Indigenous Resistance to the Corporate Agenda

by Bill Weinberg, World War 4 Report

In the wake of this past year’s indigenous uprising in the Amazon, Peru is in many ways fundamentally changed. For the first time, indigenous leaders from the rainforest are in direct dialogue with the highest levels of government. For the first time, a powerful alliance has emerged between rainforest peoples and highland campesinos and urban workers, who joined in the protest campaign. The days when Lima’s political elite could treat the rainforest as an internal colony seem definitively over.

Yet there has been a high price in human lives—and it is only the most controversial of President Alan GarcĂ­a’s “legislative decrees” that have been overturned. These decrees—promulgated under special powers granted to GarcĂ­a by Peru’s congress in 2008 to ready the country for the new free trade agreement with the United States—would undo a generation of progress in protecting indigenous territorial rights in the rainforest, and open indigenous lands to oil and other resource interests as never before. And an indigenous pledge to physically resist the operations of Hunt Oil of Texas on communal rainforest lands could re-ignite the uprising.

Outstanding Demands
After consulting with some 300 apus (traditional chiefs) from Amazon communities in early September, the Amazonian indigenous alliance AIDESEP—for Inter-ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest—announced that it is putting off a decision to return to its paro (protest campaign) to give dialogue with the government more time. A key factor in the move was the government’s formation of an investigative commission on the June 5 massacre at Bagua, where the National Police opened fire on an indigenous roadblock.

Salomon Awanash, an Awajon leader from Bagua and AIDESEP spokesman, reached at the organization’s Lima offices as the dialogue got underway in September, emphasized that establishment of the truth commission is only a first step. The initial issue behind the paro that climaxed with the Bagua violence—GarcĂ­a’s “legislative decrees” on land and resources—remains unresolved.

“Of the 100 decrees issued by GarcĂ­a, none favor the indigenous peoples,” says Awanash. “If the government does not comply with our demands, we are ready to return to our paro.”

Awanash recalls that this struggle has been underway since GarcĂ­a released the decrees in April 2008—and has resulted in some key victories. While the cumulative effect of the decrees is still a wholesale privatization of Peru’s rainforest lands, the most controversial of them have been repealed.

“Decrees 1015 and 1073 were overturned last August following our protests, and later ruled unconstitutional by the congressional constitutional commission,” Awanash says. “But we called a national paro this April that continued through June 5 with the events at Bagua and the lamentable deaths of indigenous people, police and the civil population.”

In the outcry over the Bagua violence, two more of GarcĂ­a’s decrees—1090 and 1064—were overturned by Peru’s congress. “These decrees would have directly affected indigenous lands and our rights, our flora and our fauna,” says Awanash.

But AIDESEP is still demanding the repeal of several other decrees. Awanash lists 1089, 1020 and 994.

Apart from overturning the most controversial decrees as a prerequisite for the dialogue, the GarcĂ­a administration has only met two indigenous demands—that the government recognize AIDESEP at the dialogue table, and establishment of the Bagua investigation commission. More general demands for a sustainable development model for the Amazon that includes indigenous participation on decision—making may be met with a national plan for the rainforest. This was scheduled to be released at year’s end, when the truth commission was also to turn in its findings. As we go to press, neither has yet been released.

More immediate outstanding demands are for restitution to the families of those killed at Bagua, and what Awanash calls a “halt to the persecution.” With charges stalled against the commanding generals at Bagua, 41 AIDESEP leaders are facing charges related to the incident. Eight have been detained—and one, Santiago Manuin, remains in the hospital, gravely wounded. Three—including AIDESEP president Alberto Pizango—are in exile in Nicaragua. The remainder are in hiding. AIDESEP says any violence by its followers was in self-defense, and wants all these charges dropped.

Even the minimum demand—recognition of AIDESEP as representative of the Amazon’s indigenous peoples at the dialogue table—was at first met with intransigence by the GarcĂ­a administration. As the need for dialogue with indigenous leaders became clear, the administration at first recognized a breakaway faction of AIDESEP, which attempted to appropriate the organization’s name.

