Peru's New Gas Plans Spark Fears for 'Isolated Peoples' in the Amazon

Plans by Peru's government and a consortium led by Argentinian company Pluspetrol to expand gas operations in the Camisea region in the Peruvian Amazon have sparked fears they will endanger the 'physical and cultural survival' of indigenous peoples living in 'voluntary isolation.'

A statement opposing expansion in Camisea was issued by four indigenous organizations on November 2 after a meeting in Lima, Peru's capital, and then published in the daily Peruvian newspaper La Primera. It stresses that expansion of Pluspetrol's operations violates Peruvian and international law, as well as a loan agreement made between Peru and the Inter-American Development Bank, the UN's Declaration on Indigenous Rights, and promises made by the current president, Ollanta Humala.

"AIDESEP, FENAMAD, ORAU and COMARU unite to reject government policy to exterminate isolated indigenous peoples," reads the statement's title. It continues:

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 Labor Organization's Convention 169, and the United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples... respect for indigenous Amazonians' view of the world rather than the extraction of natural resources.

The organizations, one based in Lima, one in Cusco and the others in the rainforest towns Pucallpa and Puerto Maldonado, pledged to increase their opposition to expansion in Camisea, which was approved earlier this year, following considerable controversy, by Peru's Ministry of Energy and Mines.

The consortium headed by Pluspetrol has been operating for some years in a huge swathe of the rainforest known by Peru's oil and gas industry as 'Lot 88' , which is right in the middle of a reserve for 'isolated' indigenous peoples that was established to make the region off-limits to any kind of extractive activity. The new plans, in a location known as 'San Martin Este,' include drilling three new wells.

The organizations' November 2 statement follows an earlier one made in August against the possible creation of an entirely new lot, the 'Lot Fitzcarrald,' immediately to the east of Lot 88. This would constitute further expansion of what has become known as the 'Camisea project,' although Perupetro, the state body responsible for contracting oil and gas companies, has not publicly confirmed its existence.