Hydrocarbon concessions in Peru

Peru’s Garcia administration, from 2006 to 2011, concessioned over 80% of Peru´s Amazon Rainforest for hydrocarbon exploitation. Ollanta Humala, Peru’s new president as off 2011, has decided to continue the previous government’s politics as far as oil and mining is concerned. Humala does say he will give more emphasis to social justice, however, that has not been noticeable yet.

Till now Manu National Park itself has remained unaffected, but the indigenous Communal Reserve Amarakaeri, right to the east of Manu, falls completely in a hydrocarbon concession, Block 76. While to the west of Manu, the Camisea area has been exploited for many years already. Even if we consider the government will continue to respect the integrity of national parks (which may not be the case), Manu National Park will be at best a “rainforest island” in the middle of waste land. And as we know from island research, its biodiversity will decrease with at least a very worrying 30%.


Reserva Comunal Amarakaeri and Block 76

The Reserva Comunal Amarakaeri (RC Amarakaeri) has been proclaimed in 2002 by a government decree to: “protect its natural flora and fauna for sustainable use by its indigenous inhabitants”. In this case the indigenous people are Harakmbut, Yine and Machiguenga, who have been using the Amarakaeri lands as long as they can remember as the source of their clean water, their daily food and building materials.

The RC Amarakaeri has the Manu Biosphere Reserve at its north-west and the Reserva National Tambopata and National Park Bahuaje Sonene to its south-east. These three protected areas form an important part of a biological corridor that ranges all the way into Bolivia and Brasil. By now, this corridor has remained as the only one of its size, biodiversity and biological importance in the world.

In 2006, under the Garcia administration, the Ministry of Energy and Mining (MEM) and Hunt Oil Company signed a contract for the concession of Block 76. This Block 76 covers not only all of the Reserva Comunal Amarakaeri (RCAmarakaeri), but also the community lands of several indigenous communities. Of these, three are of special importance, since they are located in the area called “area of direct influence” in Hunt Oil’s impact study. These are: the Native Community of Shintuya, the Native Community of Puerto Luz and the Native Community of San Lorenzo. These lands are directly owned by the communities that is, they have the legal right to, for example, allow entrance to their land or to sell it to others.

Management Plan of the Reserva Comunal Amarakaeri

With the concession contract for Block 76 already signed but unknown to the inhabitants of the communities, in 2007 work started between the Ministry of Agriculture and the eight communities of the RC Amarakaeri to write its Management Plan, the “Plan Maestro”. The communities worked their proposal of the Management Plan with professionals contracted by the indigenous federation of Madre de Dios, FENAMAD (Federación de Nativos de Madre de Dios). In the plan they stipulated with special importance the following ideas:

(1)     Hydrocarbon projects are possible, however

(2)     Excluded from hydrocarbon projects is the southern part of the RCA, which encompasses all the headwaters of the rivers of the RCA. This water being vital for all life in the RCA, including human, should in no way be disturbed or contaminated. This area should become a completely protected area within the RCA, the so called Strictly Protected Zone (Zona de Protección Estricta)

(3)     The north-easter parts of the RCA is open for hydrocarbon projects, however, only under the utmost care. The management plan included special regulations to prevent abuse of the area open for hydrocarbon projects

A very sensible proposal, however, it also needed approval by the Ministry of Agriculture. The Agriculture representatives saw the impossibility of what the indigenous communities had proposed in their Management Plan because they knew about the existence of the concession with Hunt Oil, that was already signed years before. The indigenous communities still didn’t know about the concession. So the Min. of Agriculture made its own version of the Management Plan, excluding the (2) Strictly Protected Zone as well as the (3) special regulations for hydrocarbon projects in the rest of the RCA. Leaving only (1) Hydrocarbon projects are possible……

During more than one year and calling for several meetings with the communities, the Min. of Agriculture knew how to have their version of the Management Plan approved by the indigenous communities. They used devious manipulations, pressure and direct lies; during a meeting at the end of 2007, with only 4 of the 8 presidentes, the indigenous communities approved the Min. of Agriculture’s version of the Management Plan.

One of the four “presidentes” was interviewed afterwards. He said he felt “they had been deceived and that none of them had any idea of what they had been doing in that meeting. There was no mention of an already existing concession with an oil company in their reserve”.

Impact Study

In February of 2007, the Min. of Agriculture published the final version of the Management Plan, and in March of 2007 Hunt Oil Company Peru contracted Domus Environmental Consultancy to execute the Impact Study for Block 76. There is a lot of confusion about how they conducted this study, however, the least one can say it was a very shallow one compared to the gravity of the possible consequences. To name some points:

–          The indigenous people had no idea they were interviewed about their lives because of an oil concession, they thought it was just another one of those anthropological studies

–          Domus consequently underestimates the importance of the rainforest for the indigenous people´s daily lives throughout the report: for example, in their report it says indigenous people do not hunt for meat in the forest anymore, while in reality for many communities this is still the only way they obtain proteins

–          Domus estimates around 280 species of birds in Block 76. The size of this Block is over 1000 times the size of the Pantiacolla Lodge land; Pantiacolla Lodge has a list of 600 bird species!

