Monday, October 01, 2007

How Not to Contact Isolated Peoples: Repsol and Barrett Take a Page from Camisea

Survival International reports that the oil companies Barrett Resources (US) and Repsol YPF (Spain), have instructed their oil workers to shout through megaphones in the event that they come across uncontacted tribes in the Peruvian Amazon. Both companies have leased exploration blocks in regions where indigenous peoples are living in voluntary isolation. Barrett is operating in Block 67 on the border with Ecuador. Repsol operates the neighboring Block 39 as well as Block 57 in the Lower Urubamba. (It also has an indirect role in Camisea Blocks 88 and 56).

The "Megaphone Policy" for dealing with isolated indigenous peoples is remarkably similar to the Program for Protection and Defense of Voluntarily Isolated Peoples in the Nahua-Kugapari Reserve that was developed for Block 88 by Peru's Technical Coordinating Group for Camisea (GTCI) and the now defunct National Commission of Andean Amazonian and Afroperuvian Peoples (CONAPA). A product of the IDB's $5 million public sector institutional strengthening loan to the Peruvian government, the Program was thoroughly criticized by indigenous peoples' and human rights organizations, although never improved.

The Program, developed in 2003, advocates the use of megaphones, whistles, and flare guns (p. 75) if workers come across native peoples. Even the odd phrases that Barrett Oil workers are instructed to somehow communicate to people who do not understand their language are lifted verbatim from the Camisea Program:
‘How many days (moons or suns) have you walked for?’, ‘We are people just like you’, ‘Is something disturbing you?’ and ‘We haven’t come here to look for women, we have our own women in our own village.’(pp. 88 and 91)
Though severely lacking in advice on such matters as how to deal with a disease epidemic among an immunologically vulnerable population, the Program does not overlook the most obvious question one might ask of indigenous Amazonians who have just stumbled across an uninvited industrial project in their territory: "Is there something bothering you?" -p. 91.

The IDB deserves some blame for accepting this sort of hack contingency planning as satisfying its loan conditions for the Camisea project. Instead of strengthening Peru's policies to protect isolated peoples from contact by oil and gas projects, it has supported the creation of a set of irresponsible standards that are now being adopted by other companies and used as further justification for invading these peoples' lands.

No comments: