Peruvian Indigenous Stand Up Against Camisea Gas Project

Expansion of drilling threatens 'physical and cultural survival' of tribal populations

Indigenous populations in Peru are fighting back against gross expansion of the Camisea natural gas project in the Amazon which they say threatens the "physical and cultural survival" of isolated tribes as well as invaluable biodiversity.

The Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (Aidesep), which serves as an umbrella group for 67 indigenous federations, announced plans to sue both the government and oil companies over a planned $70m expansion of the country's largest natural gas reserve further into land reserved for "uncontacted" Amazon tribes who are extremely vulnerable to disease and development projects on their land.

Energy projects, Aidesep writes, must comply with respect for human rights and the environment: "We urge the government to establish policies protecting isolated peoples that are based on respect for indigenous Amazonians' view of the world rather than the extraction of natural resources."

The Guardianreports:

Aidesep said the plans by Peru's energy and mines ministry to increase exploration and drilling in Block 88, the largest gasfield leased by the Camisea consortium [which is led by Argentinian oil firm Pluspetrol and including Hunt Oil, a US firm, and Spain's Repsol], risk the existence of nomadic groups living in "voluntary isolation" in the Nahua-Kupakagori indigenous reserve, 23% of which overlaps the gas block in the country's south-eastern jungle.

Julio Ibanez, a lawyer for Aidesep, said he will file a lawsuit against the Peruvian state in January because it has breached the "inviolability" of the reserve and threatened the "physical and cultural survival" of the "isolated peoples" living there and could lead to their "massive extermination."

The affects that regional development can have on isolated peoples is well documented. According to Survival International, roughly "60% of the isolated Nahua people died during a series of epidemics after their first contact with outsiders soon after oil company Shell discovered the gasfields in 1984."

"The problem with such plans is that they avoid the fundamental question that these peoples, and not the Peruvian government or an oil and gas company, should be determining their own future.""The problem with such plans is that they avoid the fundamental question that these peoples, and not the Peruvian government or an oil and gas company, should be determining their own future," said Conrad Feather, an anthropologist working with the Forest Peoples Programme.

"We are being asked to believe that a series of guidelines on paper, however well thought out, are sufficient to address the inherently unpredictable and potentially lethal nature of first contact, a Pandora's box that once opened, no one, not even a multinational oil and gas company, can control."

Earlier, Aidesep and three of its regional organizations issued a statement urging the government to abandon plans to expand gas operations in the Camisea region in the south-east of the country:

Promoting investments in energy projects does not have to violate the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples in isolation or initial contact, who, as has been made clear by the contact forced on them in recent years, are extremely vulnerable. Although it is necessary to meet the national demand for energy over the coming decades, this must be done in accordance with social and environmental obligations and respecting the rights of the most vulnerable indigenous peoples, as stipulated in our Constitution, the International Labour Organization's Convention 169, and the United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

A 2003 Supreme Decree (DS 028-2003-AG) stated unequivocally, "the granting of new rights involving the exploitation of natural resources [in the reserve] is prohibited." The decree was one of several conditions set by the Inter-American Development Bank before it loaned Peru funds to build the Camisea project.

The Block 88 expansion has already been approved, including 18 new drilling sites and intensive seismic testing. An additional phase of the project includes the creation of an entirely new concession, known as Lot Fitzcarrald, which threatens to open up even more of the Reserve to gas exploitation as well as part of Manu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In addition to being the exclusive home to a number of regional tribes, within the Block 88 gas field are some of the world's most ecologically fragile and biodiverse regions. The Cordillera (mountain range) of Vilcabamba was declared a global "hotspot" for conservation in addition to the lower Urubamba River region, which is included in the World Wildlife Fund's Southwestern Amazon Moist Forests ecoregion because of its high biodiversity and globally important ecological functions.

Peru is South America's fifth largest producer of natural gas with proven and certified gas reserves of 8.8 trillion cubic feet, most of which is in Block 88. Production has increased 37% since the opening up of the Camisea gasfields in 2004.

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