“This AIDESEP is not recognized by the indigenous peoples,” says Salomon Awanash. “It was formed in an effort by the government to divide AIDESEP, but it has not worked. We have declared these leaders persona non grata. They are considered traitors. So the government has been obliged to speak directly with the real AIDESEP and CONAP.”

CONAP, the Confederation of Amazonian Nations of Peru, is an allied organization that has joined AIDESEP at the talks. AIDESEP represents some 1,300 indigenous communities, and CONAP about 200 others. These are the organizations empowered by our apus to speak at the dialogue table,” states Awanash.

Awanash stresses that every government proposal in the talks must be taken back to regional leaders for discussion. “We are leaders, but we do not make decisions,” he says of the apus who meet with the government representatives. “Every decision is taken in coordination with the base.”

The recent decision to extend the dialogue was taken after meeting in Lima with representatives for AIDESEP’s eight regions: Amazonas, Alta Amazonas, Ucayali, Cajamarca, Loreto, Junin, Cuzco and Madre de Dios. “Each regional representative will bring the proposals to his own base for consideration,” says Awanash.

Despite the high price paid at Bagua, the fact that indigenous leaders are now speaking face-to-face with cabinet ministers is unprecedented, Awanash notes. “For the first time in our history as Peruvian indigenous peoples, we have been recognized by the government since the events of June 5. The government has always maintained that the Amazon is vacant, that there is nobody there—only forest, water and natural resources. Since June, we have been recognized at a national and international level, and we are exercising our rights.”

As our interview ends, Awanash and his fellow apus gather outside the office and file into a chartered bus for their next meeting with Agriculture Minister de Cordova—having first donned face paint, traditional robes and feathered head-dresses for the occasion. They make an attention-grabbing sight on the sidewalk of the nondescript Lima suburb of San Isidro, where the office is located.

Who Controls the Land?
Looking at the year of controversy over legal decrees that resulted in the Bagua massacre, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, president of the Peruvian Environmental Law Society (SPDA), states, “The fundamental question is who controls the land.”

In Peru’s 1979 constitution, drawn up by an elected assembly after a decade of military rule, two articles established a basic framework for control of the resource-rich Amazon lands that the GarcĂ­a administration attempted to undo.

Article 118 of this constitution stated that natural resources are a national heritage, and belong to the state, while Article 163 held that indigenous lands cannot be sold or impounded. At this time, the Amazon was being massively opened, both to peasant colonization and resource industries—prompting rainforest communities to form AIDESEP in 1978 and CONAP in 1987.

The first changes came with the new constitution in 1993—pushed through under a state of emergency by President Alberto Fujimori. “It was just after the coup d’etat. And this constitution was more liberal,” says Pulgar-Vidal, using the word “liberal” in its Latin American sense—meaning less restrictive on corporate interests. “And because of that, there was a change to both articles.”

Article 66 replaced Article 118—keeping the language about natural resources being a national heritage, but now with no mention that they belong to the state. And Article 89 replaced 163—eliminating the prohibition on sale and impounding of indigenous lands.

After much debate, a 1997 Organic Law for the Sustainable Utilization of Natural Resources sought to clarify the question. Property rights were established over “land”—generally defined as agricultural land. But forests fell under the rubric of “natural resources” that can only be accessed through concession.

There are 1,497 recognized indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon. Of these, 1,265 have titled lands, amounting to some 10 million hectares. But of these only some 3 million hectares are considered “in use”—meaning in use for agriculture or inhabited settlements. Explains Pulgar-Vidal: “The rest are considered forest lands, over which they do not have property rights, but cessions, a kind of usufruct right to the land. The legal phrase in Spanish is cesion en uso.”

This distinction was also written into the Native Communities Law on titling of indigenous lands when it was rewritten in 1979 (having first been decreed by the military regime in 1975). It became critical in the barrage of legal decrees unleashed by GarcĂ­a after the FTA took force at the start of 2008.

Despite the FTA’s Chapter 18 on environmental protection, Forestry Annex and a side-letter on biodiversity recognizing traditional knowledge and indigenous rights, it served as an opportunity for GarcĂ­a to undertake a wholesale rewriting of the laws governing Amazon land rights.

