Oil company forces Indians from their forest

A chain of reserves protects the richest nature on earth: the Amazonian forest in south-east Peru. These have the highest possible status, National Park, internationally acknowledged: Madidi, Bahuaja Sonene, Manu, Alto Purus. There is only one exception: the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve where one generation ago uncontacted, cannibalistic Indians still roamed freely (read Tobias Schneebaum’s:”Keep the river on your right”). One after the other they all settled along the main rivers, near the material wealth the missionaries and their followers brought the region. When their tribal territory became a reserve in 2001, their daily life was already too tightly intertwined with the western way of life to be able to declare it a National Nature Reserve, still inhabited with mythological, wild natives. That was justifiably done so with nearby Manu, up til now with elusive, isolated small groups of Indians. But the status “Communal Reserve” guaranteed the same protection of nature, while at the same time justice was done to the Harakmbut tribe itself.

Reality is different. Hunt Oil wants to exploit the area. In their own environmental impact studies they show an illustrative map of the chain of reserves. You can see one of the reserves practically shaded red: the Reserva Comunal Amarakaeri. Behind his desk a cynical oil expert must have thought: no reason to give those Indians serious attention.

Uncontacted Indians

If only the Harakmbut would have been a bit less aggressive, like the Ese’ Eja. Then their reserve would have been a National Park, like Bahuaja Sonene! Or if only the Harakmbut would have been a bit more aggressive, like the Nahua. Then their reserve would have been a National Park, like the Manu Park! No oil company would have considered drilling there for more than one second, if only because of their respect for powerful western public opinion. Well OK, a few years ago an oil company did give it a shot by trying to get the park boundaries of Bahuaja Sonene changed. Incredible! Then the head of the National Reserves did something unprecedented in Peru: he refused to put his signature under this boundary “correction.”  But president  Alan Garcia sided with the oil interests, so the honest nature chief lost his job. But he did stop oil extraction in that particular case.

For rainforest Indians everything will change for the better under the new president Humala. He said so himself during his campaign, only a few months ago. Will he manage? A consortium of Petroperu and Hunt Oil is trying to expand its natural gas exploitation in the enormous nearby Camisea project into primary rainforest (the Camisea gasfield was discovered and developed by Shell, but they were pushed out because they could not afford the extra costs to pay for the government’s support). Renowned Peruvian anthropologists officially reported to the government, summer 2011, that there was no serious doubt that this extra gasfield was inhabited by uncontacted Indians. The same authorities, but another department, concluded from this that there was no established contact with those Indians. So drilling there was allowed. The head of the department for Indian affairs protested and was fired immediately (October 2011). The Indian policy of Humala: “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”  Nothing new about it.


Persbericht Survival International



The location of the Amarakaeri reserve

Source: ‘Estudio de impacto ambiental y social para la prospección sísmica 2D en el lote 76’; Hunt Oil 2008.

Click on the map for a larger version.

Gold mining

Hunt Oil’s environmental impact studies, a prerequisite for their seismic research in the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, states: 
“Gold mining is concentrated in a few areas along the rivers Madre de Dios, Alto Madre de Dios, Malinowsky, Tambopata and Los Amigos. It is a small scale operation, by workers without concessions in the areas where they work.”

This is astonishing. Did the authors of the report ever visit Colorado, along the Rio Madre de Dios? Did they go upstream from there on the Rio Colorado? Illegal mining: yes allright. But can this exploitation of gold dust on the river banks be called a small scale operation? Look for yourself on the image taken from Google Earth, you´ll see total destruction fully framed. Can two hundred bulldozers be called small scale? They destroy the forest to get down to the soil. This soil is old river bed itself, just as gold-rich as present-day river beds. Can an annual turnover of more than a thousand million dollars be called small scale? Is this just another small mistake in Hunt Oil’s report or did they write down this obvious nonsense on purpose?


Google Earth image of the Colorado area, in the upper left corner ´Rio Azul´.

Photos of the Colorado area taken from a plane, taken in October 2010.

Seismic research Hunt Oil

Seismic research is the first step in oil exploration: straight lines with an explosive charge at regular intervals. The vibrations caused by the explosions show the experts whether and where serious quantities of oil or gas might be expected, deep down hidden beneath layers of rock. The start of this seismic research was met with vigorous and emotional protests. See ´links´ section.  But the necessary permits were easily given, thanks to sneaky manoeuvring by Hunt Oil and the public support of the government. President Alan Garcia himself fulminated against the Indians: “all those vermin from the Stone Age blocking the progress of our beautiful country.” On behalf of Hunt Oil, worried illiterate mothers were reassured: “This forest is no longer important for your children, now that they will be allowed to study in the United States.” Hunt Oil signed an agreement with the Indian representatives not to enter their territory. And then quietly did so nevertheless.

Click on the map for a larger version.

Test drills

Following the seismic testing, the circus moves on. Preparations for test drills are being made to see if the ground really contains exploitable deposits of oil and gas. Permits for this phase of the project have been requested, but consultation of the Indian representatives has not taken place at this time.

