Peru denies plan to dissolve reserve for "uncontacted" peoples

Officials in Peru this week denied claims by the UK-based Survival International that the government plans to abolish the Murunahua Territorial Reserve, created in 1997 to protect almost 1.2 million acres (482,000 hectares) of Amazon rainforest thought to be home to "uncontacted" bands of the Murunahua and other native peoples. “We have in no way even considered abolishing the Murunahua Reserve,” said José Carlos Vilcapoma, vice-minister for Interculturality, who administers the country’s indigenous affairs department, INDEPA, characterizing Survival's press release as "absolutely false.”

Survival and press accounts in Peru had cited public statements by Luis Lacerna, the director of INDEPA's Indigenous Protection, Economic Development and Territory department. In response to the denial from the Culture Ministry, which oversees INDEPA, Survival issued its own statement, saying that it "welcomes the ministry’s announcement, and has written to Peru’s newly-elected president Ollanta Humala asking him how his government will protect the country’s vulnerable uncontacted tribes."

According to anthropologist Beatriz Huertas, who has worked in the region since 1993, the Murunahua Reserve has never been effectively policed, and loggers have been illegally extracting mahogany from it since its creation. She says she has interviewed natives who live near the reserve, who have told her of the murders of Murunahua and other uncontacted people—including a massacre in 2003 that claimed somewhere between 10 and 30 lives. "I spoke with a Chitonahua woman in 2008 who told me the names of loggers who had entered the reserve and killed people," Huertas said. "She said that it is common for loggers to kill isolated people. I work in the field and I know what the situation is like. They can’t tell me that it isn’t true that the fundamental rights of isolated peoples are being violated.”

Despite the international outcry, the protection of uncontacted peoples was not an issue in Peru's presidential elections, which were completed in a run-off race last week. Vilcapoma noted that neither candidate mentioned the issue in their campaigns. He said that INDEPA is planning a press conference and other activities to raise awareness about Peru's uncontacted peoples in the coming months. "It is very easy to criticize from the outside, but it’s a lot harder to deal with this issue from inside the government," he complained. (Survival