Peru: indigenous leaders go to court to block Amazon oil concession

Peru’s indigenous alliance AIDESEP brought suit before the country’s Constitutional Tribunal to halt an oil concession in a vast area of the northern Amazon designated as Block 67. The project is owned by Anglo-French company Perenco, who have pledged to invest $2 billion in the find. But AIDESEP charges that the project could have catastrophic consequences for uncontacted tribes living in the concession area. Perenco, chaired by Oxford University graduate Francois Perrodo, denies that uncontacted tribes exist inside Block 67. Perenco was given approval to start work in Block 67 just thirteen days after the “Amazon’s Tiananmen,” when armed police violently broke up an indigenous protest near the town of Bagua on June 5, leaving at least 30 dead. (Survival International, Sept 7)

Lot 67, in the Marañon basin, comprises the Paiche, Dorado and Pirana oilfields, containing an estimated 300 million barrels. AIDESEP cites reports from residents of the Kichwa setlement of Copal Urco, just outside the concession area, of “hidden brothers” deep in the rainforest within Lot 67. The three uncontacted tribes are said to be of the Pananujuri, Taromenane and Trashumancia ethnicities, with a total population of about 100.

But company officials dismiss the claim. “This is similar to the Loch Ness monster. Much talk but never any evidence,” said Rodrigo Marquez, Perenco’s Latin American regional manager. “We have done very detailed studies to ascertain if there are uncontacted tribes because that would be a very serious matter. The evidence is nonexistent.”

These sentiments are echoed by Peru’s leaders. President Alan Garcia says the “figure of the jungle native” is a ruse to prevent oil exploration. Daniel Saba, former head of the state oil company, says: “It’s absurd to say there are uncontacted peoples when no one has seen them. So, who are these uncontacted tribes people are talking about?”

But the UK Guardian’s Rory Carroll went to the junge city if Iquitos to talk with consultants who worked with Perenco’s local contractor Daimi on the company study that rejected claims of uncontacted peoples in Lot 67. Some dissented from the study’s findings. Teudulio Grandez, an anthropology professor at the National University of the Peruvian Amazon, told him: “Yes. Certain nomadic groups are there. Our conclusion is that there are.” Lino Noriega, a forestry engineer who participated in eight missions to Lot 67 to investigate the impact of seismic tests, said: “They said there were no uncontacted groups. But there were footprints, signs of dwellings.” (The Guardian, July 4)

AIDESEP brought suit days after the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) issued a statement exhorting Peru’s government not to allow oil and gas drilling on indigenous peoples’ land without their “informed consent.” CERD, which also recently called for an investigation into the Bagua massacre, expressed its concern at “serious tension in the country, which has even triggered violence, and has been generated by the exploitation of the sub-soil resources traditionally belonging to indigenous peoples.” (Survival International, Sept. 2)

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

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