Peru: oil spill threatens rainforest reserve

Indigenous leaders in Peru’s northern Amazonian region of Loreto on Aug. 10 protested that a leak from Pluspetrol‘s oil operations at the exploitation bloc known as Lot 8X is causing contamination within the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, with which the bloc overlaps. Alfonso López Tejada, president of the Cocoma Association for the Development and Conservation of San Pablo de Tipishca (ACODECOSPAT) said that the reserve is “every day more unprotected against oil spills.” (RPP, Aug. 11; El Comercio, Lima, Aug. 10)

Peru’s Vice-Ministry of Inter-Culturality (VMI) has reportedly thrown its support behind proposals to establish five new reserves for indigenous peoples living in “voluntary isolation” in the Amazon rainforest, totaling almost four million hectares. The VMI apparently revealed its support for the reserves in a letter this month to Amazonian indigenous allaince AIDESEP. But four of the five proposed reserves overlap with hydrocarbon concessions where various companies are at different stages of exploration or production. One of the reserves was first proposed a decade ago by indigenous organzation ORPIO in an area of Loreto near the Ecuador border where oil interest Perenco currently holds a concession on Lot 67. Much of the proposed area also overlaps with Lot 39, where a concession in held by Repsol.

Another of the proposed reserves, in the Yavari-Tapiche basin on the border with Brazil, is overlapped by three concessions: Lot 95, held by Gran Tierra Energy, and Lots 135 and 137, both held by Pacific Rubiales Energy. According to UK-based Survival International, Pacific Rubiales’ explorations, which began last year and, according to AIDESEP, are opposed by the Matsés people who inhabit the area. “Tell the world that the Matsés are firm in our position against the oil company. We do not want it on our land,” said Matsés man Salomon Dunu in a video message to Pacific Rubiales posted on the internet in June by Survival.

In a statement, Pacific Rubiales said there was “no presense” of the Matsés in their concession area, and pledged to take “all the necessary precautions to avoid any risk or danger for the indigenous people in ‘voluntary isolation.’ We will respect and abide any disposition of the Peruvian authorities regarding the area of the Yavari-Tapiche Indigenous Reserve.”

But Survival’s Rebecca Spooner responded to reporter David Hill of The Guardian that Pacific Rubiales has its “head in the sand,” that “no contingency plan can assure contact doesn’t occur,” and that it is “widely known that any contact is likely to result in the rapid spread of deadly diseases.” Said Spooner: “Their claim there’s ‘no presence’ of the Matsés in Lot 135 is completely untrue. Not only do they use the area for hunting but it’s also the source of the main rivers on which they rely for every basic need.”

Five reserves for indigenous peoples in “voluntary isolation” have been established in Peru over the past 10 years. Although only one, the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve in Cuzco region, is currently overlapped by a concession, they have all been repeatedly invaded by illegal loggers. Another, the Madre de Dios Reserve in the southern region of that same name, faces natural gas exploitation on its borders. The remaining three—Isconahua, Murunahua and Mashco-Piro—are in the eastern region of Ucayali.  (The Guardian, Aug. 12; Survival International, Aug. 8; IPS, March 26)

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  1. Alarm as ‘isolated’ people emerge from Peru rainforest
    Local indigenous alliance FENAMAD in Peru’s Madre de Dios region has released video taken in June that shows some 100 members of an isolated Mashco-Piro band, who existence had been denied by skeptics, approaching the remote community of Monte Salvado, Tambopata province, from across the Río de las Piedras (Tacuatimanu). They apparently asked for bananas, rope and machetes from the local Yine people, but were dissuaded from crossing the river by what Associated Press calls FENAMAD “rangers” posted at the settlement. They apparently stayed camped across the river, the men armed with spears and bows and arrows, for three days. Authorities and FENAMAD speculate they were driven to emerge from isolation by illegal loggers or other intruders in their territory.

    Saul Puerta Peña, director of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP), said the video is clear evidence of the existence of isolated peoples. “Now the government doesn’t have an argument to tell us that our indigenous brothers don’t exist, because their response was always that these indigenous people who choose to live in isolation didn’t exist.” (Telegraph, Aug. 20; AP, Aug. 19)

    There have been two previous such incidents involving the Mashco-Piro, in 2012 and 2011.

  2. Repsol sells Amazon oil stake

    Oil and gas company Repsol is selling its stake in controversial oil operations in a remote part of the Peruvian Amazon inhabited by indigenous people in "voluntary isolation" (IPVI), just across the border from the controversial ITT oil fields in Ecuador. The decision by Repsol to sell its stake was revealed in a report by PeruPetro, which stated that a Repsol Peru subsidiary is selling 50% of Lot 39 to Perenco. Repsol’s move follows an investigation by the Council on Ethics of Norway's Finance Ministry which recommended the Ministry divest from the company because of its operations in this region. (UDW, March 13)