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COLOMBIA / PERU
Oil development threatens isolated tribes
5/6/2009
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Colombian oil company plans to operate on Peruvian lands inhabited by the Murunahua.

Disregarding the Murunahua, an indigenous tribe living in Peru´s eastern jungle in voluntary isolation, Peru´s government has given exploration and drilling rights to Colombia´s state oil company Ecopetrol on their lands.

In March, Ecopetrol signed an agreement with Brazilian state-run oil company Petrobras to jointly operate blocks 110 and 117, two of the 18 blocks that Peru´s government has auctioned off that coincide with protected areas and indigenous reserves in the country´s Amazon jungle, according to the Peruvian Association for Nature Conservation, a nongovernmental organization.

“It´s possible Ecopetrol don´t know what they´re letting themselves in for: the land they´ve just agreed to explore is inhabited by uncontacted tribes. By working there, Ecopetrol will break international law and violate the rights of some of the most vulnerable people on earth,” said Stephen Corry, director of the international indigenous rights group Survival.

According to this organization, oil block 110, near the Brazilian border, “covers almost all of a reserve supposedly set aside for uncontacted Murunahua Indians who are exceedingly vulnerable to any contact with outsiders because of their lack of immunity to disease. Some Murunahua have already been contacted by illegal loggers – an estimated 50% of them were wiped out as a result.”

Lot 117 in northeast jungle near Peru´s border with Colombia and Ecuador is home to close to 100 native communities and some have recommended it be considered a protected area for uncontacted indigenous groups.

Alberto Pizango, president of the Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon, the country´s largest umbrella Amazon indigenous organization that represents 1,350 communities, demanded that the government respect these lands.

“The exploitation of oil brings contamination and kills the biodiversity in these last remaining natural reserves,” Pizango said.

The International Labor Organization on April 14 urged Peru´s government to comply with its Convention 169 on indigenous peoples that says indigenous peoples must be consulted before extractive industry projects on their lands can advance.

In Colombia, environmental group Amazon Watch accused Ecopetrol of showing no commitment to social corporate responsibility and for poorly running controversial projects on indigenous lands.

In 2007, Colombia´s Constitutional Court ordered the country to cease exploration on lands belonging to the indigenous Bari people in the northeastern department of Norte de Santander. But later that year, the government authorized the company to explore on U’wa lands near the Venezuelan border, which has been strongly resisted by the U´wa people.

“They´ll have to kill all of us,” U’wa leaders said. “Even if there´s one of us left, we’ll keep fighting.”
—Latinamerica Press.


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