By the way, Mobil had done seismic research and even made some test drills in the same region some years ago. They were shocked when they ran into uncontacted Indians. Weekly demonstrations in front of their head office followed. They didn’t like that sort of PR and hastily stopped. They left behind their oil wells, filled with concrete and carefully closed. At least they should have done so. Again reality is different. Everytime it rains (and it does so quite frequently in a rainforest), those closed test wells within the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve  overflow, oil included. Mobil had better not try this same policy near the American coast.

But how about Hunt Oil? Most likely: you have never heard of them, despite the impressive mission statement on their website. Well, Hunt Oil is the biggest foreign investor in Peru and in the Peruvian government! They are not widely known because Hunt Oil does not distribute oil products to consumers directly, they only supply big oil companies. Because of this they can afford to bluntly refuse to answer questions about what they are doing (see the documentary “The Real Avatar” by the Canadian David Suzuki). A big western company that can afford to ignore the media: time for alarm. Isn’t our Dutch Shell one of Hunt Oil’s customers? Would Shell be prepared to declare a boycott of Hunt Oil, because of Shell’s very strict environmental policy? Maybe some action in Holland? Would other decent well- respected oil companies support such a boycott of Hunt Oil? BP maybe? Elf? Chevron? All three oil companies  sell directly to critical western consumers! They should be sensitive to the public opinion and to western judges. What do you think third world citizens think of foreign oil companies (Peruvian, Argentinian, Indonesian or Chinese) exploiting their oil & natural gas?  Would we trust these companies to safely exploit our natural gas near Ameland, or oil in front of the coast at IJmuiden?

Right now, Hunt Oil is rapidly preparing the test drills. They could be in full operation just before the next five-year-management plan comes into place in 2013. They have also chosen the perfect place for their actions: around Puerto Luz, the area of extensive illegal gold mining. Here nobody is whining about the disappearance of some more trees and the pollution of already polluted water. It becomes clear: in such a cynical view of human nature, everything is interconnected. “Oil, the black gold!”.

Uncontacted Indians forced from their forest by hundreds of helicopter flights: the situation of the twenty-five “wild” Indians is heart-breaking. All of a sudden they showed up from the forest a few months ago and now they have more or less settled on the bank of the Rio Madre de Dios. It is unlikely that they are the first victims of the increased activities in the area. Directly: Hunt Oil’s hundreds of helicopter flights must have convinced them that the end had come to their voluntarily isolation deep in their safe forest haven. Or indirectly: because the fast growing greed and corruption have given room to illegal hunting and logging in their territory. In October, a park warden was shot (but survived) by one of the Indians: a clear warning to stay away. Then, in November, a farmer was killed. His relatives are preparing to wipe out the small band of humans, as if they are dealing with man-eating tigers. Local authorities do nothing. See the video made from a passing tourist boat. Bows are being aimed at them: what an exciting story to come home with! Fascinating and horrible at the same time. Even without directly murdering, such a “first contact” will normally end with the death of half or more of the tribe within a year or so. They lack immunitiy to most infectious diseases  of the “civilized” world. Shell will remember their similar experience here around thirty years ago.


Democrats versus lawyers

Halfway down our walk along the Isiriwe a Hunt Oil helicopter passes high over. What are they doing here right now? Their seismic research is finished, while drilling has not started yet. Was this the president of Hunt Oil himself, maybe with his family, to enjoy seeing the wild primitives near the Rio Madre de Dios, safe from high above? Bear in mind that the representatives of the ten Indian Harakmbut communities have to travel many long days for a reunion when they want to discuss and co-ordinate their strategy against Hunt Oil. Moreover, at such reunions they are seriously impeded by their own culture: they all have to agree, otherwise there is no decision. This approach is vital for a small self-sufficient community deep in the forest. But their ultimate democracy stands no chance now, for at the same moment , in their widely dispersed villages, oil consultants are giving away money: “buying off the locals” you might say. Hunt Oil is promoting itself as a “low-cost operator”.  At the start of the nearby Camisea gas project, Shell was very ambitious with a robust social programme and an equally robust environmental programme. Well, the Hunt Oil consortium can indeed run the environmental programme at Camisea much cheaper: by being its own environmental monitor. That’s right: they will “police” themselves. Independent observers have been robbed and threatened before they fled from the Camisea area.


While  boasting about their oil company’s integrity as Hunt does, it would be fair that they should fund their otherwise, unschooled & defenseless opponent. This would ensure that a balanced and just verdict is reached in court. Hunt’s self-claimed high integrity should prevent them from challenging the legitimacy of the Indian representatives. But it does not. This forces the judges, on formal grounds, to ignore their defense thereby enabling Hunt to continue their disputed activities in tribal territory. With their “high integrity” you would expect Hunt to provide these practically illiterate tribal elders with some other financial means. The means they need to “activate” public servants to provide them with the legal status of tribal representatives. If not, Hunt Oil lawyers need only bribe a secretary to get their way regarding the legal status of this group of elders and then proceed with oil extraction. Hunt Oil’s moral authority is next to zero, even if they claim on a hundred websites that they excel in “honesty, integrity and respect for the individual.”