Peruvian government u-turn paves way for illegal expansion of Camisea gas project

Expansion plans include the dumping of effluents into rivers all within the Nahua Kugapakori Nanti Reserve
Johan Wildhagen

Peruvian government u-turn paves way for illegal expansion of Camisea gas project

In an embarrassing u-turn the Peruvian Vice Ministry of Culture has withdrawn its formal observations on the proposed expansion of the Camisea gas project within a Reserve for isolated peoples which included the conclusions that the health, traditional economic activities and ways of life of the indigenous peoples in ‘initial contact’ and ‘voluntary isolation’ (‘isolated peoples’) in the region will be severely impacted and two of them, the Nanti and the Kirineri, could be made ‘extinct.’

Within hours of its submission however the status of the report was clouded in uncertainty as it was withdrawn from the public domain and within days senior figures within the Ministry had resigned. An embarrassing turnaround was finally confirmed on 6 August 2013 when the news was announced by the Prime Minister, Juan Jimenez Mayor, who issued a public statement confirming that the Vice Ministry had withdrawn the report themselves after a last minute submission had been received by consortium operators. In his message he sought to calm investors assuring them that "investment will continue in Peru".

The expansion plans include the construction and exploitation of 18 wells, hundreds of square kilometres of seismic testing, the deployment of 1200 workers, a 10km pipeline that crosses 16 rivers and the dumping of effluents into rivers all within the Nahua Kugapakori Nanti Reserve (‘the Reserve’).

In subsequent statements the Minister of Energy and Mines, Jorge Merino, claimed that ‘in this area there are no uncontacted peoples and where there are none there is no need to conduct prior consultation’. He further argued that the operations do not consist of an expansion as they will take place within the borders of an existing concession and that in the 11 years of operations to date ‘there have been no social or environmental problems in the area’.

These echo the repeated arguments of the Camisea consortium and its backers that the expansion plans are legal, will not threaten the lives and rights of the peoples living within the Reserve and that any risks are mitigated by their so called ‘anthropological contingency programmes’.

National indigenous peoples’ organisation AIDESEP immediately issued a statement refuting these claims and ‘alerting the world to the vested interests in the name of economic development that threaten the lives and health of these most vulnerable people’[1].

If these plans are approved AIDESEP state they “will hold the government of Ollanta Humala responsible for the imminent deaths of these people”.

The claims of supporters of the Camisea project are also refuted by official and independent documents including the project’s own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which recognises that there are ‘uncontacted’ people or ‘nomads’ in Lot 88 and the Reserve including in areas where expansion is planned such as the Shiateni, Bobinsana and Serjali rivers.[2] It also recognises that during the ‘course of planned activities, contact with isolated peoples is possible, probable and sometimes inevitable’ and should thus be considered a ‘likely emergency’[3].

Far from being a model project, these reports show that existing operations have already had a profound social and environmental impact on local people including those living within the Reserve. These include at least 7 spills from the pipeline, the decimation of fish stocks and significant health and social problems for the peoples bordering the Reserve.[4] In 2003, a report by Peru's Ministry of Health concluded that an outbreak of diarrhoea that killed several Nanti indigenous people in the heart of the Reserve was directly related to an outbreak of an epidemic in a Camisea work camp.[5]

Finally, and despite the existence of the ‘anthropological contingency programme’, numerous independent reports document sightings and undesired contact with hostile and ‘naked’ people, physical evidence of their existence, as well as the forcible relocation of isolated people in the vicinity of the consortium’s operations.[6] The consortium operators themselves have also documented multiple sightings despite their subsequent denial that such incidences have taken place.[7] For example, according to Pluspetrol’s 2010 social and environmental sustainability report, ‘11 ‘sightings’ were registered in the immediate vicinity of Pluspetrol’s installations’ while the Camisea project website itself reported multiple incidences of ‘visual contact of naked native’ peoples as part of the initial seismic testing in 2002.[8]

Much of this information was put before the UN CERD committee in February 2013 in a formal briefing[9] which concludes that the massive expansion plans will only intensify these impacts even further. The briefing triggered the committee’s recommendation that the Peruvian government ‘immediately suspend the planned activities within the Reserve that threaten the physical and cultural survival of its indigenous peoples’[10].

The briefing to the UN CERD also evaluates the Peruvian government’s claim that the expansion plans are in accordance with the law because they lie within the confines of an existing concession. It highlights that this ignores the human rights obligations of the Peruvian state as established in its own constitution and in its international treaty obligations.

It notes that these international human rights treaties in force for Peru are incorporated into Peru’s domestic law via the Constitution and enjoy constitutional status therefore standing above national laws or specific investment contracts. This includes for example treaties such as Convention No. 169 of the International Labour Organisation and the American Convention on Human Rights as well as their authoritative interpretation by bodies such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

These obligations include the prohibition of development projects where the physical and cultural survival of a people is threatened and the requirement to secure the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of indigenous peoples in the context of major development projects, a requirement that is clearly impossible to meet in the case of ‘isolated peoples’. 

The briefing concludes that ‘expansion of activities in Lot 88 places a disproportionate and illegitimate burden on these peoples and thus constitute illegal acts under international human rights law’.

[2] ‘Estudio de Impacto Ambiental para la Ampliación del Programa de Exploración y Desarrollo en el Lote 88’: Chapters 1 and 4. Pluspetrol & ERM, Noviembre 2012.

[3] Ibid: Chapter 6:388. Unofficial translation.

[5]General Office of Epidemiology, Ministry of Health, 2003, ‘Pueblos en situación de extrema vulnerabilidad: El caso de los Nanti de la Reserva Territorial Kugapakori Nahua, Río Camisea, Cusco.’

[7] El Comercio 28 Feb 2013, A Q and A, with Pluspetrol's Gerente de Relaciones Institucionales, Daniel Guerra Zela.

[8] For example: ‘Third week of August: August 15, 10:30am: Visual contact of a naked native, with his private parts covered with a piece of bark, and the body, face and hair painted with achiote’. From now inactive.