Peru’s Vice-Ministry of Inter-Culturality (VMI) on July 12 issued a critical report temporarily blocking expansion of the country’s biggest gas project and asserting that two “isolated” indigenous peoples living in the area could be made extinct if it goes ahead. The VMI report is a detailed review of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the planned expansion of the Camisea project in the southeast Amazon, which was written by the operating company, Pluspetrol, together with UK consultancy Environmental Resources Management (ERM). Approval of the EIA is currently pending by Peru’s Ministry of Energy (MEM). According to the VMI, the health, “traditional economic activities” and ways of life of the indigenous peoples in “initial contact” and “voluntary isolation” would be severely impacted and two of them, the Nanti and the Kirineri, could be made “extinct.”
The political significance of the project was underlined when only a few hours after being uploaded onto the VMI website, the report was withdrawn. In the days that followed, senior government figures responsible for the report resigned—including Vice-Minister for Inter-Culturality Paulo Vilca Arpasi. Culture Minister Luis Peirano himself also stepped down, replaced by Diana Álvarez Calderón, who had previously served as a local official in Lima.
Almost three-quarters of Pluspetrol’s concession, dubbed Lot 88, overlaps with a supposedly “intangible” reserve for “isolated peoples.” Although Pluspetrol has produced gas from Lot 88 since 2004, it now intends to build a pipeline extension, drill 18 exploratory wells and conduct seismic tests, affecting over 300 square kilometers within the Kugapakori Nahua-Nanti Reserve.
According to the VMI report, these operations will involve more than 1,000 workers in the reserve, helicopter flights, noisy machinery, the detonation of explosives, and clearing considerable areas of the rainforest for the seismic lines, camps and helicopter drop-zones. These operations are slated to take place in parts of the reserve used “intensely” by isolated peoples.
The VMI report states that Pluspetrol’s EIA underestimates the impact that the expansion would have on isolated peoples, and expresses particular concern about the company’s “Anthropological Contingency Plan” if contact with them is made, asking Pluspetrol to re-write it. It also notes the company’s apparent intention to encourage contact with isolated peoples by “distributing timetables especially designed for the population in voluntary isolation with information about the project’s activities.” The report requests Pluspetrol abandon any measures that imply making contact.
As the government report was issued, the Nahua indigenous communities in “initial contact” living within the reserve wrote to the VMI under their own initiative to oppose Pluspetrol plans to explore in the headwaters of the Río Serjali. “Our people have decided not to allow Pluspetrol to enter our ancestral territory,” the Nahua’s letter states. Nearly 50% of the Nahua died following sustained contact with outsiders in 1984, and according to the VMI report Pluspetrol’s plans could “devastate” them.
Following an appeal this year by Peruvian indigenous organisations AIDESEP, COMARU and ORAU to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Committee wrote to Peru’s government urging it to “immediately suspend” the expansion plans. But these concerns were dismissed by government ministers in a formal hearing in Peru’s Congress. Since the expansion plans were unveiled, indigenous organisations have challenged the project, announcing in 2012 that they would resort to legal action. (La Republica, Aug. 6; Forest Peoples Programme, July 31; La Republica, July 26; Servindi, July 25; Peru.com, July 24)
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