Peru: oil rush accelerates, government weighs new reserves for uncontacted tribes

The head of Peru's state oil company has announced that it will auction off up to twelve new "lots" for oil and gas exploration, according to reports. The announcement was made by Perupetro's chairman, Daniel Saba, who has previously said that companies can even explore in reserves inhabited by uncontacted indigenous tribes.

Almost 75% of the Peruvian Amazon has already been opened up for exploration, the most of any Amazonian country. Some of this area—where companies such as Perenco, Repsol-YPF, Petrolifera, Pluspetrol and Petrobras are working—is inhabited by isolated tribes. Saba had previously said that the existence of uncontacted tribes is an "absurd" idea, before later saying that Perupetro would try and contact them in order to "consult" them. This was vigorously denounced by Peru's indigenous peoples' organization, AIDESEP.

Survival International's director, Stephen Corry, said, "We strongly urge Mr. Saba and Perupetro not to include any uncontacted tribes' land in any of the new lots. Doing so breaks international law and violates the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, and it could have catastophic consequences for the Indians who live there." (Survival International, March 27)

Peru's indigenous affairs department (INDEPA) held a meeting March 31 in Iquitos to discuss the creation of five new reserves for uncontacted tribes in the remote rainforest. One of the proposed reserves is where the Anglo-French oil company Perenco is currently working. Perenco is believed to be sitting on the biggest oil discovery in Peru in 30 years and claims no uncontacted tribes live there.

Another of the proposed reserves is where the Canadian oil company Petrolifera has been exploring for oil by conducting seismic tests. Despite the danger this poses to the uncontacted peoples living there, Petrolifera's CEO, Richard Gusella, has described his company as a "poster child" for companies interacting with local communities.

Only recently a "state of emergency" was declared in more than one hundred indigenous communities in northern Peru after the Brazilian state oil company, Petrobras, announced its intention to enter their land. Some of this land includes part of one of the proposed reserves to be discussed by INDEPA.

To mark the meeting, Survival has written an open letter to INDEPA's director urging him to recognize uncontacted tribes' land rights and to protect their territories from oil and gas exploration, loggin