Monday, October 26, 2009

Amazonian natives say they will defend tribal lands from Hunt Oil with "their lives"

October 25, 2009
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Indigenous natives in the Amazon are headed to the town of Salvacion in Peru with a plan to forcibly remove the Texas-based Hunt Oil company from their land as early as today. Peruvian police forces, numbering in the hundreds, are said to be waiting in the town.
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The crisis has risen over an area known as Lot 76, or the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. The 400,000 hectare reserve was created in 2002 to protect the flora and fauna of the area, as well as to safeguard watersheds of particular importance to indigenous groups in the region.
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Despite its protected status, in 2006 the Peruvian government granted concessions within the reserve to two oil companies, Hunt Oil and the Spanish company Respol.
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According to FENAMAD (the Native Federation of the Madre de Dios) protections had been slowly and systematically stripped from the reserve without indigenous groups' input. In addition, FENADMAD contends that Hunt Oil has violated international standards and the Peruvian constitution by going ahead with their operations without approval from the indigenous groups.
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Hunt's director of environmental health and safety for Lot 76, Silvana Lay, disagrees. He told the Indian Country Today that “we weren’t going to come in until the Master Plan was approved. We waited two years, and during that period we met with the communities and gave information. We have the signatories of everybody saying the work can go ahead – within the rules, of course. And then we received a call saying the work cannot go ahead.”
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However, indigenous groups say that Hunt Oil only met with two communities: the Shintuya and the Puerto Luz, leaving others who use the reserve out in the cold.
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A document written by FENAMAD further alleges that the Environmental and Social Impact Study conducted by Hunt Oil and approved by the federal government is "completely irresponsible and [does] not describe any reality for the area. It was approved illegally and unconstitutionally, in spite of the observations made by a group of professionals from civil society in Madre de Dios."
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On September 13th of this year representatives of indigenous groups released a statement that said "the entry of Hunt Oil and Respol into the interior of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve to execute seismic projects is not accepted, a decision that will be respected by the Peruvian State, Hunt Oil and Repsol, who have been present witnesses to this decision."
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However, Hunt Oil has continued its seismic surveys inside the reserve. It is their unwillingness to halt activities that has prompted the indigenous groups to travel to Salvacion and, according to statements made by the indigenous groups, forcibly remove the US-corporation from their land.
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"The most vulnerable ecological and cultural areas are now being invaded by seismic lines, whose impacts are irreparable. The area of intervention is one of very high biological value from a worldwide perspective and its surface and underground hydrological system have great cultural significance for the Harakmbut, which makes this a vital space for the subsistence of not only the indigenous communities, but the greater population of the Amazon Basin," the document by FENAMAD states. "For that reason, all of the beneficiary communities of the RCA have taken the position of impeding the entrance into the oil block and defending the protected area with their lives."
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FENAMAD's statement may be a portent: in June a clash between native peoples and Peruvian police over exploitation of the Amazon turned bloody. Thousands of indigenous people blocked roads to protest new rule changes that made it easier for foreign companies to extract oil, gas, minerals, and timber from the Peruvian Amazon, including tribal lands. During the ensuing clash, twenty-three police were killed and at least ten protestors, according to official numbers. Indigenous groups, however, say that hundreds remain missing and have asked for a Truth Commission to investigate the tragic incident.

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