Days before a new administration in Lima is to take power, Peru’s indigenous affairs agency INDEPA proposed new regulations that would allow oil and gas exploitation within Amazon rainforest reserves that have been established to protect indigenous groups that are considered “uncontacted,” or in “voluntary isolation.” Opening these reserves to industrial exploitation was a longtime goal of the outgoing administration of President Alan García. The proposed “Supervisory Regulation on Exploratory and Extractive Activities within State Territorial and Indigenous Reserves,” was presented by INDEPA to the Ministry of Culture, the agency’s parent body, on July 8, and immediately sparked an outcry from indigenous rights advocates. Peru’s Amazonian indigenous federation, AIDESEP, charged that the proposed regulation violates Law 28736, which established the reserves, the Law for the Protection of Indigenous and Original Peoples in Situations of Isolation or Initial Contact. AIDESEP noted that the move coincides with plans to expand the massive Camisea gas fields in the rainforest of Cusco region, where exploration Block 88 overlaps the Nahua-Kugapakori Reserve, which is believed to protect several uncontacted bands. On July 15, INDEPA announced that the new regulation would be suspended pending “consultation” with indigenous and social organizations.
“These regulations are designed to facilitate new exploratory and extractive activities” in the reserve, “violating the human rights of our autonomous brothers,” AIDESEP charged in a statement. Calling the isolated groups “autonomous” rather than “uncontacted,” the statement said they “depend on their territory for their subsistence and are highly vulnerable to contact with outsiders, because they have no defenses” against common diseases that are easily transmitted. The statement demanded that the Culture Ministry and INDEPA “not let private interests prevail over constitutionally recognized rights.”
A review by Peru’s independent National Human Rights Coordinator, however, noted that article 5 of Law 28736, while establishing the inviolable nature of the reserves, also allows extractive activities within their borders, calling this a “contradiction still not resolved” within the legislation.
At least 15 indigenous groups are believed to have chosen to resist contact in the Peruvian Amazon; AIDESEP says they face extinction if their lands are opened up. The United Nations estimates that 64 isolated groups live in the Amazonian regions of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil.
Stephen Corry, director of the UK-based Survival International, said, “This is an unbelievably cynical move by the outgoing government. If it keeps up this kind of work, the Indian affairs department will have no Indians to look after. Opening up uncontacted tribes’ reserves will almost certainly lead to their extinction and if the new administration has any commitment to protecting tribal peoples, it will abandon the plan.” (Indian Country Today, July 19; Survival International, Adital, July 18; Servinidi, July 15; La Republica, July 14; Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos, July 12; Erbol, July 11; AIDESEP, July 8)