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.