Peru: Matsés indigenous people say no to oil exploration

The Matsés, a tribe of 2,500 people in the remote Peruvian Amazon, have rejected plans by the Peruvian government to explore for oil on their land. The government has created five exploration “lots” overlapping Matsés territory, and signed deals opening them to two companies, Pacific Stratus Energy and Occidental Oil & Gas of Peru. “No adequate process of consultation was carried out during the creation of these lots, not as the lots were being auctioned, nor when the contracts were signed between the oil companies and the Peruvian government,” said a statement from Matsés Council. “This is in clear contravention of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 and the United Nations’ Declaration of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights.”

A statement from Peru’s alliance of Amazonian peoples organization, AIDESEP, adds that the Matsés reject exploration on their land because “there is no sign of any development in communities which have permitted exploration—only environmental contamination and more poverty.” AIDESEP says that the Matsés have written to Peru’s President Alan Garcia, saying they do not want to leave their homes for “fictitious promises that—in all the years of exploration in other parts of the Peruvian Amazon—have not led to the improvement of indigenous peoples’ lives.”

The Matsés are still waiting a reply from President Garcia. Under Peruvian law, subsoil rights remain the property of the state even when indigenous communities hold legal title to the land. (Survival International, July 9; AIDESEP, July 1)

The Matsés Tribal Organization, a group of NGOs supportive of Matsés territorial rights, reported last year that the parastatal PeruPetro sold the mineral rights of the Matsés lands to Pacific Stratus Energy. In a July 2007 contract, Pacific Stratus gained rights to explore for oil within the Matsés lands. “The consequences of drilling for oil on the Matses lands could jeopardize the survival of the Matsés people who are primarily hunters and rely on their land for all their food and resources.” (Matsés Tribal Organization, July 2007)

Survival International’s David Hill says: “This should be seen from a broader perspective—that’s to say, the Peruvian government is bent on opening up the country to investment and capital, and the rainforest in particular to investment and ‘development.’ More than 75% of the rainforest has now been conceded to companies.”

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