Uncontacted Tribes Threatened by Peru Gas Project, NGO Claims

  • Yora man, Serejal River, S.E Peru, 1997. These people were first contacted in 1984 following oil exploration by Shell: up to half the population died.

    Yora man, Serejal River, S.E Peru, 1997. These people were first contacted in 1984 following oil exploration by Shell: up to half the population died.  (© Survival)

  • @ A. Goldstein/Survival

     (@ A. Goldstein/Survival)

The Peruvian government is drawing heat from some NGOs and indigenous tribes over its decision to continue with the expansion of the controversial Camisea natural gas project onto land inhabited by uncontacted indigenous tribes.

Survival International, an NGO that aims to protect indigenous communities, claims that Peru and the six companies that make up the Camisea consortium have violated United Nations guidelines that protect the land of uncontacted tribes and prohibit the granting of land rights to develop natural resources. The land in question is part of block 88, the largest natural gas block of the project that will provide the resource domestically in Peru.

"With all the press about Camisea, one vital thing has been forgotten: more than two-thirds of block 88 (Camisea) covers a reserve created for the protection of various uncontacted tribes,” said Rebecca Spooner of Survival International. “Many of their lives have already been destroyed by the project... Are they fully aware of the possible consequences or do they simply not care?"

The Camisea project, which is funded by Argentina’s Pluspetrol along with five other companies, has been a point of contention between the Peruvian government and indigenous groups for years. In 2010, Peru declared a state of emergency in the southern department of Cusco and sent police to guard the pipelines after protests erupted in the region.

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Transportadora de Gas de Camisea, the company that transports gas for the project,  said that in 2010 assailants had cut the optic fiber line on the pipeline and armed individuals attacked pumping station, kidnapped security guards and stole equipment.

Then-Peruvian Prime Minister Javier Valásquez said the attacks could have been a group linked to the Shining Path guerrilla movement, a Maoist anti-government group.

Like his predecessor, Alan García, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala is a supporter of the Camisea project, saying that it will bring jobs to Peru and help one of the hemisphere's fastest growing economies. 

“Our dream of having our own petrochemical hub on the southern Pacific coast is taking shape. This will allow us to create tens of thousands of jobs, particularly in the south,” Humala said, according to the EFE news agency.

“We think the gas should be a long-term investment, and so we welcome (the companies of the consortium) to stay because we want to work alongside” them, Humala added.

Indigenous Peruvians and Survival International worry that the expansion of the project will not only incur on the land of uncontacted tribes, but also bring disease and hurt the livelihood of the people living in the region. Survival International states that in the 1980s, when Shell Oil opened paths into the region inhabited by the Nahua Indians, diseases soon wiped out half the tribe.

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“The company should not be here. All the time we hear helicopters. Our animals have left, there are no fish. For this, I don’t want the company. No! No company,” said a Nahua tribe member, according to Survival.

The group claims that the expansion of the Camisea project bucks the guidelines set down by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNRIP). Article 32 of the UNRIP states that Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.

‘The UN’s breakthrough report at last recognizes the rights of uncontacted Indians. Peru needs to read it and respect those who wish to be left alone before entire tribes are lost forever,” said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International.

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