Peru: Spanish oil giant targets “uncontacted” peoples’ rainforest

Spanish-Argentine oil giant Repsol-YPF has applied to Peru’s government to cut 454 kilometers of seismic lines and construct 152 heliports in its search for oil on uncontacted tribes’ land in the remote Amazon rainforest. Repsol’s plans were revealed in a report sent last month to Peru’s Energy Ministry, which will now decide whether to approve the project. Cutting seismic lines, a key part of oil exploration, involves clearing paths through the forest and detonating explosives at regular intervals.

The area where Repsol hopes to work, known as Lot 39 (in Loreto department near the Ecuador border), is home to at least two of the world’s last uncontacted tribes, who could be decimated if contact occurs between them and the company’s workers. Repsol has already carried out some preliminary exploration in this area in the past, when it recommended its workers defend themselves from potential attack from the tribes by using a megaphone: “If peaceful contact and understanding can’t be reached and the attack continues, try to establish communication using a megaphone.”

If Repsol finds commercially-viable quantities of oil, a pipeline would be required to transport it from the remote Amazon to a terminal on Peru’s Pacific coast. Plans for a pipeline have just been made public by Anglo-French company Perenco, which has already found large oil deposits in the region. Lot 39 includes large areas of a proposed reserve for uncontacted peoples, and indigenous organization AIDESEP is suing the companies for working there.

Survival International director Stephen Corry said, “What would the uncontacted Indians in this region make of seismic lines and heliports? They’re likely to respond in one of two ways—either by fleeing, or by attacking people they will view as hostile invaders. Either way, the consequences will be profoundly damaging. Repsol and the Peruvian authorities should know by now that you simply can’t look for oil in rainforest belonging to uncontacted Indians in a safe manner.” (Survival International, April 20)

On the identity of the uncontacted peoples in the area, Survival International’s David Hill writes: “One of the two uncontacted groups is possibly related to the Waorani/Huaorani, known by some as the Taromenane. The identity of the other group is less clear, but names such as Pananujuri and Arabela have been used.”

Meanwhile, Juan José Quispe, leader of Peru’s independent Legal Defense Institute (IDL) issued a public statement demanding the government take measures to protect the life of Asterio Pujupat Wachapea, an imprisoned Awajun indigenous leader accused in the death of a National Police officer who disappeared in the violence at Bagua last June. The statement said that Pujupat had been “savagely beaten” by guards at the National penitentiary Institue (INPE) at Bagua. (La Primera, Lima, April 25)

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

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  1. French oil company to “scare” uncontacted peoples
    Oil company Perenco has released a plan revealing how its workers would react if they meet any uncontacted indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon. The plan outlines potential scenarios and describes how its workers would react if contact is made:

    * “Our workers will speak in loud voices, in a peaceful way, in order to establish friendly communication…”
    * “They would use gestures, or draw on the ground, or use other methods to make themselves understood.”
    * “It is important to persuade them to return to their settlements”
    * “If attacked, the native guides will use flare-guns or smoke canisters, firing into the air in order to scare and repel them.”

    Perenco’s plan wasposted on the website of Peru’s Energy Ministry, and revealed to the press by UK-based Survival International. Said Survival director Stephen Corry: “It’s difficult to know what’s more disturbing about Perenco’s plan: the fact that it still claims the uncontacted tribes don’t exist, or its extraordinary admission its workers will deliberately scare the tribes or tell them to go home. The Indians simply want to be left alone, and have that right.” (Survival International, May 8)