Says Pulgar-Vidal: “The environmental commitments were imposed by the Democrats when they gained the majority in the US Congress. But when the FTA was already signed, the next step was implementation. And nobody knew exactly what that meant, because it wasn’t written anywhere.”

Implementation was supposedly a way for both countries to agree on a baseline, over a one-year period. And one obligation of Peru under the Forestry Annex was to promote rules for rational exploitation of the Amazon. To achieve this efficiently, Peru’s Congress authorized the Executive Branch to enact laws by decree in April 2008. This is not unprecedented in Peru. “It is very common at the beginning of presidential mandates,” says Pulgar-Vidal. “It’s part of the honeymoon.”

Under Peru’s constitution, there are three conditions for the power to issue legislative decrees: authorization by Congress, a time-frame not to exceed six months, and clear mandates. “But what happened here is that the mandate was too open,” says Pulgar-Vidal. “Congress authorized the power to enact legislative decrees for two things—for the implementation of the FTA, and to promote competitiveness. That second one was too broad. And the Executive Branch took advantage of that and enacted 100 laws. Of these 100, only 30 were really related to implementation of the FTA.”

Pulgar-Vidal says that in the wake of the controversy, it is now recognized even by the Executive Branch that the powers granted by Congress were too broad. He says the Cabinet “really pushed for big changes to promote investment in the Amazon. There was an effort by some of the authorities to promote private investment without recognizing the rights of the indigenous communities.”

The controversial Legislative Decrees (“DL’s” by their Spanish acronym) 1090 and 1064 made changes to the Forest Heritage System established in 2000 that controls lands officially designated as forest.

Says Pulgar-Vidal: “The 2000 Forestry Law instated competitive access to the concessions through public bidding, rather than allowing the government to hand out concessions at will. It promoted forestry management—it was a really good law. And it recognized as falling under the Forestry Heritage System not only land in the Amazon with forest cover, but lands with the potential for forest cover. This includes deforested areas that have the potential to recover.”

This barred the privatization of deforested areas. “If it is considered forest, it is subject to concessions, but not sale,” says Pulgar-Vidal. “1090 was terrible, because it removed deforested lands from the Forest Heritage System, while 1064 redefined them as agrarian lands—with a very clear purpose: to instate private property rights there. This allowed private interests to buy the land.”

These privatized lands could only be used for agricultural purposes—but Pulgar-Vidal says the energy industry likely did have an interest here. “For many people, what was behind this was the promotion of biofuels, such as palm oil plantations.”

With the overturn of 1090 in the aftermath of Bagua, the 2000 Forestry Law is back in force, and the deforested lands remain in the Forestry Heritage System—so they are once again potentially open to concession, but not privatization.

Another key aspect of DL 1064—although it was ostensibly designed to promote agrarian investment—was to change the mechanism in place under the 1995 Land Law by which oil, gas or mineral companies had to negotiate “servidumbres,” or compensation to landholders (including indigenous communities) for access rights. Under the old law, the company had to first negotiate directly with titled communities, and the government would only be brought in to break a deadlock. Under 1064, companies could go directly to the government, bypassing the communities entirely. With the repeal of 1064, the provisions of the 1995 Land Law are once again in place.

Legislative Decree 1015, overturned in August 2008, was closely linked to 1090, because it changed the mechanism by which indigenous communities can vote to sell their lands.

After Article 89 of the Fujimori constitution allowed privatization of indigenous lands, a 1995 Land Law was passed regulating the ability of titled communities to sell their lands.

In addition to the 1,265 titled indigenous communities in the Amazon are 5,000 titled campesino communities in the Sierra (the central Andes) and the Coast (the lowland stretch of desert west of the Andes)—with a thousand more seeking title. Under Peru’s official nomenclature, only Amazonian peoples are considered “indigenous”—traditional communities in the Sierra and Coast are considered “campesino,” even if they speak Quechua as their native tongue.