–          According to the Domus Impact Study, eco-tourism does not exist as a social activity in Block 76. In spite of the 15 Cusco located eco-tourism agencies having very visible advertisement to sell their tours to the RCAmarakaeri and also in spite of the fact that the indigenous communities have their own eco-tourism agency, Wanamey

Legal action

In spite of the Domus Impact Study, FENAMAD only found out in November 2008 about Hunt Oil Company’s planned seismic operation to be started in March of 2009. None of the eco-tourism companies and eco-lodges knew about this till March 2009!

Both the federation and Pantiacolla have been seeking legal advice with NGO’s and government institutions. In all cases the answer was that nothing can be done legally, because (1) the contract for the concession had already been signed with the government, and (2) the final Management Plan of the RC Amarakaeri permits hydrocarbon activities without restrictions. Moreover, they all said either that it is not done to legally fight an oil company, since you can’t win, or that nobody has ever won a legal fright from an oil company.

Then, amazingly, trough a BBC news block article (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7951182.stm) we found out about a law suit in the Peruvian Department of San Martin – of course, there was zero publicity about this news in the Peruvian media. In this case, the people of the department of San Martin sued the Canadian oil company Talisman for hydrocarbon activities in the protected nature area Cordillera Escaleras. This area contained the head waters of many rivers that were vital for survival of humans, flora and fauna. The exact argument that the lawyers used was “every citizen’s right to a balanced environment”. This case was won by the people of San Martin in the Peruvian Constitutional Court.

This is an amazing achievement and a triumph for Peru´s legal system! The first case ever won in Peru based on human rights on the environment they live in. And this has paved the way somewhat for other cases, like our case of Block 76, which shows almost the exact same circumstances as the Cordillera Escaleras.

Pantiacolla contacted the lawyers of San Martin, and they immediately saw the corruptness of the whole procedure around the RC Amarakaeri:

(1)     contract for the concession has already been signed with the government

The lawyers reaction was: “yes, it has been signed, however, the indigenous people have not been consulted about the concession before its signature, therefore, this is not a legal contract according to the International Labour Organization’s regulations, that have been signed by Peru

(2)     the final management plan of the RC Amarakaeri permits hydrocarbon activities without restrictions

The lawyers reaction: “true, but this Management Plan has been manipulated, and there exist written records of the meetings between the Communities and the Min. of Agriculture as evidence of this

The lawyers started two law suits, the first based on the indigenous right to be consulted before signing of the concession and the second based on each citizen’s right to live in a clean and healthy environment.

Hunt Oil’s counter actions

In the mean time Hunt Oil approached individual presidentes of communities, and even board members of the federation with proposals. The fact that the communities are spread out over a large area with no phone connections to this date, made this work easy for Hunt Oil. With their helicopters they could visit several communities every day to confuse community members with incorrect information about supposed decisions of FENAMAD or the other communities. The federation does not dispose of comparable means of transportation; worse, they have been isolated from international funding through (incorrect) governmental accusations towards the federation and its president of having been involved in criminal activities. Through this lack of funding, it is hard for the federation to inform its communities of what actually is taking place and what the federation’s decisions and actions in reality are.

This situation is extremely advantageous for the oil company; in confusion, indigenous communities have been convinced, usually with big sums of money, to sign direct contracts with the oil company, in this way breaking the federation’s communal defence.

Update, January 2012

While waiting for the judge’s ruling since the end of 2009, governmental regulations have changed, the oil company’s influence in the indigenous communities has increased and the Reserve’s and the federation’s board of directors have changed. Constant communication between all of us and the lawyers is important, to keep understanding where each of us stands and most important, where we stand together. We formulate and if necessary re-formulate our direct goals depending on the latest circumstances and input from new discussion partners. We know there is still a long way to go to reach our ultimate goal of a “good life for healthy and content people in a healthy and complete rainforest”; but we have complete trust that in the end we will be able to make the oil company agree to the importance of the combined arguments we have.

Pantiacolla’s tourists

This is the part where you as our tourist are included in the circle; because you are buying our tours, yóu are the ones guaranteeing the continuation of these crucial law suits for the survival of the Amazon! Also, Pantiacolla strongly believes in the urgent need for all of us to communicate, understand and cooperate in order to assure that the future of the whole Earth and all who live on it will be healthy, diverse and happy. Therefore, if you are interested, we invite you to participate in an active way in our discussions, meetings, informational writings or anything else you can think of. All your input is welcome and only our combined efforts will have us reach our goal!