Peru: "uncontacted" peoples resist encroachment as Amazon oil leases proliferate

The Native Federation of the Río Madre de Dios and Tributaries (FENAMAD) issued a statement protesting that the state company PeruPetro has demarcated three new oil exploration blocs in Peru's southern Amazon region of Madre de Dios. The new blocs—numbered 187, 190 and 191—are located in the provinces of Tahuamanu and Tambopata, and bring to 22 the number of new exploration blocs instated nationally under President Alan García. FENAMAD charges that the new blocs threaten the Manú Biosphere Reserve and the Vilcabamba-Amboró biological corridor—already under threat by the operations of Hunt Oil and Repsol YPF in Lot 76, established in the ancestral territory of the Harakmbut, Yine and Matziguenka indigenous peoples. Hunt and Repsol have concluded seismic exploration in the bloc, over the protests of traditional indigenous leaders of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, which overlaps with the exploration bloc. The Hunt-Repsol consortium is now about to drill eight test wells in the bloc. (FENAMAD, May 6)

These developments come amid growing concerns about "uncontacted" indigenous peoples in the remote rainforest region—which FENAMAD says are better called "peoples in voluntary isolation," since they do know that industrial civilization exists, and are consciously avoiding contact with it. On May 3, a fisherman on the Río Tahuamanu, a tributary of the Madre de Dios, reported that his camp had been dismantled by members of a presumed "uncontacted" band, and that arrows were later fired on his boat. No injuries were reported. FENAMAD's Jorge Payaba, of the Shipibo indigenous people, called on local fishermen to stay out of the zone where the incident happened, known as Isla Pequeña. "I do not see this as an attack, but as a warning to leave their territories,” he said.

A Madre de Dios Territorial Reserve for Peoples in Isolation was established following a campaign by FENAMAD in 2002, but "uncontacted" peoples by definition cannot know what the reserve's borders are—or even that it exists. The "uncontacted" bands are believed to belong to the Pano and Arakawak (Mashco Piro) ethnicities. (FENAMAD, May 6)

FENAMAD and allied organizations are to this week begin talks with the Madre de Dios regional government over a new policy plan for the region unveiled by the national government. The policy is outlined in a new measure, Law 4141 or the Madre de Dios Forestry and Wildlife Law, recently approved by the Agrarian Commission of the Peruvian congress. FENAMAD is demanding that national legislators, as well as the relatively powerless regional government, consult with indigenous leaders on the law. (FENAMAD, May 8)

Last week, FENAMAD members travelled to Iquitos—the principal city of the Peruvian Amazon, in northern Loreto region—to participate in a trans-Amazonian conference on the United Nations' Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program, conceived as a measure against global warming. The conference, dubbed "REDD Indígena" and called by Peru's Amazonian indigenous alliance AIDESEP, protested lack of indigenous participation in the UN program. It also proclaimed that climate change can only be halted by systemic change in the industrial world. Read the REDD Indígena's closing statement: "The industrialization of the developed countries...has brought about a blind race that today has lamentable consequences for the world. If the West would scale back its economic ambitions, and would only learn a little from indigenous peoples, perhaps it would live better, in harmony with its surroundings and the planet Earth." (FENAMAD, May 5)

Last month, one of the groups participating in the REDD Indígena, the International Indigenous Committee for the Protection of Peoples in Isolation and Initial Contact of the Amazon and Gran Chaco (CIPIACI), issued a statement accusing Repsol YPF of threatening the lives of some of the planet's last peoples in voluntary isolation through its operations at