New oil deal for indigenous peoples in Peru, Bolivia?

Peru has leased its first five oil and gas exploration contracts since passing a new law designed to protect the country’s indigenous peoples. Exploration blocks have been awarded to British firm Pitkin Petroleum (Lot 18, Piura region) and Colombia’s Ecopetrol (Lot 179, Loreto region). Another British firm, Hydrocarbon Exploration, has contracts to explore two blocks (Lots 183 and 188, in Loreto and Ucayali). Another block is leased to Argentina’s Tecpetrol (Lot 174, Ucayali). State agency PeruPetro said the companies, which won the exploration rights through a tender in July, re-signed in October with an added clause confirming “their commitment to strictly comply with the law of prior consultation.” (FT, Oct. 4; RPP, Sept. 29; La Mula, Lima, Aug. 4)

The Bolivian government is meanwhile boasting the creation of an “Itika Guasu Investment Fund” to oversee the return of a share of profits from hydrocarbon exploitation in Tarija department to the Guaraní indigenous people. The Virginia-based NGO First Peoples Worldwide, which helped broker the deal between the government, Repsol oil company and the Guaraní, hailed it as breaking “a model of social humiliation.” The fund will provide the Guaraní communities of Itika Guasu, an “Original Community Territory” or TCO under Bolivian law, with health, housing and education services. The Assembly of Guaraní People of Itika Guasu (APG-IG) signed the agreement creating the fund with the local subsidiary of the Spanish transnational oil titan Repsol. “This is the first time that an oil company has signed such an agreement in Bolivia and in Latin America,” said APG-IG president Never Barrientos.

Repsol has been operating on Guaraní territory since 1997. In 2006, after years of confrontations that forced several work stoppages, the APG-IG approved a legal strategy developed by Equipo Nizkor, a Spanish-based human rights organization. Documents uncovered by Equipo Nizkor proved that NGOs the Guaraní had worked with for years in the region had betrayed them—being secretly funded by Repsol as they advised the APG-IG to abandon any legal strategy against the oil company. Equipo Nizkor said First Peoples Worldwide, in contrast, worked to facilitate indigenous leadership rather than serving as intermediaries. Equipo Nizkor president Gregorio Dionis warned, “The thing to retain here is that no NGO may replace the indigenous authorities.” (Indian Country Today, Aug. 3; Radio Nizkor, July 2011)

See our last posts on Peru, Bolivia and the struggle in the Amazon.

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