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Peru blocks plans for new indigenous reserve as oil production starts

Indigenous Peoples Huts in Peru

Huts of indigenous people Kugapakori Nahua Nanti reserve, Peru. Many uncontacted tribes remain in Peru’s jungles but oil licences threaten their isolation. Photograph: Indepa/EPA


Powered by article titled “Peru blocks plans for new indigenous reserve as oil production starts” was written by David Hill, for on Thursday 16th January 2014 11.53 UTC

Two key Peruvian state institutions are blocking plans to establish a reserve for indigenous people living in “voluntary isolation” (IPVI) between the Napo and Tigre rivers in the Amazon rainforest.

Opposition to the proposal was condemned by national indigenous organisation AIDESEP after a meeting, held in December, of a cross-sector government commission set up to create such reserves.

In June last year Peru’s vice-ministry of inter-culturality (VMI), the state entity responsible for indigenous peoples, officially recognised the existence of IPVI in the Napo-Tigre region and supported the proposal to create the reserve. According to the VMI’s memo 190-2013:

This communiqué gives favourable qualification for the recognition of indigenous peoples in isolation, probably related to the Arabela, Iquito, Taushiro, Zápara, Waorani and Abirija peoples, and the categorisation of the Curaray, Napo, Arabela, Nashiño, Pucacuro, Tigre and Tributaries’ Indigenous Reserve, details of which are in the attached documentation.

Memo 190 was sent by the then vice-minister of inter-culturality, Paulo Vilca Arpasi, to the then president of the cross-sector commission, Hernán Coronado Chuecas, together with 357 pages of reports, maps, letters and sworn testimonies principally supporting the IPVI’s existence.

However, the proposed reserve is almost entirely overlapped by oil concessions including, most significantly, lot 39, run by Repsol, and lot 67, run by London- and Paris-based Perenco together with Vietnamese state oil and gas company PetroVietnam.

Several months after memo 190 was emitted, Perupetro, the state agency promoting oil and gas operations, wrote to the VMI “appealing” it and requesting that the culture ministry, in which the VMI is situated, “annul” it.

The ministry responded by conducting an internal legal analysis, which concluded that memo 190 couldn’t be annulled on legal grounds but recommended instead that the VMI “rescind” it because it was not “scientifically rigorous” enough and didn’t include “reliable” proof of the IPVI.

This legal analysis was sent to Perupetro on 20 November, and five days later, following the resignation of both Vilca Arpasi and Coronado Chuecas over a controversy about IPVI elsewhere in Peru, the new vice-minister, Patricia Balbuena Palacios, rescinded memo 190.

Perupetro’s strategy to block the reserve has also included urging Perenco to take “legal actions”, according to a letter written on 21 October by Perenco’s Benoit de la Fourchardiere and sent to Perupetro’s Milton Rodriguez Cornejo:

This is a reply to the letter sent to us on 3 October in which you demonstrate that you share our concern about the favourable qualification given by the vice-ministry of inter-culturality and that as a result you will take legal actions, suggesting to us that as an affected party we take similar legal actions.

De la Fourchardiere went on to say that Perenco had had a meeting with Perupetro the week before, and thanked it for its “swift attention” on “such a relevant issue” and asked to be kept informed about developments. Regarding Perupetro’s suggestion to take “legal actions”, de la Fourchardiere wrote that the “legitimate solution” would be for the culture ministry to annul the memo.

For the proposed reserve’s supporters, the VMI’s sudden U-turn is particularly bitter because it had been due to be discussed by the cross-sector commission in October, but was postponed until its next meeting in December because there weren’t enough people present.

According to AIDESEP, Balbuena Palacios told the commission in October that the proposal would be discussed in December, but by the time that meeting took place she had rescinded memo 190 and put plans to establish the reserve back to what AIDESEP calls “stage zero.”

Balbuena Palacios told the Guardian that the Napo-Tigre proposal would have been discussed in October if only one more person had been present, and confirmed that she had said it would be discussed in December instead.


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