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Oil Company's Plans for 'Uncontacted' Tribe's Land

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On March 17, the Peruvian newspaper La Region published an article about an Anglo-French oil company, Perenco, and its plans to pump oil in an area known as Lot 67 in the remote Amazon rainforest.

The article was brief, reading more like a Perenco PR statement than a piece of journalism, and reported comments by the company's Benoit de la Fouchardiere made at a meeting in a hotel in Iquitos, the largest town in the region. Also present at the meeting, according to the article and Perenco's own statement, were the regional president and representatives of Peru's navy and the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute (IIAP), with which Perenco signed a 'mutual cooperation agreement' towards the end of last year.

Perenco's operations will generate '60,000 barrels of crude oil a day', the article reported, 'for approximately 20 years, with a huge impact on employment, the region's economy and the economy of the country in general.'

'The closest village to our operations, Buena Vista, is 50 kms away,' de la Fouchardiere was quoted as saying, 'but despite that we're helping the people there with healthcare, education and nutrition as an essential part of our social responsibility.'

That may be, but La Region's article made no mention of the fact that, in order to move all those barrels of oil from Lot 67 to market, Perenco must lay a 200-kilometer pipeline right through a region that the WWF says contains 'some of the richest plant and animal communities in the world' and scientists call the 'most biodiverse' in South America. As Perenco itself has acknowledged in an Environmental Impact Assessment of the pipeline, this region includes the Pucacuro Reserve, a supposedly protected area which was created in 2005 and is described by Peru's National Natural Protected Areas Service (SERNANP) as 'one of the most important areas for biodiversity conservation at the global level.'

Nor was there mention of the fact that Perenco's operations effectively ride rough-shod over a proposal made by national indigenous organization AIDESEP in 2005 to create a 'reserve' in the Lot 67 region for indigenous people who have no regular contact with outsiders, sometimes called 'uncontacted' as a kind of short-hand. NGOs such as Survival International, Amazon Watch, Save America's Forests, many other international organizations and AIDESEP, as well as the Iquitos-based indigenous organization ORPIO, have all spoken out against Perenco, leading to press coverage in UK publications such as The Guardian, The Independent, The Ecologist, Daily Mail and many others in different countries.

'For these autonomous peoples,' says ORPIO's David Freitas Alvarado, using the term preferred by ORPIO and AIDESEP, 'the oil companies' operations are disastrous. All the time they're close to extinction or forced to migrate into other regions just to survive.'

Perenco's response? To claim there's no evidence for the 'pueblos autonomos' at all and to cite a report, by a consultancy called Daimi, demonstrating this to be the case - a report exposed as flawed in The Guardian's article in 2009 and an investigative report of mine last year.

Perenco began its operations in Lot 67 several years ago when it acquired Barrett Resources.

Just across the border in Ecuador an entirely different course of action has been taken, with the government apparently prepared to forgo pumping oil in return for billions of dollars in compensation. This is the well-known 'Yasuni-ITT' plan.

There are an estimated 15 indigenous groups in Peru who have no regular contact with outsiders, although most, if not all, have had contact at some point in the past.