Peru: Colombian state oil company set to enter uncontacted tribal lands

Colombia’s state oil company Ecopetrol is set to enter territory inhabited by some of the world’s last uncontacted indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon under an agreement reached this week. Ecopetrol signed a deal with Brazil’s state oil company, Petrobras, which has a contract to explore in two regions—both inhabited by uncontacted tribes.

“Through its affiliate in Perú, Ecopetrol entered into two agreements with Petrobras Energía del Perú, S.A. to acquire shared [sic] in two exploration and production blocks in Perú,” reads a statement from Ecopetrol. “In the first block (Lot 110), Ecopetrol will have a 50% share. In the second (Lot 117), the company’s holding will be 25%.”

Lot 110 covers almost all of a reserve supposedly set aside for uncontacted Murunahua bands who are exceedingly vulnerable to any contact with outsiders because of their lack of immunity to disease. Some Murunahua have already been contacted by illegal loggers; an estimated 50% of them were wiped out as a result.

Secoya and Kichua also inhabit the territory along the Napo and Putumayo rivers, in the north of municipal province Maynas, Loreto region. The lands in question are part of the Güeppí Reserve, officially put aside as a protected area in 1997. Lot 117 also includes part of a proposed reserve for uncontacted indigenous peoples. The creation of the reserve is supported by local Organización Regional de Pueblos Indígenas del Oriente (ORPIO) and national Amazonian indigenous organization AIDESEP.

The deal with Ecopetrol comes immediately after representatives from indigenous communities said they would not allow Petrobras to explore in Lot 117. “Yet again President Garcia’s government is ignoring the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169 and the United Nation’s Declaration on Indigenous Rights,” said AIDESEP’s president, Alberto Pizango, on the decision to allow Petrobras to work in the region.

Survival International director Stephen Corry said: “It’s possible Ecopetrol don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for: the land they’ve just agreed to explore is inhabited by uncontacted tribes. By working there, Ecopetrol will break international law and violate the rights of some of the most vulnerable people on earth.” (Survival International, UK, March 20; Radio La Voz de la Selva, March 20 via Coordinadora Nacional de Radio-CNR, Peru)

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