UK-based indigenous rights advocacy group Survival International warns that Peru’s government has drawn up “secret plans” for a natural gas exploration bloc in the Kugapakori Nahua Nanti Territorial Reserve, in what it calls a “flagrant violation” of laws that protect “uncontacted” Amazon tribes within such reserves. The existence of the bloc was first revealed in the April 5 edition of the Lima weekly Caretas, in an article about the Camisea gas project in the lowland rainforest of Cuzco region. While the text of the article didn’t mention the new bloc, an accompanying map shows a “Fitzcarrald Bloc” lying immediately to the east of the Camisea consortium’s Bloc 88. The map doesn’t show the reserve, but Bloc 88 already superimposes the western edge of the reserve—to the protests of environmentalists and indigenous advocates. Survival writes that if confirmed, the Fitzcarrald Bloc “will cut the Nahua-Nanti Reserve in half, and put uncontacted tribes’ lives in immediate danger.”
Survival believes the new bloc is still in the hands of the state company PetroPeru, and has not yet been granted to the Camisea consortium or another private company. It protests that “Peru’s plan to expand its massive Camisea gas project has been clouded in secrecy.” In 2003, Peru’s government issued Supreme Decree 028, barring expansion the project eastward into the home to several “uncontacted tribes.” The existence of the Fitzcarrald Bloc appears to violate this pledge, and Survival says it has received information that Peru’s government is actually considering repeal of the decree. Neither the Energy Ministry nor PetroPeru responded to Survival’s enquiries.
Ironically, the new block is named for Isaias Fermin Fitzcarrald—the notorious 19th century rubber baron whose activities in the region contributed to the deaths of thousands of indigenous rainforest dwellers from epidemics and mistreatment. The bloc would lie in the Isthmus of Fitzcarrald, a watershed divide “discovered” by the rubber baron that separates the basins of Urubamba and Madre de Dios rivers. The Territorial Reserve straddles this remote divide, that also forms the boundary between the administrative regions of Cuzco and Madre de Dios.
The Madre de Dios indigenous organization FENAMAD issued a statement saying, “There is no doubt the government is attempting to cut up indigenous territories for gas exploration…which will be reflected in the genocide and ethnocide of indigenous peoples.”
Rock legend Mick Jagger has been drawn into the controversy over what Survival calls an “illegal gas grab.” Last year, the Rolling Stones frontman was named an “environmental ambassador” by Peru’s government after he made a high-profile visit to Manú National Park, which borders the Kugapakori reserve on the east, in the remote heart of Madre de Dios region. The park is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for having a biological diversity that “exceeds any other place on Earth.” Survival has sent an open letter to Jagger urging him to use his position to pressure Peru’s government to protect the Kugapakori reserve. “Peru’s last uncontacted tribes are in imminent danger,” the letter states. “Please ask the Peruvian government to stop endangering their lives.”
In a further irony, in 1982 Mick Jagger was due to star in Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo about the rubber baron, before being replaced by Klaus Kinski. Due to a scheduling conflict, Jagger abandoned the project to go on tour with the Stones, after filming several scenes in the Peruvian Amazon. The scenes were subsequently reshot with Kinski.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, “It’s ironic Peru’s newest gas project takes a name that epitomises the reckless plunder of indigenous land. Peru should stop and remind itself why these areas are protected, and Mick Jagger should use his honorary title to demand some answers.” (Survival International, Fox News Latino, May 31; Survival International, May 16; World Rainforest Movement Bulletin, September 2002; Iquitos News)