Under the 1995 Land Law, Coastal communities need a vote of 50% plus one of community assembly members to privatize titled lands; for the Andes and Amazon, a two-thirds majority is needed (on the logic that communal traditions are stronger in the Quechua heartland of the Andes and among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon). DL 1015 reduced the necessary vote in the Andes and Amazon from two thirds of the community assembly to 50% plus one—and not of the entire community assembly, but only of those who attend the vote. DL 1073 was a reform of 1015 in response to the protests, which reinstated the two-thirds requirement—but again only of those attending. This too would be overturned following a wave of angry protests across the Amazon in August 2008. The original provisions of the 1995 law remain in force.

Two other decrees that remain in force and have a serious impact on indigenous land rights are 1089 and 1020. DL 1089 allows the “parcelization” of communal lands in cases where title is still pending, with deeds given to individuals (“fee simple”) rather than communities. DL 1020 would encourage this by prioritizing private parcels for credit. These top the list of decrees AIDESEP is still demanding be overturned.

Now, after this attempt at widespread privatization of indigenous lands, Pulgar-Vidal says indigenous leaders and environmentalists want to assure that this won’t happen again. “So, many people want to return to the provisions of the 1979 constitution—without any provision for indigenous lands to be sold.”

Control of Water
Control of water as well as land has been at issue in the battle over GarcĂ­a’s legislative decrees. Two of the decrees, 1081 and 1083, allowed concessions to private interests for development of hydrodams, municipal water systems or use of water in mining operations—with priority given to those with the best economic resources and access to technology. These have since been subsumed into a new Hydrological Resources Law, passed by Peru’s Congress in March 2009. The details still need to be worked out in enabling legislation, but under GarcĂ­a’s original proposal, experts from the National Confederation of Private Enterprise Institutions (CONFIEP) would get a binding vote along with local comuneros on decisions concerning water use.

Decree 994—still in effect, and one of those AIDESEP is demanding be overturned—would turn Peru’s irrigation works, now overseen by the National Water Authority, over to private companies. Significantly, it also states that “tierras eriazas”—lands deemed unsuitable for agriculture due to either an excess or surfeit of water—are the property of the state, with the understanding that they can be privatized to irrigation firms with the resources to reclaim them for agriculture. On the desert coast and the water-rich Amazon, vast areas fall into this category. The decree could remove these territories from indigenous control.

AIDESEP’s Salomon Awanash says the entire process by which the decrees were promulgated violated international principles on indigenous rights. “The government proposals were made without consulting the communities,” he says. “We have the right to be consulted on the development of our lands.”

And while consultation is the fundamental principle, he goes further—virtually dismissing the possibility of corporation exploitation of Peru’s indigenous lands.

“There is no international corporation that complies with our demands,” he says. “Whatever development takes place on our lands, we want it to be under the control of our communities. We want collective development, in which all are equal participants.”

Re-igniting the Struggle: Hunt Oil on Harakmbut Land
In what is shaping up as an important test case, Hunt Oil is currently opening trails in preparation for seismic exploration within an indigenous reserve in the southern Amazon region of Madre de Dios. The Native Federation of the RĂ­o Madre de Dios (FENAMAD) has gone to court seeking an injunction to halt the work—and warns that if Hunt doesn’t quit the territory, indigenous communities will physically expel them.

FENAMAD president Antonio Iviche, a traditional Harakmbut leader, says the oil project threatens the forests and waters of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve—RCA by its Spanish acronym—established in 2002 for the use of local Harakmbut, Yine and Matsigenka communities.

“Our communities have decided not to allow these activities in the communal reserve,” Iviche says, charging that—in violation of international standards and Peru’s constitution—Hunt is operating without the consent of the area’s native inhabitants.

“They never have consulted with the communities,” he says, adding that residents are overwhelmingly opposed to the operations. “The directors are divided—the company has changed their discourse,” he adds, refering to indigenous members of the reserve’s governing council. “But there is a firm position in all the communities against the oil activities.”

Hunt signed a contract with Peru’s government to explore within Lot 76 in 2006, and later brought in the Spanish firm Repsol as a half partner in the project. The lot largely overlaps with the Amarakaeri reserve, and covers 16 titled native communities—including those 10 which are adjacent to the reserve and jointly responsible for its management with the national government.

