With less than two weeks left in office, the administration of Peruvian President Alan Garcia faces a new controversy over its treatment of uncontacted Natives in the country’s Amazon region.
Representatives of Native, environmental and human rights organizations in Peru have criticized new regulations proposed by the Ministry of Culture for the supervision of exploratory and extractive activities inside the country’s indigenous and territorial reserves. In a press release, the Amazonian Native association AIDESEP claimed that the new regulations were drafted to facilitate drilling for gas in the Nahua Kugapakori and Nanti Territorial Reserve – created in 1999 to protect Natives living in voluntary isolation, or who have recently been contacted – and warned that this could endanger them.
“They want to do the oil industry a favor before they leave office,” said Carlos Soria, an environmental lawyer and expert on uncontacted peoples, referring to the fact that Garcia’s five-year term ends on July 28. He noted that even though the proposed regulations include a series of precautions that companies must take when operating in areas with uncontacted Natives, it would be very difficult for the government to ensure compliance with them.
Indian Country Today Media Network was unable to interview Ministry of Culture officials, but in a press release, they “completely rejected” claims that the ministry was “promoting regulations in favor of private interests.” The release states that the regulations are a draft that was distributed in order to get feedback from organizations that represent, or work with Natives.
According to Jimpson Davila, who monitors the oil and gas industry for the environmental organization Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), the controversy stems from a contradiction within the law for protection of uncontacted and recently contacted peoples, which says that the territorial reserves created to protect them are “intangible,” but then adds that the extraction of resources is permissible if deemed a “public necessity.”
Davila noted that the Culture Ministry’s attempt to clarify this discrepancy was released less than a month after the Argentine company Pluspetrol presented an environmental impact study to the Ministry of Energy and Mines as part of proposal to dig three wells inside the Nahua Kugapakori & Nanti Territorial Reserve as part of the Camisea Project. The Ministry has yet to respond to the study.
Pluspetrol is one of several companies in the Camisea consortium, which is exploiting one of South America’s largest natural gas reserves in the remote wilderness of southeast Peru. The consortium has the concession for Block 88, which was superimposed over the middle (approximately one third) of the Nahua Reserve. Davila explained that the consortium is already extracting gas inside the reserve, but whereas those wells are near the reserve’s eastern border, the new environmental impact study is for tapping the San Martín Este gas field, deep inside the Nahua Reserve’s more than 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres) of wilderness.
Davila predicted that the construction of oil wells that deep inside the reserve would disrupt the lives of Nahua groups living in voluntary isolation, who are nomadic, and thus require a large territory. He warned that oil workers could provoke contact, and spread diseases for which the Natives lack defenses, explaining that the Nahua were first contacted in the 1980s by workers doing exploration for Shell, and subsequent epidemics are believed to have killed half of their population.
Pluspetrol representatives failed to respond to ICTMN’s request for an interview.
“The prospect of forced contact would be a violation of the rights of people living in isolation to life, health, and self determination,” Davila said. “The government should respect their right to decide whether or not to make contact.”