Peru: National park plan to open up uncontacted tribe’s land to Big Oil

Featured image: Many contacted Matsés have expressed opposition to any efforts to contact their uncontacted neighbors, or to explore for oil in their territory. © Survival International

     by Survival International

Survival International has learned that the Peruvian government is developing a “Master Plan” for a new national park that could pave the way for large-scale oil exploration. This will threaten the lives and lands of 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.

A new plan for the area currently being drafted by Peru’s national parks agency SERNANP could enable oil companies to enter the park. It has further been reported that the new government wants to change the law to make it even easier to open up national parks to oil and gas operations.

The Sierra del Divisor National Park was created in 2015 to protect the region. The new plan could wipe out the uncontacted Indians, not all of whom have been recognized by the authorities.

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?”

In 2016, Canadian oil company Pacific E&P cancelled a contract to explore for oil on nearby contacted Matsés territory, in the face of stiff opposition from the tribe.

The Watershed Mountains are a unique and highly diverse environment, home to many uncontacted tribal peoples. © Diego Perez
The Watershed Mountains are a unique and highly diverse environment, home to many uncontacted tribal peoples.
© Diego Perez

However, it still has a contract to explore in the Watershed Mountains.

In 2012, it conducted the first phase of exploration, which Survival International and contacted Matsés campaigned against.

The more vulnerable uncontacted members of the tribe are still at risk, and not in a position to consent or object to the project. The environment that they have depended on and managed for millennia could be destroyed.

The oil exploration process uses thousands of underground explosions along hundreds of tracks cut into the forest to determine the location of oil deposits.

Uncontacted tribes are the most vulnerable peoples on the planet. All uncontacted tribal peoples face catastrophe unless their land is protected.

With a new Peruvian government in place, Survival and the indigenous organizations AIDESEP, ORPIO and ORAU are urging the government to think again.

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.”

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