The reserve was created following years of petitioning by FENAMAD—and a march in April 2002 by some 1,000 indigenous people in Puerto Maldonado, the regional capital of Madre de Dios. Each of the 10 communities bordering the reserve has its own range within it for hunting and gathering, but indigenous residents cannot enter the “zonas silvestres” or wild zones—where Hunt is now operating.

Additionally, Lot 76 borders (or nearly borders, separated by a strip barely a kilometer wide) Manu national park on the west. On the east, it lies within five kilometers of the western corner of Bahuaja Sonene national park, and 20 kilometers of Tambopata national reserve. On the north, it borders—and briefly overlaps with—a State Reserve for Peoples in Voluntary Isolation. This was created along with the Amarakaeri reserve to protect “uncontacted” Matsigenka bands believed to be living in this zone.

On Sept. 9, FENAMAD brought suit before the Madre de Dios Superior Court of Justice–the equivalent of a local district court—seeking an injunction against Hunt’s exploration work. Says FENAMAD secretary Jaime Corisepa: “We have to attack on every level—using the courts but ready to defend our territory physically.”

Hunt’s exploration work calls for 18 seismic lines with 20,000 detonation points across the southern part of the reserve. This work is to be serviced by 166 mobile camps with heliports, as well a main base camp. FENAMAD says this is the most sensitive part of the reserve, near the headwaters of its rivers that flow into the Rio Madre de Dios.

In 2007, Hunt began holding “information workshops” at FENAMAD’s offices in Puerto Maldonado and at some of the communities bordering the reserve. Corisepa denies these were consultations, saying the company representatives were just “announcing what they were going to do.”

One community—Shintuya—has signed an agreement with Hunt to accept $30,000 in compensation for allowing Hunt access to its titled lands. There is dispute as to whether the community approved this decision by the two-thirds vote required under Peruvian law.

FENAMAD says Hunt is required at a minimum to compensate the two communities whose lands it seeks to enter—Shintuya and Puerto Luz, respectively at the eastern and western ends of the seismic lines–and the RCA governing council, known as the Administrative Contract Executive or ECA. Hunt has no deal with Puerto Luz, and a tentative deal with the ECA is now in question.

“Laws are being systematically ignored by the company and the government,” Corisepa charges. “The Peruvian state has a hydrocarbon policy that violates the rights of indigenous communities. This is what the Amazon uprising was about.”

Community Leaders Confront Hunt
At the Sept. 13 meeting at FENAMAD’s Puerto Maldonado office, leaders from the 10 communities bordering the RCA first met privately to hash out their position, then invited in three Hunt Oil representatives to receive their declaration. The atmosphere in the small thatched-roof conference room was tense and charged.

Three communities dissented from the decision to issue a declaration opposing the project—Shintuya, Puerto Luz and Diamante. Nonetheless, the joint statement from FENAMAD and the ECA opposing the Hunt-Repsol presence in the reserve demanded that “this decision be respected by the State as well as the said Companies.”

Anoshka, a Harakmbut leader from the community of Masenawa who is also a popular singer on the local cumbia circuit, gave the most impassioned statement. “I plead with you from my heart to respect our desire,” she said, directly addressing the Hunt representatives. “A majority of our communities have decided ‘no’. The conflicts you are sowing among us will not succeed, but you are already causing damage to our communities.”

Speaking of the RCA management plan ostensibly drawn up with input from the 10 communities, she added: “The Master Plan says the communities favor the petrolera [oil company]. This is a lie and we will never accept this.”

The Master Plan is a great source of contestation. It was drawn up by INRENA, the National Institute of Natural Resources, just before it was broken up in a 2008 reorganization—its general forestry responsibilities moved to the Ministry of Agriculture, and oversight of parks and reserves moved to a new agency in the Environment Ministry, the National Service of Protected Areas or SERNANP.

Although the ECA signed off on the Master Plan, many Harakmbut charge the communities were not informed of last-minute changes that afforded easier access to resource exploitation in the most sensitive area of the reserve.

