Ucamara is a radio broadcaster based in Nauta, a town in the Peruvian Amazon. This radio is above all the Kukama people’s voice, an indigenous group fighting against the abuses of oil companies.
After two hours of travel, coming from Iquitos, the capital of the Peruvian Amazon, we reach the town of Nauta, located at the junction of the Marañón and Ucayali rivers that form the Amazon River. The city is the gateway to the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. We stop at the gate of Radio Ucamara, one of the few voices in support of the indigenous peoples against the overwhelming power of oil companies and more recently of the tourism industry. We meet Leonardo Tello Imaina the Director of this Peruvian radio, he tell us how Ucamara was born,
“At first Ucamara radio was called “La voz de la selva-Nauta”, taking its name after the first “La voz de la selva” radio station based in Iquitos, which was created in February 1992, during the civil war, by the Institute of Social Promotion Amazon, IPSA, a foundation established by the Apostolic Vicariate of Iquitos. Then in 2006, “La voz de la selva-Nauta” changed its name into ‘Radio Ucamara’, a name derived from the syneresis of the Ucayali and Marañón rivers.
Leonardo Tello has worked as Director of Radio Ucamara since 2010, he had earlier taught Social Sciences at a college in Nauta. “I have Kukama origins from my father’s side, I am Achuar on my mother’s side and I have some Quechua blood too” – he tells us – “I was enthusiastic about collaborating with the radio from the very beginning, because I soon realised it could be a way to do something useful for others, especially for my people.”
The Kukama people are linked to a long history of suffering and injustice, starting from the genocide they suffered between 1885 and 1915, when male rubber tappers and porters were mercilessly exploited and driven to death, and up to now, with the devastating invasion of indigenous lands by multinational companies.
Language, cultures and memories to be recovered
Ucamara Radio has been committed for a long time to the recovery of the individual and collective memory of the Kukama people and their language. “I do not speak this language” – Leonardo Tello explains to us. “We did not use it at school. Nowadays, only people aged over 75 can speak the Kukama language. If we do not do something now, this language will likely disappear in ten years.” Radio Ucamara tries to revitalize the original language and culture in Perù through the use of communications. “The radio is currently transmitting two programmes in the Kukama language. From August 2012 until October 2013 the radio station also worked as a school (Escuela Ikuari), where the Kukama language courses were held. For this reason we have been accused of being past-oriented. The teaching method consisted of telling stories, singing and listening to songs in the Kukama language. The courses had an unexpected success, especially the songs, which reached the audiences far beyond the Amazon region.”
International oil companies are destroying the rainforest and waterways that feed the Amazon River, contaminating the water and land and threatening the lives and cultures of the indigenous peoples. The dumping of oil waste into the waters of the Marañón, other rivers and the Amazon forest is producing fatal consequences for the the Kukama ethnic group. For over 40 years, they have protested against pollution, violence and corruption, but the oil business has always had the upper hand.
Leonardo Tello adds: “For Peru’s Kukama people, the rivers and lakes are central to their culture. They not only provide the Kukama people with food and water, but they also have to do with the Kukama religion, with the spirits that live under the water. If a person disappears in the river, relatives say he or she has gone to live under the water and that the person visits in dreams or through shamans. Pollution therefore not only affects water but also Kukama’s spiritual beliefs.”
Ucarama radio Director stabs at the Pluspetrol oil company, “The company is responsible not only for the environmental contamination, but also for the negative impacts on the indigenous people’s life and culture. Oil company managers claim they bring jobs and wealth to the indigenous people, when in reality they bring their own workers instead of hiring locals.”
Thr Ucamara radio Director comments on the increasing tourist volume that Iquitos and the Peruvian Amazon have experienced over the recent years, “Most of the tourism agencies are operating in an irresponsible way. They do not take into consideration the impact that tourism may have on the indigenous population and its culture. Some small local canoes were run down by tour boats that were cruising our rivers. A responsible tourism should respect indigenous communities, their life and culture.
The Peruvian Amazon has so much to show, but tourism as currently practiced is being destructive and offering just a limited view of this region. The government keeps on turning a blind eye on these matters. An example of this is the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, where the Kukama people are not allowed to fish because it is a touristic area, but at the same time the place has been persistently abused by Pluspetrol.” Leonardo Tello continues, “Another example is the port of Nauta. Authorities have sold the port to oil companies, tourist boat and fuel station enterprises. A few years ago one could watch the coming and going of the local fishermen, hunters, and farmers’ canoes in the harbour. They are no longer there, local people had to find alternative occupations (sometimes non-environmentally friendly) in order to survive.”
Leonardo Tello continues, “By denouncing through Ucamara radio, people may make some enemies. This is what happened to the Vicar of Nauta, not a long time ago. The owner of the tourist enterprise ‘Jungle Expedition’ threatened the Vicar saying that Radio Ukamara had better not interfere with his business, otherwise there would be some trouble. He also threatened to destroy the premises of the radio. The staff of the station had already been threatened earlier, on several occasions. But we keep on speaking out against corruption and abuses, because we are convinced that people have the right to know what is going on.”
The Ucamara radio station’s staff consists of four people, plus a variable number of volunteers. “Our programmes also include a newsletter, entirely managed by women, because feminine perspective gives added value,” says the radio Director. The broadcaster now reaches 45,000 people, a relevant audience in the region. If you look out the windows of the Ucamara news room you can see the stunning Amazon River. “The commitment of our radio – Leonardo Tello explains to us – is adopting perspectives and ways of thinking of the indigenous population to meet the challenges of today. We have much to learn from the Kukama culture.” (P.M.)