, April 2024.” And it starts — it’s in Spanish and English, its contents in English. In fact, it’s all in English. And it says, “Our commitment to respecting Indigenous peoples’ rights.” Is this report true?

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] No, it’s not true, because if it will be true, they will not be financing these oil companies like Petroperú that are vulnerating and violating our — the rights, the same rights that Citi is putting in its own report. So, we are not in the time that you can just lie with your words. We are living in our own skin how, with the financing of Citi, they are killing us.

AMY GOODMAN: Between 2017 and 2021, JPMorgan Chase, HSBC Securities, Bank of America, Santander Investment, Citibank and Goldman Sachs lent over $4.7 billion to Petroperú for its plan to upgrade the Talara refinery, which processes oil in the Peruvian Amazon, including Block 192 and Block 64. Can you talk about the significance of these projects and these blocks?

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] Last year, there was a commission from my own people. We are here in the city of New York from three autonomies: Achuar, Wampís and Chapra. Last year, they came at that trial. The Wampís came here to New York to tell Citi and to tell to this bank to not be financing Petroperú, because, us, we will not allow anymore the exploitation of our territories. And we told the banks that they are in risk to not recover their investment, for the investment of Talara. We told the banks that they are risking their investment, and we have said all the ways. And we told the banks already that we don’t want more exploitation. They have no interest.

And now we are again coming to New York for the second time for telling them that we are not going to allow the exploitation of Block 64. The Chapra Nation is the door to exploit Block 64. And this door is closed and is going to be closed forever. Each of us, as the autonomous governments, we have our bylaws, according to our cosmovision, our own customs and behaviors in our territories. And we are telling them that we are not going to allow any extractive company to operate in our territories.

AMY GOODMAN: Olivia Bisa Tirko, you are the first female president of the Chapra Nation in the northern Amazon of Peru. Can you talk about the president of Peru, Dina Boluarte?

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] Unfortunately, I would say that is a shame for Peru, is a shame for all the women, as we had the hope to have a female president who will help our development as women, because we live a lot of years of patriarchy. We are always living in this patriarchy. We are thinking like with the — through the President Boluarte, we will have access to opportunities and freedom, true freedom, of women. But it is not true. It is one of the women that is pushing for the killing and much more violations of Indigenous rights and is promoting the genocide of Indigenous peoples.

AMY GOODMAN: Who do you believe President Boluarte represents?

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] The president, Dina Boluarte, does not represent anybody, only her own interest, because as us Peruvians, we do not feel represented by Boluarte.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your final message, as you’re here in the United States, to people in the United States, what activism means when you see allies joining in protecting Indigenous rights with indigenous leaders, and your message to the world?

OLIVIA BISA TIRKO: [translated] I am thankful, thankful to you, to be here, to give me this opportunity, be thankful to tell all of our allies that what they are doing to save and protect Indigenous peoples, the message that I want to give is that Indigenous peoples exist for thousands of years, before of the states. And we have been living and we have been put in our autonomies for thousands of years. If Indigenous peoples disappear, also our forests and our territories are going to disappear.

The message that I want to give is that we are in the point of no return for our Mother Earth, but we want to — we should be complicit in a new life with our Mother Earth. But for that, we should look for a good future for Indigenous peoples, because only biodiversity, that everybody’s talking about — biodiversity is not there from night to day. Biodiversity, it exists in the territory of Indigenous peoples, because there are Indigenous peoples living, taking care of, protecting the territories. If you want a really good future for the planet, you should ensure first the future of Indigenous peoples. You should ensure first the future of Indigenous peoples. And with that, we are going to our rescue biodiversity.

AMY GOODMAN: Olivia Bisa Tirko, I want to thank you so much for joining us, president of the autonomous territorial government of the Chapra Nation in Peru. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

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