Peru's Mysterious "Lot Fitzcarrald" Threatens Uncontacted Tribes

Peru is set to embark on a major expansion of gas operations in the Camisea region in the Amazon – a move which could decimate Indigenous peoples, both those in "voluntary isolation" and others in the early stages of contact.

Operations in Camisea – in a concession known as Lot 88 in the Cusco region in south-east Peru – are run by a consortium headed by Pluspetrol and including Repsol-YPF and Hunt Oil. The bulk of this Lot (74% ) overlaps the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve, which was created in 1990 for 'isolated' peoples and in a bid supposedly intended to prohibit companies from operating there.

Expansion of the 'Camisea project', which is already Peru's biggest hydrocarbon development, currently consists of three distinct phases:

The first involves drilling three new wells in the reserve, and was approved, despite major controversy, in April by Peru's Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM). (This included the sacking of Raquel Yrigoyen Fajardo, the head of the government's Indigenous Affairs department, INDEPA, who had blocked expansion.)

MEM's decision to approve the first phase has since been challenged and received severe criticism from various quarters, including INDEPA itself, members of Congress and civil society institutions.

On November 2, four Indigenous organisations issued a statement denouncing expansion and what they called the government's 'policy to exterminate isolated Indigenous peoples.' The statement, made by AIDESEP, FENAMAD, ORAU and COMARU, charged that new operations in Lot 88 violate Peruvian law, international law, and the UN's Declaration on Indigenous Rights.The groups also claimed it violates loan conditions between Peru and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and promises made by President Ollanta Humala Tasso before taking office.

The second phase of expansion has not been approved by MEM, but involves the drilling of 18 wells and carrying out 2D and 3D seismic testing in even more remote parts of the reserve.

The third phase is the creation of an entirely new concession, currently known as Lot Fitzcarrald, the exact location of which remains unclear.

Although Perupetro, the state entity responsible for creating concessions, has not yet confirmed Lot Fitzcarrald's existence, others are talking it up.

Peru's Minister of Energy and Mines, Jorge Merino Tafur, has referred to it in at least two media interviews this year. "Lot Fitzcarrald is the continuation of Lot 88 where there are great possibilities for finding gas," he told Peruvian newspaper Gestion in April.

"We hope (its gazetting) will be finalized after completion of some legal proceedings, but in any case it will certainly be completed this year."

Merino Tafur reiterated this in an interview with Desde Adentro, a magazine published by Peru's National Mining, Energy and Oil Society, in July. "Our current flagship project is the southern gas pipeline," he said. "Phase one is the exploitation of the gas, which is why we're working towards Petroperu gaining access to Lot Fitzcarrald. . ."

Indeed, according to an August report on the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve by Peruvian NGO DAR, Merino Tafur considers Lot Fitzcarrald 'already a fact.'

DAR claims the same for former Perupetro president, Aurelio Ochoa; a claim based on comments made to the media and during a presentation at the Regional Gas Forum in Cusco on May 23. "During the presentation by Perupetro, by Mr. Ochoa, it was mentioned that Lot Fitzcarrald... would be given directly to Petroperu," DAR's report says.

This was also implied by a presentation, A Vision for the Development of Natural Gas in south Peru given to a meeting of regional presidents in April. It listed Lot Fitzcarrald as a potential lot and names Petroperu, the state oil and gas company, as the company involved.

Petroperu confirmed its own interest in a letter dated June 4 to the international NGO Survival International. "We have been co-ordinating with various state entities with the aim of considering the viability of exploring and exploiting the region known as Lot Fitzcarrald," the letter confirmed.

Petroperu's interest in Lot Fitzcarrald is also clearly demonstrated by other company documents.

One, titled Petroperu: Balance y Perspectivas, has chairman Humberto Campodonico's name on it and lists Lot Fitzcarrald as a top priority for 2012. Another, titled Reservas Nacionales y Gasoducto Sur Andino, with the name of Petroperu's strategic planning manager on it, refers to 'Fitzcarrald' several times.

One map illustrating known gas deposits and 'prospects and leads' in south Peru clearly features a Lot named Fitzcarrald Potential, immediately to the east of Lot 88.

This location is corroborated by various other maps, including one published in the Peruvian magazine Caretas (in April) which cited MEM as a source.

This means Lot Fitzcarrald would include the most remote parts of the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve, plus the far west of the Manu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And as the comments by Peru's Minister of Energy and Mines in April make clear, it had been hoped Lot Fitzcarrald would be established before the end of this year.

