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"Emergency Zone" Declared Around Camisea Project as Campesinos Block Roads; "Uncontacted" Indians Threatened by Unrest and Development

by Bill Weinberg

Earlier this month, as Bolivia was immobilized by national protests over a controversial gas pipeline project, just across the border in the Peruvian Amazon a similar project sparked days of road blockades by local campesinos, climaxing in a clash with National Police troops that left several injured. Citing threats of Sendero Luminoso "narco-terrorism," the government of President Alejandro Toledo has declared an "emergency zone" in the jungle province of La Convencion, where the project lies, suspending constitutional guarantees. Further protests are threatened by Toledo's US-backed plan to eradicate coca crops in the region--again citing "terrorist" exploitation of the drug trade. Meanwhile, deeper in the forest, communities of uncontacted Indians may find their isolation shattered by the gas project and attendant militarization--drawing further protests from Peru's indigenous movement.

Overshadowed by the chaos in neighboring Bolivia, the rainforests of southern Peru have also become a zone of contest between government-corporate designs and popular campesino and indigenous movements.

Tear Gas in the Rainforest

The $1.6 billion Camisea natural gas project, led by Argentine firm PlusPetrol and the Texas-based Hunt Oil, is an internationally-backed plan to revitalize Peru's hydrocarbon industry, which languished in the 1990s as Sendero Luminoso guerilla activity made the oil-rich rainforest unsafe for corporate developers. The gasfields on the Rio Camisea--a remote tributary of the Rio Urubamba, one of the Peruvian jungle's major arteries--were first explored, and then abandoned, in the 1980s and '90s. The government of President Alejandro Toledo is now aggressively pushing exploitation of the fields as the key to Peru's economic future. A new trans-Andean pipeline, linking Camisea to the Pacific coast, is now nearly complete, and exports from the gasfields are slated to start next year. Also near completion is a processing pant at Las Malvinas, a small jungle settlement near where the Rio Camisea meets the Urubamba, and where the pipeline begins. At Las Malvinas, the gas is to be separated into liquid and natural (gaseous) forms, to be pumped over the Andes separately through the dual pipeline.

Three interlocking consortiums are building the project--Transportadora de Gas del Peru (TGP) is building the pipeline, led by the Argentine firm TecGas; Project UPSTREAM, led by PlusPetrol and Hunt, is developing the fields at Camisea; while Project DOWNSTREAM, which has contracted the Halliburton subsidiary KBR as a consultant, is responsible for distribution of the gas where the pipeline meets the coast at two locations--one near Lima, and one just seven kilometers north of the Paracas marine nature reserve, a major tourist attraction, adding to the controversy. While some of the gas is slated for internal consumption in Peru, more is to be exported by tanker to energy-hungry California. Other members of the interlocking consortiums include the Korean SK Corporation, Algeria's Sonatrach and Peru's Hidrocaburos Andino.

In September, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a $135 million loan to TGP for the pipeline. But in August, the US Export-Import Bank turned down a pending $213 million loan guarantee for the Camisea project, citing concerns about environmental impacts and the rights of indigenous peoples in the zone.

Just weeks after the IDB approved financing for the project, the rainforest region around the Camisea fields exploded into angry protest. The Camisea fields lie in the remote heart of La Convencion, the jungle province of Cuzco department. The pipeline terminal at Las Malvinas is connected to the outside world via a poorly-maintained and largely unpaved road that twists down the snow-capped Andean peaks into the low tropical rainforest from the highland city of Cuzco, the department capital. The deeper into the jungle it goes, the more primitive the road becomes. Last year, when the TGP-contracted Argentine engineering firm Techint started to carry heavy machinery and tubes for the pipeline along this road, jungle campesino communities started complaining that the road was being damaged, and bridges weakened. Their crops of coffee, cacao and legal coca leaf were being cloaked in dust thrown into the air by the Techint convoys. And some communities complained that their water sources in the form of streams coming down from mountains cut off by the 25-meter-wide pipeline.

