By Arthur Neslen
Isolated Peruvian tribes face a threat to their existence from a push to scrap a planned Indigenous reserve led by an Anglo-French oil company, Indigenous groups say.
The firm, Perenco, whose slogan is “Oil remains an adventure”, filed an injunction in May for the repeal of a law offering preliminary government recognition to a proposed Napo-Tigre reserve. The first hearing is scheduled on 7 September.
As well as stopping the new Indigenous sanctuary, Perenco is asking that it be incorporated into the procedure for approving the reserve in future.
In documents seen by the Guardian, the firm contests the existence of uncontacted Peruvians in the northerly Napo-Tigre region in which it drills, despite photographic evidence supporting their presence.
“There are clear indications that cast doubt on their existence, which makes it alarming – and clearly in violation of our fundamental rights – that the ministry of culture is carrying out the procedure in question,” an official Perenco paper says.
Apu Jorge Pérez, president of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (Aidesep), accused Perenco of “violating the human rights of our uncontacted brothers and sisters”.
Julio Cusurichi, leader of the Indigenous Shipibo people and a former winner of the prestigious Goldman environmental prize, said: “It is totally unacceptable that this foreign company has sued the Peruvian state in order to deny the existence of these human beings. The company also seeks to prevent the creation of the Napo-Tigre Indigenous reserve, which would leave these peoples in a state of total defencelessness and could lead to their extermination.”
On 25 July, Peru’s leftwing government officially recognised the existence of uncontacted peoples in the Napo-Tigre Reserve, the first step towards granting the region reserve status, nearly 20 years after it was first demanded by Amazonian Indigenous groups.
The reserve contains an oil concession called Block 67, close to the Ecuadorian border, that contains at least 200m barrels of oil, and Perenco’s push to continue extraction there has won strong support from local politicians.
The firm says it is drilling nearly 200 oil wells “with a minimal footprint”. But Perenco’s environmental record is one of the worst of all oil companies operating in the Amazon, according to a report by the conservation news platform Mongabay.
Perenco was founded by Hubert Perrodo, who Perenco describes on its website as “a conqueror and a pioneer”.
A spokesperson for the firm, now run by Hubert’s amateur racing driver son François, one of France’s richest men, said: “Perenco has been in Peru as an operator since 2008 and takes pride in having played its part in successfully developing Block 67, a project declared of national importance by the Peruvian government and which forms part of the country’s strategic goal of achieving energy independence.
“We work closely with the Arabela native communities living in the area and provide support to them in many ways (such as infrastructure projects, transport, health and employment) to improve their lives. Perenco takes its human rights and environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and adheres to all international regulations.”
Teresa Mayo, a researcher at Survival International, said: “Peru’s government has finally recognised the existence of the uncontacted tribes of the Napo-Tigre territory – it mustn’t turn its back on them now. The Peruvian state has an obligation to act swiftly to create and protect the reserve. We won’t allow it to give in to pressure from big corporations, no matter how powerful they may be.”
Indigenous rights have become an increasingly high-profile concern in the Amazon basin, with another public hearing begin on 23 August at the Costa Rica-based inter-American court of human rights. That case focuses on alleged rights violations by Ecuador’s government in the nearby Yasuni Park area.
Campaigners say that the Tagaeri and Taromenane peoples, who live in voluntary isolation there, have been badly affected by oil projects that diminish and degrade their territories, and by conflicts over land that have claimed many lives.
Alicia Cahuiya, the leader of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, said: “The government cannot continue selling our territory and our rights to the oil companies. Our forest, shared with the Tagaeri and Taromenane, is our supermarket, hospital, pharmacy, hardware store and school; it is also our cemetery, our home. If they continue destroying it with their roads, wells, chainsaws and oil flares, they will kill us, too. The rainforest is our life, our home, and our ancestral land. It is the hope of future generations.”
In June, native Ecuadorians claimed victory after an 18-day national strike by the country’s Indigenous population ended with the repeal of a decree promoting extractive activities in the Amazon.
Credit: The Guardian