Peru’s latest Amazon auction has been challenged by indigenous groups after it emerged that they may not have been consulted before their land was sold off to foreign oil companies last week.
An open letter signed by indigenous organisation, AIDESEP, and the Legal Defence Institute, asks the Energy Ministry to clarify whether it sought consultation with Indians before awarding fourteen new contracts for oil and gas exploration.
Perupetro, the government body responsible for negotiating the contracts, had originally planned to hold the auction in August 2009, but it was postponed after violent conflict in the Amazon, sparked by indigenous protests over land, left more than 30 dead.
The most controversial company to benefit from the auction is Spain’s Repsol-YPF, which has won concession rights to four of the twenty-five available blocks. Repsol has been strongly criticised by both Peruvian and international organisations for its oil operations in Block 39 in the northern Amazon, where at least two uncontacted tribes are known to live.
Survival International, an NGO working on the rights of indigenous peoples, reports that uncontacted tribes in Peru are under increasing threat from an exploration boom which has opened up over 70 per cent of the Amazon to oil and gas companies.
Last month, Peru’s Constitutional Court ordered the government to improve its consultation process with indigenous communities following a formal complaint by AIDESEP.
In areas where consultation with tribal people is impossible – as is the case in areas inhabited by uncontacted tribes – Survival is calling for the immediate suspension of all hydrocarbon activity.
“Granting companies like Repsol the right to work on uncontacted tribes’ land runs the very real risk of wiping out extremely vulnerable peoples,” insisted Survival International's Director, Stephen Corry, “In cases where the free, prior and informed consent of Indians cannot be achieved, companies must stay away”.