On Sept. 23, coca growers started blocking the road in Quebrada, a village in the province of Calca, bordering La Convencion on the south, in the "high selva" of the Andean foothills. The blockades came down two days later, when the TGP consortium agreed to give 4 thousand bags of cement to the community to repair the road.

But the very day after the crisis at Quebrada was resolved, campesinos at Quellouno--deeper in the rainforest, in La Convencion provicne and much coser to the the gasfields--pulled a tractor across the road and set up their own round-the-clock blockade. Three days later, Sept. 29, the nearby vilages of Kiteni and Kepashiato joined the revolt, throwing blockades across the road closer still to Las Malvinas and Camisea. The mayors and official authorities of the villages all supported the actions, and all told some 10,000 people participated in the blockades. Construction operations were immobilized, and dozens of Techint trucks were halted mid-route in the jungle.

On Oct. 6, the government acted. Fifty National Police troops arrived at Kiteni by helicopter. When the campesinos refused an order to clear the road, the troops fired in the air over their heads, hurled tear gas grenades, and charged the blockade with clubs. Twenty were wounded, and over 20 detained, including women and children. The police also claimed five of their officers were hurt in the confrontation. Villagers later reported to investigators from La Convencion's pronvicial government that one child has been missing since the attack, having fled into the jungle in terror.

The following day, talks brokered by the Peruvian government were held in Quillabamba, La Convencion's provincial seat, in the high selva region on the southern edge of the rainforest. TGP and the government agreed to appoint an evaluation team to asess damage to the road and environmental impacts. The blockades were dismantled. The team, made up of representatives from the consortium and national, provincial and municipal governemnts, has yet to hand in its assessment.

Fedia Castro Melgarejo is the provincial mayor of La Convencion with the indpendent opposition party Somos Peru, and first woman to lead the province it was created 146 years ago. She is one of the signarotires to the Oct. 7 accord that ended the jungle uprising--at least for now. Interviewed at her office in Quillabamba, she emphasizes: "We are not opposed to the project. The Camisea project represents development for us--better schools, better roads. But the consortium has to comply with reparations for the environmental and social impacts. This is now under evaluation."

Mayor Castro boasts that it is due to her efforts that 35% of the consortium's payment to the national government goes to La Convencion. But she stresses that if the project doesn't respect local interests, it will lose local support. "Local people have been waiting for months for work from the consortium, while the workers at the gasfields are mostly Argentines," she says.

And she also protests that her province is being militarized by the national government--"to protect the pipeline," she says. "Emergency Zone" Around Gasfields

The turning point in the militarization of the region was the June 9 kidnapping of a crew of consortium workers at Huanta province of Ayacucho department, which borders La Convencion on the west. The kidnapping marked the first recent re-emergence of the Sendero Luminoso guerilla movement, which had been in decline since the capture of its leader Abimael Guzman in 1992.

Sixty-eight Techint workers and three National Police agents on assignment to protect them were all seized from a camp near the Rio Apurimac (which forms the border with La Convencion, and eventually joins with the Urubamba to form the Ucayali, a major tributary of the Amazon). The Maoist rebels demanded a $1 million ransom.

The hostages were freed just 31 hours later--after a Techint helicopter dropped supplies (ostensibly for the hostages) at a jungle location near where they were being held. It has since been speculated that a cash ransom may have been hidden among the supplies.

Huanta was declared an "emergency zone" by President Toledo in the aftermath of the kidnapping--along with La Mar province, also in Ayacucho, and Satipo and Chanchamayo provinces in Junin department, just to the north. Mayor Castro protests that her province, La Convencion, was also declared an "emergency zone"--despite no documented presence of Sendero there.

"We are a pacific province, we have no problem with terrorism," she says. "But because the Camisea consortium has camps here, they declared an an emergency zone here too."

The emergency zone suspends guarantees of freedom of assembly, mandating permission from military authorities for public gatherings. It also allows detention without charges on suspicion of terrorism. "At any moment, we could disappear," says Mayor Castro. "And not at the hands of the terrorists, but by our own government."

