Disappeared official report warned of 'extinction' of indigenous people

David Hill | 28 NOVEMBER 2013

What do you do if you’re the government and a report on a gas project you want to go ahead says it could ‘devastate’ and make people ‘extinct’?

Answer: make it disappear and then annul it, or at least try to.

Much has been written in Peru about a now infamous ‘technical opinion’ by the Ministry of Culture (MINCU) on an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the planned expansion of the Camisea gas project in the Amazon, which will mean violating the rights of indigenous people living in ‘voluntary isolation’ in a supposedly ‘intangible’ reserve. This ‘opinion’ needed to be ‘favourable’ for the expansion to go ahead. It was published on MINCU’s website in July, but then, between four or 24 hours later, depending on who you talk to, it disappeared.

Luckily some people downloaded it in time. Far from being ‘favourable’, it was distinctly unfavourable. MINCU made 83 ‘observations’ and implied that the company leading the Camisea consortium, Pluspetrol, must respond to all 83 before it would consider the EIA again and give the company the proverbial green light.

Most of the commentary on this MINCU ‘opinion’ missed what was most alarming. Yes, it stated that the health of the indigenous people living in the region could be ‘critically’ impacted by the expansion, as Peru’s National Coordinator for Human Rights pointed out in a letter to president Ollanta Humala six days later, and that their lives will be considerably impacted in numerous other ways; but actually it went much, much further than that and stated that three different indigenous peoples could be ‘devastated’ or made ‘extinct.’ For example:

1. ‘The effects [of the ‘labour force’ required to conduct 2D seismic tests] on the health of the indigenous Nanti people in isolation could affect a large number of their population. . . [and] could mean their extinction.’
2. ‘The effects [of the ‘labour force’ required to build a base-camp for 3D seismic tests] on the health of the indigenous Kirineri people could affect a large number of their population. . . [and] could mean their extinction.’
3. ‘The effects [of the ‘labour force’ required to build new gas wells] on the health of the indigenous Nahua people in initial contact could affect a large number of their population. . . [and] could devastate them.’

No wonder the Peruvian powers-that-be wanted to make this ‘opinion’ disappear. According to a recent interview with the acting Vice-Minister of Inter-Culturality, Patricia Balbuena, another one is currently being written and will be ready by the end of this month.

But who is writing it? Not the Vice-Ministry’s Office for Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and Initial Contact, as you might think, but a ‘special team’ contracted solely for this purpose. That sounds distinctly ominous.

Earlier this year the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN-CERD) urged Peru’s government to ‘immediately suspend’ the Camisea expansion plans, saying they ‘could threaten the physical and cultural survival of the indigenous peoples living there and impede their enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights.’

David Hill is a consultant for Forest Peoples Programme.

All articles

  • PSG Aims

    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

  • Historical Overview

    Over the past century Peru has suffered a series of autocratic governments and a civil war in which nearly 70,000 people died. Many of the country's ongoing political and social problems are a legacy of its somewhat turbulent past. 

  • Human Rights

    Human rights violations were widespread during the twenty years after the initiation of armed conflict in 1980. Efforts to convict perpetrators since the war's end have made only limited progress. Today, concerns remain over the treatment of those engaged in social protest, particularly against strategically important investment projects.

  • Why join the PSG?

    • Keep up to date with latest news and developments in Peru
    • Learn about key issues of poverty, development and human rights in Peru
    • Support the work of the Peru Support Group

    Become a member