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Fears Peru's Gas Expansion will Generate Conflict in UNESCO World Heritage Site

Friday, 03 May 2013 14:41 By David Hill, Truthout | News Analysis
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A department within Peru’s Environment Ministry is concerned that the expansion of the country's biggest gas project in the southeast Peruvian Amazon could generate conflict between indigenous peoples living there.

SERNANP, the state institution responsible for ‘protected natural areas’ in Peru, has stated that the expansion of the gas project could generate conflict between indigenous peoples in "voluntary isolation" in the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve (KNNR) and other indigenous peoples living in neighboring Manu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

SERNANP expressed its concern in a "technical opinion" on an environmental impact assessment (EIA), submitted to Peru's Energy Ministry, in which the expansion plans are detailed. The expansion, by a consortium of companies led by Pluspetrol and including Hunt Oil, is due to take place in a site called Lot 88 in the Camisea region in the Amazon rainforest in the southeast of the country. Almost three-quarters of this concession is superimposed over the KNNR, which acts as an official buffer zone to Manu, immediately to its east, and was established in 1990 to protect indigenous peoples in what Peru's law and some anthropologists now call "voluntary isolation" and "initial contact."

Gas has been pumped from Lot 88 since August 2004. There are already wells and two pipelines in the western part of the KNNR, and in April 2012, Pluspetrol obtained permission from the Energy Ministry to drill three new wells 10 kms (6 miles) deeper into the reserve at a location called San Martin Este.

Now Pluspetrol is hoping to obtain permission for a further 18 wells, a 10-km pipeline, and 2D and 3D seismic testing, which will involve thousands of underground explosions.

According to the EIA submitted to the Energy Ministry, this will mean operating in the most northern, eastern and southern parts of Lot 88 and, therefore, even deeper into the KNNR.

"Knowing that the nomadic populations frequently move between the reserve and the Manu river basin, as described in the EIA, it is believed that, as a result of the expansion, the migration of these people to Manu will be frequent and lead to new settlements being established in the area," SERNANP informed Peru's Energy Ministry on February 6. "This will mean using the natural resources in the region and could generate conflict with the indigenous communities in the Manu River basin inside the Manu National Park."

This statement was just one of 68 observations made by SERNANP on the EIA, all of which Pluspetrol is expected to respond to.   

It was made following Pluspetrol's admission in the EIA that the areas where it is planning to expand will include the migration routes used by nomadic populations.

"[Pluspetrol should] indicate what will be the contingency plan or strategy to avoid this migration and/or the settlement of these nomadic populations in the interior of Manu National Park," SERNANP states.

SERNANP's concern echoes that of indigenous organizations in Peru who recently lobbied the United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, James Anaya, about the expansion.

"The development of further oil and gas exploitation through the  expansion of activities both within Lot 88 and any neighboring areas threatens irreparable harm to all the reserve's inhabitants by increasing, inter alia, the likelihood of undesired contact, the transmission of potentially lethal diseases and the displacement of the reserve's indigenous people as they seek refuge in neighbouring areas and triggering subsequent conflict with neighbouring groups," states an August 9, 2012, letter signed by national organization AIDESEP, together with regional affiliates COMARU, FENAMAD, ORAU and ORPIO.

Klaus Rummenhoeller, an anthropologist and expert on Peru's isolated peoples working at Peruvian nongovernmental organization (NGO) APECO, says, "The large majority of Manu National Park is inhabited by indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact."

Those in "voluntary isolation" have no regular contact with outsiders and are particularly vulnerable due to their lack of immunological defenses.

"But the problem is not that isolated peoples will migrate into Manu," Rummenhoeller says. "They're already doing that, going into the park and then out again, according to their economic cycles. What could happen is that some groups affected by an oil or gas company will move into areas where there are already other groups, like the Matsigenka communities in the park or settlements of groups in initial contact. That is what could bring conflict."

Lelis Rivera, from CEDIA, a Peruvian NGO, calls expansion in Lot 88 a "huge danger for Manu."

"They don't have anywhere else to go," says Rivera, who played a key role in the creation of the KNNR in 1990. "If the government continues with these policies, Manu's inexorable destiny is to be converted into a refuge for uncontacted people."

According to UNESCO, which declared Manu National Park a World Heritage Site in 1987, the biodiversity in Manu "exceeds that of any other place on Earth."

"The State Party has been consulted," says Nuria Sanz, from UNESCO's World Heritage Centre in Paris, when asked about its response to SERNANP's statement. "UNESCO awaits the official answer from Peruvian Authorities."

Glenn Shepard, an American anthropologist who has worked with the Matsigenka in Manu for many years, is surprised by SERNANP's response.

"It seems kind of odd to ask Pluspetrol to clarify 'strategies to avoid migration or relocation of nomadic populations' since that is basically impossible," he says. "Contingency plans hardly do anything to reduce or avoid the risk of contact. The social and environmental impacts, both direct and indirect, in the Camisea area are cascading with almost no real control.  I don't see how anyone can look at Camisea and say, 'See how well we're doing things here, why not expand the project?' ''

Ivan Lanegra, Peru's vice-minister for inter-culturality, defends Pluspetrol's plans, saying they do not constitute expansion and claiming that any operations authorized in Lot 88 will meet Peru's obligations to indigenous peoples and the environment.

"If it is not possible to satisfy those obligations," he says, "then the Energy Ministry can't authorize such operations to go ahead."

According to the Energy Ministry, Pluspetrol has now responded to SERNANP's "technical opinion," and the response was sent to SERNANP on April 11, although it has not been made publicly available.

Enzo Chaparro Morales, the head of Pluspetrol Peru's communications team, confirmed that his company has issued a response to SERNANP, but played down any concerns and, by e-mail, quoted from parts of it.

"It should be made clear that the migration of the nomadic populations that we are referring to are migrations in which they are always coming and going and form part of their extensive use of the territory that is characteristic of the way they live," Chaparro Morales states. "The use of paths or tracks from one basin to another usually takes place in the dry season when these populations migrate temporarily in search of turtles' eggs and other resources that are more abundant in Manu."

Indigenous organizations in Peru are vigorously opposed to the expansion of operations in Camisea. Following the letter to the UN's special rapporteur in August 2012 by AIDESEP, COMARU, FENAMAD, ORAU and ORPIO, four of the same organizations announced they would file a lawsuit against the government and company responsible, and then, in late January 2013, three of them, together with NGO Forest Peoples Programme, appealed to the UN's Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

CERD responded on March 1, urging Peru's government to immediately suspend the expansion plans.

CERD's request was discussed on April 16 in Lima during a hearing of the Peruvian congress's commission on the environment, ecology and Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian peoples, but Energy Minister Jorge Merino Tafur made it clear he wants expansion to go ahead.

The Camisea project is fundamental to Peru's development, he said, claiming that it would respect the rights of the indigenous peoples in the reserve.

The head of Manu National Park, Jose Carlos Nieto, and the head of SERNANP, Pedro Gamboa Moquillaza, did not comment.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

David Hill

David Hill is a freelance journalist. For more information see www.hilldavid.com.

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