"Coca or Death"

On Sept. 22, a day before the first roadblocks went up, Peru's "drug czar" Nils Ericsson and the department presidents of Cuzco, Ayacucho and Junin were in Washington DC to sign a document calling for the "gradual and concerted reduction" of ilicit coca crops in the region as a part of the "struggle against terrorism and narco-trafficking." Under a program dubbed "Peace and Development Plan 2003-2006," US AID is to provide $120 million for crop-substitution programs in the three departments, to be administrated by Ericsson's agency, the National Commission for Life and Development without Drugs (DEVIDA). Outlining the integrated Plan Ayacucho, Plan Junin and Plan Cuzco, the program document explicitly cites the "terrorist threat" to mining, tourism and other "institutional development" in these departments.

But Mayor Castro says that the coca eradication plan is just a recipe for further unrest in the region. She says she was also invited to Washington for the signing ceremony and refused to attend. She shows me the finished document, proudly pointing out that while it bears the signatures of the department presidents, Ericsson and US AID director for Peru Patricia Buckles, the lines are all blank over the names of the sixteen provincial and municipal mayors who were invited--including her own. "I will not betray the cocaleros of La Convencion," she says.

She also notes that Cuzco department president Carlos Cuaresma, who did sign the document, is allied with President Toledo's ruling coalition.

Mayor Castro insists that there are no illicit coca crops in La Convencion. She says that all the crops are registered by ENACO, the National Coca Company, Peru's government monopoly which controls the market in coca for internal traditional uses--primarilly coca mate, a medicinal tea popular throughout the Peruvian Andes.

"Ayacucho, Junin and Huallaga produce for the narcos--but not here in La Convencion," says Castro. "This is a bad policy imposed by the United States. The campesinos that produce coca here are not responsible for drug addiction in the United States."

Plan Cuzco proposes replacing coca crops with pineapple--but Castro says the land in this high selva region doesn't produce pineapple. "The soil will only produce tiny little pineapples. The campesinos here will never be able to survive growing pineapples."

But she also insists that her reasons for opposing Plan Cuzco go beyond the economic. "Coca is not a drug for us, it is food, and it is a cultural heritage," she says. "We have to guard the coca like we guard Machu Picchu."

From the veranda of the provincial government building, Mayor Castro points to the verdant mountains that nestle Quillabamba, forming the canyon of the Rio Urubamba that rushes towards the jungle on the east side of town. The slopes are a patchwork of forest and the cultivated fields of campesino families. "You see those crops?" she asks. "It's all coca. The campesinos will never give it up."

Castro reminds me that this region was heartland of the 1960s guerilla insurgency of Hugo Blanco--which finally prompted the government to break up the sprawling latifundios which once dominated the region and redistribute the land to campesino families. "We are organized here since the guerilla movement of the 1960s. The first agrarian reform in Peru was here, thanks to the guerillas. They were legitimate guerillas--not terrorists like we have today."

The same local campesino federations which supported the Hugo Blanco insurgency over a generation ago now oppose the coca eradication (and supported the blockades of the Camisea consortium's trucks). "Here the campesinos say they would rather die than eradicate the coca," says Mayor Castro. "In the '60s, they said 'Tierra o muerte--venceremos!' Now they say 'Coca o muerte--venceremos!'"

"No-Contactados" Threatened

Deep in the lowland rainforest, 150 kilometers north of Quillabamba, lies Block 88, now leased to the Camisea consortium, one or largest oil-and-gas exploitation blocks in the country. The Rio Camisea flows through it to the west, into the Urubamba--which is here broad and languid in contrast to rushing stream of the high selva region. The Rio Camisea is now flanked by four gas platforms--two to the north and two to the south.

Just ten kilometers to the east of Block 88 lies the border of Manu National Park--Peru's largest, and a UN-recognized Biosphere Reserve since 1977. But of greater concern still to critics of the project is that some two thirds of Block 88 overlaps with the 15,000-square kilometer Nahua-Kugapakori Reserve--one of five in the Peruvian departments of Cuzco, Ucayali and Madre de Dios established to protect the so-called "no-contactados," or indigensous peoples living in "voluntary isolation" from the outside world.

