Nahua Say No to Gas Consortium in Their Territory

Members of the Nahua people living within a reserve for indigenous peoples in "initial contact" and "voluntary isolation" in the Peruvian Amazon say they will refuse to allow a gas consortium led by Pluspetrol to operate in their territory.

Pluspetrol is currently waiting for permission from the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) to conduct seismic tests and drill exploratory wells in Nahua territory in its search for new gas deposits as part of the expansion of the Camisea gas project in south-east Peru.

"Given the repeated broken promises by the company Pluspetrol, our people have decided to prohibit it from operating in our ancestral territory in the headwaters of the River Serjali," states a letter written by the Nahua which took five days to reach the Ministry of Culture in Lima from their village in the headwaters of the Amazon.

The Nahua only entered into sustained contact with the "outside world" in 1984 following their capture by illegal loggers which was indirectly related to exploration in the Camisea region by oil and gas company Shell. After contact, approximately 50 percent of the Nahua died within a few months as a result of their exposure to introduced diseases to which they had no natural immunity.

After Shell pulled out, the Pluspetrol-led consortium took over in 2000, started producing gas in 2004, and now wants to explore for more deposits by drilling 18 wells and conducting intensive 2-D and 3-D seismic tests.

According to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of Pluspetrol's plans, the 3-D seismic tests and nine of the 18 wells will be in the headwaters of the River Serjali, which the Nahua consider to be their territory.

The EIA states that the exploration will involve, among other things, hundreds of outsiders entering the region, the detonation of thousands of explosives underground, the dumping of effluents into the River Serjali, and hundreds of kilometers of paths cut through the forest across hundreds of square kilometers.

The impacts on the Nahua and other people in "initial contact" or "voluntary isolation", according to the EIA, could or will be considerable given their 'high vulnerability' to contact and their dependency on the rainforest's natural resources for their survival.

These impacts, states the EIA, include limiting their access to resources such as fish and water, driving game away, reducing the amount of food they eat, causing "fear", "stress" and "concern" and the "sensation of invasion", and the "possible risk of diseases."

The Nahua's letter is signed by the governing council of a village called Santa Rosa de Serjali, which was founded after sustained contact in 1984 and is the only known Nahua village in the Peruvian Amazon.

The letter also states that tuberculosis has become a "serious" problem in Nahua territory and that a control post supposed to be run by the government's indigenous affairs department, INDEPA, and intended to protect the reserve has "almost fallen down."

The letter, dated July 7, is addressed to Paulo Vilca Arpasi, who was Peru's Vice-Minister for Inter-Culturality (VMI) at the time.

However, four days later the VMI authored an extremely critical report on Pluspetrol's EIA stating that the Nahua could be "devastated" and two other indigenous peoples in the reserve, the Nanti and the Kirineri, could be made "extinct" if the company goes ahead with its operations. This report has temporarily blocked the expansion, but both Vilca Arpasi and the head of the VMI department responsible for the report have since resigned.

Four indigenous organizations in Peru – AIDESEP, COMARU, FENAMAD and ORAU – have already expressed their opposition to Pluspetrol's expansion by announcing they will file a lawsuit. Three of the same organizations – AIDESEP, COMARU and ORAU, together with international human rights organization Forest Peoples Programme – subsequently appealed to the United Nations' Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN-CERD), generating a swift response from UN-CERD urging Peru's government to 'immediately suspend' the expansion – a request that was ignored by cabinet ministers at a hearing in Congress in April.

Santa Rosa de Serjali lies in the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve which was established in 1990 to protect the Nahua and other indigenous peoples avoiding or limiting their contact with the "outside world", or who, like the Nahua, were experiencing "initial contact." Despite that, and despite a Supreme Decree in 2003 supposedly intended to further protect the reserve, Pluspetrol's concession, called Lot 88, overlaps almost three quarters of the reserve and the planned seismic tests and wells will take the consortium further north, east and south into it.

All indigenous peoples in "initial contact" and "voluntary isolation" in the Amazon are extremely vulnerable to contact with 'outsiders' because of their lack of immunological defenses and the risk of exploitation by third parties.

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