Indigenous groups in Peru's Amazon face risk of extinction, admits Pluspetrol

By Rachel Chase

Pluspetrol’s Camisea gas project is set to expand into areas inhabited by uncontacted indigenous groups, many of whom have little immunity to common diseases.

Indigenous groups in Peru's Amazon face risk of extinction, admits Pluspetrol

Peru's Camisea gas project in the Cusco region. (Photo: Villa de omas/Wikimedia Commons)

Uncontacted indigenous groups living in the Peruvian Amazon are at risk for “massive deaths” if contacted by workers, admits controversial Camisea developer Pluspetrol.

According to reporter David Hill, statements in an environmental impact assessment filed by Pluspetrol have revealed that the energy company knows that contact between indigenous groups in voluntary isolation and gas workers is “probable.” This admission essentially contradicts that the company’s previous claims that satellite images show no evidence of human settlements in Lot 88, the area in question, and therefore the project posed no risk to isolated groups.

Survival International, an NGO that works to protect the rights of peoples living in voluntary isolation, writes that “Any contact with gas workers could introduce fatal diseases to the uncontacted Indians. When Shell carried out initial explorations in the area during the 1980s, half the Nahua tribe was wiped out following first contact with outsiders.”

Hill reports that, should contact occur, Pluspetrol workers will be encouraged to interact with the isolated peoples, offering gifts of goodwill, hospitality, and conversation. These instructions are part of what Pluspetrol is calling their “Anthropological Contingency Plan.”
And yet, Pluspetrol’s environmental impact assessment says that “Indigenous peoples in isolation or initial contact are highly sensitive to outside diseases due to their lack of immunological defenses to combat them.”
The report also acknowledges the fact that any diseases transmitted by workers could cause “prolonged periods of illness, massive deaths, and, in the best cases, long processes of convalescence.”

Hill writes that the environmental impact assessment states “numerous times that the planned expansion would take place in areas used by [groups in isolation]. Chapter 6 – recently removed from public view on Peru’s Energy Ministry’s website – states that ‘during the 2D and 3D seismic tests, drilling, and laying of the pipeline, workers may meet indigenous peoples in isolation and / or initial contact.’”

“It also describes contact as a ‘probable emergency’ and raises the ‘possibility of an attack’. This could explain the instructions to gas workers in the ‘Anthropological Contingency Plan’ to establish friendly relations with any indigenous people they might encounter – never mind how lethal those contacts might prove if disease is transmitted,” says Hill.

Pilar Cameno of Peruvian NGO DAR recently told The Guardian that unsafe initial contact is a problem that goes far beyond a few ill individuals. Rather, Cameno explaines, “What’s at stake here is the survival of the indigenous peoples in isolation and initial contact – not just as individuals, but as whole cultures.”
According to The Guardian, Camisea is the largest energy development in Peruvian history. Lot 88 of the Camisea project produced around 30% of Peru’s total oil and gas in 2012. Almost three quarters of Lot 88 lie within an area intended to serve as a protective reserve for indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation.

Pluspetrol’s environmental impact assessment is currently awaiting approval by the Peruvian government.

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