Pluspetrol, the main company in the consortia working on the Camisea Gas Project, visited the recently contacted Nahua and Nanti communities in the Kugapakori-Nahua Reserve. The company informed them that they will shortly begin operations in the reserve. The visit to the Nahua was unannounced, and did not involve any indigenous federations. Pluspetrol will return in mid-May to Nahua territory to verify the existence of isolated indigenous groups in that part of the reserve, thus running the serious risk of endangering the lives of these communities, extremely vulnerable to introduced diseases. If Pluspetrol's plans go ahead, they will be working in the reserve for the next 40 years.
On the 12th of April 2002, representatives of the Argentine company, Pluspetrol, made a surprise helicopter landing in the Nahua community of Serjali. They asked the Nahua to assist Varitas, the subcontracted company that will carry out the seismic explorations on the Upper Serjali in July-October 2002, to avoid any kind of contact with isolated groups in that area. Jos‚ Luis Carbajal, an anthropologist and community relations coordinator for Pluspetrol, said that if they prove the existence of isolated groups in the area, the gas company and the subcontractor will not work there.
The company's actions present a number of contradictions and risks:
- Pluspetrol said clearly that they do not recognise the Nahua as property owners of their territory yet encouraged the Nahua to sign an agreement with them authorizing the company's activities [Note:1]. According to ILO Convention 169 and lawyer Amida Yupari, "The Kugapakori-Nahua - are in possession of their lands and as such should be consulted" (Shell study of social impact, 1997). Mr Carbajal told the Nahua that Pluspetrol had already coordinated with relevant State authorities on the matter and that they had no right to oppose their work [Note:2]. It would appear that the intention of their visit was to confer legitimacy on clearly illegitimate actions.
- The Nahua already have bad experiences of petrol companies working in their territory. In 1984, Shell explorations in the area led, indirectly, to their first contact with national society and to a series of epidemics in which over half of the population died [Note:3]. As the Nahua told the company representatives, they are afraid that Pluspetrol personnel will bring in new diseases [Note:4] and that their exploratory and extractive activities may poison the rivers and frighten away the animals on which they depend for survival [Note:5]. In addition, the Curaca, Jos‚ Dishpobidiba, the Nahua's traditional authority, felt the company showed a lack of respect in arriving without warning and calling a meeting without him. "I am the Curaca of this community, but you are making meetings with the young people who know nothing, that is lack of respect... If you wanted to come here you should have spoken to me first, but you did not let me know. Now there will be no more meetings with you" (translation from Nahua).
- It is unlikely that Pluspetrol will be able to prove the existence (or not) of an isolated indigenous group in just a few weeks. They are isolated because they want to be isolated.
- If contact is made with people living in isolation, it would involve an unacceptable risk of contagion of diseases for which they cannot have any defenses
- Isolated peoples have the right not to be contacted by outsiders and to remain uncontacted (FENAMAD, 2001).
- Attention should also be drawn to the visit made by Pluspetrol to the Nanti on the Upper Camisea--a group even more isolated than the Nahua and with almost no knowledge of Spanish. Nonetheless, Mr Carbajal stated that Pluspetrol had spoken with them and obtained their permission for the company to work in their territory. "Given the absence of independent assessors, and what we have observed in Serjali, the consultation with the Nanti is very unlikely to constitute a sound basis for an agreement" It is even more shocking considering that they are planning to work in Nanti territory for 40 years," commented Conrad Feather, Shinai Serjali Project Coordinator.
To date, the dialogue that the company has cultivated has been superficial, surreptitious and inappropriate. If they wish to correct their mistakes in a frank and transparent manner, Pluspetrol must from now on take into account the desires and rights of the indigenous communities, both recently contacted and still uncontacted, living within the Kugapakori-Nahua Reserve. With no independent presence to provide unbiased advice concerning the environmental and social implications of their work, it is impossible for communities such as the Nanti and Nahua to make informed decisions about gas exploration in their territories.
1. "You need to help us by signing an agreement in order that we can work" (Jose Luis Carbajal)
2. "We are at a level of internal conversation of which third parties have no right to be informed...we have legal permission to start work but we are coordinating with local populations to ensure that our work won't be affecting third parties" (Jose Luis Carbajal)
3. "Before the first company arrived there was no coughing, there was no illness, but today there are many" (Nahua elder)
4. "Maybe they will bring more diseases for our children" (Translated from Nahua, Mario Huidiba, Nahua President)
5. "Your helicopters, will like the chainsaws of loggers scare away our animals. We don't want this." (Translated from Nahua, Jose Dishpopidiba, Curaca)