Especially at issue is the status of the high jungle in the south of the reserve, near the border with Cuzco region, which protects the watersheds of several tributaries of the Rio Madre de Dios that run through the reserve. FENAMAD argues that under Peru’s Water Law, this area should be a “strict protection zone” or ZPE—which would bar resource exploitation there. Instead, it was changed to the zona silvestre, affording a lower level of protection.

Also at issue is the Master Plan’s “recommendation” that the ECA accept any hydrocarbon contracts that the state permits in the reserve.

Equally controversial is the environmental impact study—EIA by its Spanish acronym—produced for the Hunt project by the Peruvian firm Demus. FENAMAD challenged it before the Mines and Energy Ministry as what Jaime Corisepa calls a “plagiarism”—basically a cut-and-paste job from earlier studies elsewhere in the Amazon. Nonetheless, the Ministry accepted it in June.

In April, Demus workers in the community of Barranco Chico were confronted by local residents armed with clubs, who chased them from their lands.

It is Hunt workers who may be next physically confronted. At the end of the meeting, Antonio Iviche announced that if Hunt doesn’t withdraw from the reserve, the communities are prepared to carry out a “desalojo”—eviction.

Whither Consultation?
Silvana Lay, a forestry engineer who serves as Hunt’s director of environmental health and safety for the Lot 76 project, defended the company’s position in comments outside the meeting at the FENEMAD office.

“We weren’t going to come in until the Master Plan was approved,” she says. “We waited two years, and during that period we met with the communities and gave information. We are working in the part where we are allowed to work under the rules that were put in the plan. The last thing we want is a dangerous situation for our workers or the communities.”

While the ECA did not have to sign off on the EIA, Lay points out that public hearings on the study were held in the village of SalvaciĂłn. “We held workshops with the communities on whose lands we are going to work, with the ECA invited.”

Lay insists that Hunt, in contrast to many resource companies in Peru, is committed to playing by the rules. “We have the EIA approved. We have the Master Plan approved. We did workshops with the communities—all this before we started our work. We have the signatories of everybody saying the work can go ahead—within the rules, of course. And then we received a call saying the work cannot go ahead.”

She points out that the $380,000 offered in compensation to the ECA is nearly 25% of the RCA’s five-year budget. It is now in question whether the ECA will accept this money. She says the $30,000 pledged to Shintuya is forthcoming, and that Hunt will stay off of Puerto Luz community’s lands until a compensation deal is finalized. Hunt’s overall budget for the exploration project is $17 million, she says.

Lay asserts that the Hunt contract is in the best interests of the communities. “They can use that money to police the reserve against illegal logging and mining. The illegal exploitation is the greatest threat to the reserve, while the media and government are checking up on us. We are a good opportunity for the reserve.”

She also insinuates a hidden agenda behind FENAMAD’s effort. “Somebody is supplying money for all those fliers,” she says. FENAMAD’s website clearly lists the group’s sources of funding, including the Norwegian branch of the Rainforest Foundation, and the Copenhagen-based International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).

FENAMAD attorney Milton Mercado rejects Lay’s portrayal. “The ECA has never signed any document allowing Hunt in the reserve,” he says. While the Master Plan allows oil exploitation in a general sense—with approval by SERNANP—it makes no reference to the Hunt contract. And this provision was added above the protests of the communities, he adds.

“The only consultation has been with Shintuya and Puerto Luz,” Mercado says. Consultation is mandated by the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, to which Peru is a signatory. The principle is also enshrined in Article 6 of Peru’s constitution.

Mercado sees a hopeful precedent in a February 2009 ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal, Peru’s highest court, in a case concerning Lot 103—which includes the Cordillera Escalera Regional Conservation Area, a high jungle that protects the headwaters of important rivers in northern San Martin region. Citing potential damage to aquifers, the Tribunal ruled against a consortium including Repsol, Petrobras and Occidental Petroleum, ordering a halt to exploration in the reserve until a Master Plan is in place.

FENAMAD’s case against Hunt likewise focuses on the issue of aquifer protection. But Mercado points out that it is the first in the history of Peru to rest on lack of consultation with indigenous communities—and a favorable ruling would be precedent-setting.

