Author: Dana Ford
LIMA – Peru’s government, which is encouraging energy companies to develop the resource-rich Amazon, is considering creating five new reserves to protect jungle tribes that are living in voluntary isolation. Advocacy groups have been pressuring Peru to balance indigenous and environmental rights demands with those of foreign investors as the country tries to boost energy output. The government signed 13 oil and gas concessions earlier this month and has said it will auction at least another dozen lots in July.
“The first step is to see whether there are tribes living within the proposed areas. If there are, we must recognize and protect them,” said Mayta Capac Alatrista, president of the government’s indigenous affairs department, INDEPA.
Three of the five proposed reserves are nestled in northeast Peru. One reserve is at the Ecuadorean border and the fifth is in central Peru. The government has angered human rights groups in the past by casting doubt on whether isolated tribes actually exist. But the official position now is that they do and that it’s the government’s responsibility to protect them. Survival International, a London-based indigenous rights group, is hopeful the proposal for new reserves will become a reality and has said the stakes are high. Roughly half of the world’s 100 so-called uncontacted tribes are thought to live in either Brazil or Peru.
“If contact is made, the tribes may be decimated, either though violent conflict or diseases against which they have no immunity,” said Survival International researcher David Hill.
THE GREATER GOOD?
In most cases, outsidersâ€”like scientists, miners and loggersâ€”are not allowed on reserves for people living in voluntary isolation, but the government can make exceptions if it considers the work to be done is in the public interest. Practically, this means oil and gas companies are free to operate on reserves marked for isolated tribes.
And they do. The project at Camisea, a massive natural gas field in southern Peru run by Argentina’s Pluspetrol, overlaps a reserve as does a lot operated by Brazil’s Petrobras. Companies have also been granted concessions to work in areas that fall within the proposed reserves. Firms that have activities where uncontacted tribes are recognized must have a plan for how they aim to protect indigenous integrity and prevent against the spread of disease, said Capac Alatrista, adding it’s the government’s job to respect life. He estimated that as many as 3,500 people may live in voluntary isolation within the proposed reserve areas.
“Peru has 29 million people and a poverty rate of around 35 percent. We can’t give up the right to extract resources where they are found,” said Capac.
“We prioritize, I believe, the needs of the majority, which also needs protection,” he said.
|(Editing by Jim Marshall)|