Peru: Amazon leader returns from asylum to slam French oil company

Oil company Perenco has been slammed for denying the existence of uncontacted tribes by a Peruvian indigenous leader almost immediately after his return from 11 months in political exile. Alberto Pizango, leader of indigenous organization AIDESEP, has condemned Perenco for denying the existence of uncontacted Indians in a remote region of the Peruvian Amazon where it aims to build a pipeline to exploit an estimated 300 million barrels of heavy crude oil.

In a letter to the Peruvian government’s indigenous affairs department, INDEPA, Pizango points out that independent anthropological research has confirmed that the tribes exist, and that this has been acknowledged by the regional government, a highly-regarded research institute, and Barrett Resources, the company which worked in the region before Perenco. The letter also alleges that the regional government banned loggers from working in this region because of its concern about the potential impact on the uncontacted Indians living there.

Pizango’s letter, dated June 3, ends by urging INDEPA to order Perenco to stop working in the region—a demand that Survival is also making. “Any kind of oil operation puts the uncontacted Indians’ survival at risk,” says the letter.

Perenco recently revealed it has transported, by helicopter, “more than 50,000 tons of material and consumables, the equivalent of seven Eiffel Towers’ into this region. The company denies the tribes’ existence, although, in a “contingency plan” presented to Peru’s Energy Ministry earlier this year, it recommended that its workers, in certain instances, “scare and repel” the Indians if contact is made.

Pizango returned to Peru at the end of May after 11 months in Nicaragua, where he sought political asylum after being charged in connection with the violent conflict in Peru’s Amazon on June 5, 2009. He was arrested immediately on his return, but released on bail the next day.

Survival International director Stephen Corry said, “It’s a clear sign of the urgency of this issue that Mr. Pizango is lobbying Perenco so soon after his long-anticipated return to Peru.”

From Survival International, June 21

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