On September 11, Perupetro stated it would announce a new series of oil and gas concessions in late November, with Lot Fitzcarrald slated by some people to be one of them. However, at the 9th BN Americas Southern Cone Energy Summit, held in Lima on November 14 and 15, the chairman of the board, Rosa Maria Ortiz, said the announcement would now be made next year (2013).

Perupetro's promotions coordinator, Winston Wusen Sam, has confirmed this postponement, but did not respond to questions about why it had been made.

In recent months opposition to, or concern about, Lot Fitzcarrald has been growing, with an increasing number of reports, statements and people speaking out. In June, Congress's Commission on the Environment, Ecology and Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples finalised a preliminary report on the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve. Lot Fitzcarrald, the report stated, is 'a serious danger to indigenous peoples in isolation' which would 'very probably' lead to 'unwanted contact.'

Two months later another report on the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve, (the one by DAR mentioned above) highlighted Lot Fitzcarrald as a major threat. According to this report, concern about Lot Fitzcarrald was also expressed at a meeting about the Camisea project organised by the IDB in Lima on August 16. "The representative from the Defensoria del Pueblo in Cusco and the regional councillor Elena Ascarza talked with some preoccupation about this issue during their presentations," it states.

That same month AIDESEP, FENAMAD, ORAU and COMARU launched a national and international campaign defending 'isolated' peoples, focusing on Camisea and 'the government's intention to create a new lot called Fitzcarrald.' A statement issued jointly by these organisations at the end of August stressed that 'isolated' peoples are 'very vulnerable and the operations of extractive industries in (their territories) could be catastrophic.'

Two weeks before, the same four organizations, plus another, ORPIO, appealed to three UN rapporteurs, saying Lot Fitzcarrald would be created 'imminently' and requesting intervention. One request was that the rapporteurs would urge Peru's government to suspend 'all planned expansion in Lot 88 and any further concessions including Lot Fitzcarrald.'

Also in August, AIDESEP, together with 16 other civil society organizations, contributed to Peru 2012: The Alternative Report, about the International Labour Organization's Convention 169.

This made special mention of the problems facing the country's 'isolated' peoples, and acknowledged the threats posed by expansion in Camisea and Lot Fitzcarrald in particular.

And even more recently, on December 10, AIDESEP, FENAMAD, ORAU and COMARU announced they would sue the government over Lot Fitzcarrald, as well as the other new operations in Lot 88.

"We have decided to take legal action against the government and the company responsible," their joint statement read. "The imminent expansion of these activities in Lot 88, as well as in Lot Fitzcarrald, would result in the extinction of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact."

Survival International, which recently launched a campaign against Camisea expansion by leafleting tourists visiting Machu Picchu, is opposed to Lot Fitzcarrald too. "If the Fitzcarrald project goes ahead, the consequences for the isolated Indians living nearby don't bear thinking about," says director, Stephen Corry. "At the very least, it's likely to be hugely disruptive to their lives. At worst, it could be fatal. Of course, all this is not only unethical but also against the law."

The most serious threat to 'isolated' peoples is their lack of immunity to outsiders' diseases, meaning that colds and flu can be fatal and epidemics spread rapidly.

The first company to operate in Camisea was Shell, in the early 1980s, which some people say led indirectly to 'first contact' with the Nahua and almost 50% of them dying within a few months.

Since then, gas operations in the region have led to the deaths of members of another Indigenous group, the Nanti, according to Peru's Ministry of Health, and generated a series of severe environmental and social problems in Matsigenka communities nearby. These include gas spills, contaminated rivers and declining fish stocks, according to a recent report on Camisea by the South Peru Panel, an independent group set up by the USA's Ex-Im Bank as a condition for a loan to Hunt Oil to build a pipeline to transport gas to the coast.

Other problems documented by the Panel include alcoholism, 'vastly increased river traffic', 'shipwrecked' social development, and 'frightening new illnesses.'

If created, Lot Fitzcarrald will likely bring similar problems to the 'isolated' peoples living in the region, who include the Mashco-Piro and other groups of Nanti.

"Allowing drilling and exploration in the territories of Indigenous peoples with little or no contact has wiped out entire tribes" says Gregor McLennan from USA NGO Amazon Watch. "Expanding into Lot Fitzcarrald would violate international law, an Indigenous reserve and loan conditions with the IDB, and create an unavoidable risk of repeating this tragic past."

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