Madre de Dios and the Struggle for the Amazon
Madre de Dios was the scene of considerable unrest during the last two years of protest in Peru’s Amazon. In early July 2008, regional government offices in Puerto Maldonado were occupied for three days. The city was paralyzed as FENAMAD joined in alliance with the Agrarian Federation of Madre de Dios Department (FADEMAD), the regional campesino union. Campesino demands for the titling of lands were united with indigenous demands for territorial rights. Federations representing small miners, Brazil-nut harvesters, Puerto Maldonado moto-taxi drivers and other sectors also joined the strike, uniting in an Alliance of Federations.

Then, on July 10, the government offices were burned down. It remains unclear who was responsible, but indigenous protesters were accused. The burnt-out shell of the building still stands, its walls scrawled with graffiti from the protests. The words have been painted over in an attempt to obscure them, but they are still readable: “LA TIERRA ES DEL PUEBLO” (The Land Belongs to the People) and “NO SE VENDE, SE DEFIENDE” (We Don’t Sell Out, We Defend It).

Some 25 were arrested, and Jorge Payaba, a former president of FENAMAD, was beaten and hospitalized. Antonio Iviche went into hiding for several days before the charges against him were dropped.

Nearly all of Madre de Dios region is divided into hydrocarbon exploration lots. Sapet, a Peruvian venture of the China National Petroleum Corp., has license for lots 113 and 111—the former covering much of the Reserve for Peoples in Voluntary Isolation, and the latter actually covering the town of Puerto Maldonado. The company has pledged not to explore in the reserve, for the moment at least. Lot 157, on unprotected lands to the east of the large protected areas, is currently suspended following the “Petrogate” scandal, in which officials are accused of of kickbacks in the granting of concessions to Norwegian company Discover Petroleum.

These medium-sized firms are clearly viewed as an advance guard for the industry majors, who mostly abandoned operations in the Peruvian Amazon due to instability in the 1990s—and who García openly hopes to woo back.

Shell Oil explorations in area in the mid-1980s took a grave toll in disease on the recently contacted Yaminahua people in the north of Madre de Dios, who now have a titled community in neighboring Ucuyali region.

A decade later, a consortium including Exxon, Mobil and Elf began exploration in Lot 78—covering nearly the same territory as the contemporary Lot 76. This lot was reorganized in subsequent years as the communities around the Amarakaeri reserve were being titled.

In addition to hydrocarbons, timber is being massively exploited in Madre de Dios, mostly by Peruvian firms for export to the US and China. There are legal concessions on state land in the largely unprotected eastern half of Madre de Dios—as well as much illegal exploitation in the protected areas.

Gold is next in line in the local resource boom. Legal placer and dredge mining concessions operate on the region’s rivers. But illegal and highly destructive hydraulic mining goes on in pirate operations.

A hydroelectric project is pending on the Rio Inambari, the next river east of the Puquiri, with the Brazilian firm Odebrecht likely to get the contract.

The Inter-Oceanic Highway linking Brazil’s Atlantic coast with Peru’s Pacific is also under construction through Madre de Dios.

This matrix of development interests could make the frontier zone of Madre de Dios a very different place in a few short years—and many young indigenous people fear what the future will bring. Wili Corisepa, a young Harakmbut from Shintuya who works with FENAMAD, says, “In the time of the missionaries, in the time of the rubber, of the timber, and now the oil, they all lied to us. It is the same person wearing a different mask.”


Research support for this article was provided by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. Earlier versions appeared in the November/December 2009 issue of NACLA Report on the Americas and Oct. 9 in the weekly Indian Country Today.


Inter-ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP)

Native Federation of the RĂ­o Madre de Dios (FENAMAD)

Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (SPDA)

See also:

from Weekly News Update on the Americas
World War 4 Report, August 2008

From our Daily Report:

Peru: oil majors eye Amazon
World War 4 Report, Nov. 15, 2009

Peru: veteran guerilla fighter Hugo Blanco speaks on Amazon struggle
World War 4 Report, Sept. 7, 2009


Special to World War 4 Report, January 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution