Peru: national park 'Master Plan' opens uncontacted tribe's land to oil drilling

Diego Pérez / El Taller / Ministerio del Ambiente via Flickr

Diego Pérez / El Taller / Ministerio del Ambiente via Flickr

The Ecologist
October 7th, 2016
By: Lewis Evans and Sarina Kidd

Official documents received by Survival International reveal that the Peruvian government's 'Master Plan' for a new national park would pave the way for large-scale oil exploration in one of the Amazon's most intact areas - also home to several uncontacted tribes.

The area, known in Spanish as the Sierra del Divisor (Watershed Mountains), is part of the Amazon Uncontacted Frontier, the region straddling the Peru-Brazil border that is home to the largest concentration of uncontacted tribal peoples on the planet.

Oil exploration and development in this would pose a serious threat to the lives, lands and culture of the indigenous peoples of this remote and precious area, and could undermine their ability to pursue their traditional way of life.

The Sierra del Divisor National Park was created in 2015 to protect the region, which is currently overrun by illegal logging, drug trafficking and mining. The Master Plan, currently being developed by SERNANP - the Peruvian national parks agency - will determine who can enter and what can take place inside.

However the current draft of the Plan indicates it will not recognize the existence of a number of uncontacted tribes. Only those in the very bottom of the park, who inhabit the Isconahua Reserve, have been given official recognition.

40% of the Park allocated to Canadian oil company

The Master Plan, which will divide the park into different zones, will allow oil exploration to continue in an area inhabited by uncontacted Matsés. Canadian oil company Pacific E&P (formerly Pacific Rubiales) currently has the rights to explore the oil concession. The concession - 'Lot 135' - currently superimposes over about 40% of the park.

Contacted Matsés people live nearby. In 2016, Pacific E&P cancelled a contract to explore for oil on on a different oil concession - Lot 137 - in the face of stiff opposition from the tribe and international campaigning. The two concessions where the Matsés live are over 1.5 million hectares in total, where it is estimated that almost a billion barrels of oil lie deep in the ground.

A video taken on a Survival field trip showing a senior Matsés man, Salomon Dunu explaining the dire consequences of oil exploration has been viewed online several million times. A contacted Matsés woman said: "Oil will destroy the place where our rivers are born. What will happen to the fish? What will the animals drink?"

However, the more vulnerable uncontacted members of the tribe are still at risk from Lot 135. In 2012-13 Pacific E&P conducted its first phase of exploration, which Survival International and contacted Matsés campaigned against. The $36 million project saw 700 sq km of forest drilled for oil.

Survival International has looked at the proposed zonification plans in detail and is calling for oil exploration to be excluded from the Master Plan. Survival's Director Stephen Corry said: "It's in all our interests to fight for the land rights of uncontacted tribes, because evidence proves that tribal territories are the best barrier to deforestation. Survival is doing everything we can to secure their land for them."

"Uncontacted people have made the choice to remain isolated. This is their right and it must be respected. They cannot be consulted over projects on their land and therefore, they can never give their consent. As a result, their territories should never be opened up to oil exploration. Contact must be their choice alone. Whenever outsiders force it, it's always fatal."

An unfolding disaster - fror tribes, forest and rivers

The oil exploration process uses thousands of underground explosions along hundreds of tracks cut into the forest to determine the location of oil deposits.The explosions scare away animals, leaving little food to hunt. The exploration process also pollutes the three major rivers that Matsés use to hunt and fish.

Oil exploration opens up the land to workers, who set up camps deep in the rainforest, posing a serious risk of contact. This can lead to violence, and also exposure to infectious diseases.

Read more at the Ecologist.