Peru: evidence mounts of “uncontacted peoples” in Amazon oil zones

As oil companies with pending contracts in the Peruvian Amazon continue to deny the existence of indigenous “peoples in isolation” in remote forest areas, new evidence has emerged. In November, Peru’s National Institute of Development of Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvians (INDEPA) released video footage of a newly “discovered” tribe in the Kugapakori Nahua Nanti reserve (Upper Camisea River, Cuzco region).

INDEPA personnel saw the indigenous group while monitoring a checkpoint installed to protect the reserve from illegal loggers. The video shows indigenous tribes interacting with INDEPA workers, and includes images of their communal huts made from palm leaves and cane. “With work that has been done from the five monitoring posts in the Kugapakori Nahua Nanti reserve, we have been able to find and casually meet with voluntarily isolated populations or initiate first contact,” said INDEPA president Mayta Capac Alatrista. (ANI, Nov. 14)

Some two weeks earlier, on Oct. 24, a young indigenous man was hospitalized in the southern jungle city of Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios region, after being shot with an arrow by presumed “uncontacted” tribesmen of the Mashco-Piro ethnicity near the community of Monte Salvado. The community is on the border of a reserve created by the government under pressure from indigenous organizations for the protection of putative “peoples in isolation.” Jaime Corisepa, president of the Native Federation of the Río Madre de Dios (FENAMAD), said the atack proves “the isolated borthers in the Territorial Reserve are seeking more territory to live.” (Servindi, Oct. 26)

In the wake of the revelations, Survival International, Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network, Save America’s Forests and some 50 other NGOs issued a joint statement pledging their support to stop the development of oil blocks 39 and 67 in the northern Peruvian Amazon (Loreto region). “Anthropological research has shown that the area is inhabited by at least two uncontacted tribes, who lack immunity to diseases brought by outsiders and who could face extinction if contact is made,” said Survival International in a statement.

Despite strong opposition from Peru’s indigenous organizations, Anglo-French Perenco has applied to the Peruvian Energy Ministry to build a pipeline in block 67 that would cut across 207 kilometers of land. The Spanish-Argentine Repsol-YPF along with its US partner, ConocoPhillips, has applied to cut 454 kilometers of seismic lines and build 152 heliports in block 39.

Several oil workers have reportedly been killed by “uncontacted” tribesmen in the Yasuní National Park, which lies adjacent to block 39, just across the border in Ecuador. Survival International director Stephen Corry said: “Operating in this area demonstrates an utter disregard for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, who may feel forced to defend their territory. If the companies have any sense, they will leave the area to its rightful owners before lives, and reputations, are ruined.” (Survival International, Nov. 16)

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

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