Peru: Canadian oil company signs deal to explore uncontacted tribe’s land

A Canadian oil company has signed a deal with Peru’s government allowing it to explore land inhabited by one of the world’s last uncontacted tribes. The company, Petrolifera, has reached an agreement to explore almost four thousand sq kms of a remote part of Peru where uncontacted Cacataibo indigenous bands live. Two local organizations, the Common Good Institute (IBC) and the Native Federation of Cacataibo Communities (FENACOCA), have previously asked the government to turn the area into a reserve for the indigenous groups.

The uncontacted Cacataibo have been split into two groups by a highway that connects the remote Amazon to Lima [through their homeland in the Cordillera Azul of Ucayali department]. The highway was built in the 1940s and since then it is believed that the two groups have been unable to meet each other.

Petrolifera already has a license to work in land nearby where uncontacted Cacataibo also live. They have conducted seismic tests using dynamite there, and the IBC and FENACOCA have appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to stop them. Despite this the Petrolifera CEO, Richard Gusella, has described his company as a “poster child” for companies interacting with local communities. According to an IBC spokesman, Petrolifera’s seismic tests led to a number of sightings of uncontacted Indians by company workers.

Survival International director Stephen Corry said, “Despite so much publicity about uncontacted tribes in the world’s press over the last year, Peru continues to turn a blind eye to the rights, lives and livelihoods of its most vulnerable citizens.” (Survival International, May 13)

See our last posts on Peru and the struggle for the Amazon.