Peruvian Indians Deliver Ultimatum to U.S. Oil Firm

WASHINGTON – A Peruvian Amazon Indian federation is demanding that U.S.-based Hunt Oil Company leave a reserve where it has already begun laying the groundwork for exploration and production.

The Native Federation of the Rio Madre de Dios, or Fenamad, sent a letter to the company's president, Ray Hunt, giving him until this week to pull out of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve in the southern Peruvian Amazon.

In the open letter, released Tuesday by the San Francisco, California-based non-governmental organization Amazon Watch, the federation comprising the Harakmbut, Matsiguenka and Yine Indigenous peoples said the company has begun building 166 exploration camps with heliports in the protected zone.

It said in the missive that "1,000 workers will clear 18 seismic lines with 20,000 detonation points in the most sensitive areas of the reserve."

Amazon Watch noted that this Indigenous reserve was established in 2002 after Indians fought for years to protect the rainforest area of the vast Madre de Dios and Karene watersheds and set aside zones where Indians could live from fishing and hunting.

"The area in dispute, besides being a declared nature reserve, crosses the headwaters of several important river basins, and lies in the buffer zones of the Manu and Bahuaja Sonene National Parks, two of the most bio-diverse national parks in the world," Amazon Watch said.

According to the NGO, Peru's National Service for State Protected Natural Areas paved the way for Hunt Oil to operate in that region by changing the Amarakaeri's designation from a "strict protection zone" to that of a "wild zone."

Fenamad has repeatedly denounced the company's plans and recently filed an injunction to halt its activities in the reserve, arguing they would potentially harm the watershed and have been launched without the Indigenous peoples having been consulted beforehand, the NGO said.

But it added that the Dallas-based company has thus far refused to heed any of Fenamad's demands, while the government has sent the military to patrol the area rather than holding talks with the Indigenous communities.

Amazon Watch's program coordinator in Peru, Gregor MacLennan, said it is regrettable that the Peruvian government "is pushing ahead to drill for oil in some of the most sensitive regions of the Amazon once again without consulting with the Indigenous peoples living there."

MacLennan recalled the violent protests this summer by Amazonian Indians, who battled against pro-investment decrees they feared would result in their lands being handed over to multinational mining, timber and oil companies.

Clashes that erupted in June in the jungle province of Bagua left at least 23 police and 10 Indians dead, although relatives of the victims and human rights groups said dozens of civilians were killed and their bodies were incinerated or dumped in rivers.

The protests ended after Peru's Congress – acting on a request by President Alan Garcia – voted overwhelmingly on June 18 to repeal the two most contentious laws.

MacLennan said Indigenous leaders and the government in Lima had made progress at the negotiating table since "the horrific events in Bagua," yet "here once again the government's reaction has been to send armed forces into the region rather than listening to the legitimate concerns of Indigenous people."

Garcia, a former populist whose first term as president in the 1980s ended with Peru's economy in shambles, has since transformed himself into one of the region's most investment-friendly leaders.

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