The Nahua-Kugapakori Reserve was the first such reserve in Peru, established in 1990 following a campaign by the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP). The adjacent Block 57 to the north also lies partially within reserve. All five of these reserves have been invaded by outlaw timber operations, according to Beatriz Huertas, an anthropolgist who helped establish the presence of "no-contactados" in the zone for AIDESEP. "It is fundamentally weak," she says of the reserve program she helped create.

"The first principle is that we respect the right of people in isolation to remain in isolation, and to contact the outside world when they choose to do so," says Huertas, interviewed at AIDESEP's offices in Lima. She cites the risk of transmission of illness to uncontacted communities which have no immunities to Western diseases as a major threat posed by penetration of the reserves.

There are up to 18,000 Indians living within Block 88 (of the 500,000 total in the Peruvian Amazon). Among these, Huertas believes, are Machiguenga and Pano ("Nahua") "no-contactados"--who are probably aware of the existence of industrial civilization, but choose to avoid contact with it.

Haroldo Salazar, AIDESEP vice president, is an Ashaninka from the Rio Palcazu, an Ucayali tributary some 300 kilometers northwest of the Camisea zone. He boasts that AIDESEP, founded in 1980, has won over 2 million hectares of titled indigenous lands in the Peruvian Amazon. "Before that we weren't Peruvians--we had no education, we didn't vote."

AIDESEP is made up of 53 federations of Amazon indigenous groups in 12 departments. Says Salazar: "We represent 17 of Peru's 19 linguistic groups--minus Romance and Quechua." AIDESEP is now publishing text books in indigenous languages. Salazar says AIDESEP's two main principles are recuperation of lands and respect for no-contactados. "We are the ones who have assumed the responsibility of protecting the rights of those who have never been conquered by anyone," he says.

AIDESEP is currently seeking an injunction in the Peruvian courts to halt the Camisea project, and preparing a complaint before the Defensoria del Pueblo, Peru's official human rights ombudsman. It is also preparing a complaint before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, charging that the Camisea project violates the International Labor Organization's Convention 169, setting minimum standards on the rights of indigenous peoples, which was ratified by Peru in 1993.

AIDESEP charges that the project will mean "forced contact" for the residents of the Nahua-Kugapakori Reserve, and have grave impacts throughout the region. According to a July 2003 AIDESEP complaint filed with the Defensoria del Pueblo, the previous August a 7-year-old Machiguenga girl lost her life when she was swept into the Rio Urubamba by the wake of two PlusPetrol boats carying equipment towards the gasfields. There are also concerns about general safety in the construciton effort; Project UPSTREAM has seen two worker fatalities, and Project DOWNSTREAM ten since work commenced.

The pipeline also passes through several titled Machiguenga communities to the south of Camisea on its way towards the Andes. AIDESEP claims TGP pressured communities to sign right-of-way rights for the pipeline for 40 years.

Walter Kategari is sub-jefe of the AIDESEP affiliate representing the indigenous peoples of the Camisea region, the Machiguenga Council of the Rio Urubamba (COMARU). He is from Monte Carmelo, one of the Machiguenga communities bi-sected by the pipeline. Interviewed at the group's house in Quillabamba, he says: "We would have no problem with the project if they complied with environmental standrads and indigenous rights under ILO 169. But the communities and indigenous organizations have not been consulted."

Kategari claims there are already fewer fish in the Urubamba and tributaries due to high-temperature emmissions from the wells. He also complains of consortium workers luring indigenous women into "clandestine prostitution." Mayor Castro's office also confirmed the emergence of sexually-transmitted diseases among the indigenous of the Camisea zone for the first time since construction started.

Kategari also warns that the access road following the pipeine to Las Malvinas--while now open only to consortium personnel--can serve as an artery for narco-traffickers and new invasions of the indigenous communities by illegal settlers or timber operations.

Dr. Sandra Martinez, PlusPetrol community and environemntal affairs director, contacted at her office in Lima, denied Kategari's charges. "It is a lie that there are any emissions from the wells. The wells aren't even in production yet, and they are not to produce any emissions." As for charges that the consortrium has not consulted with the communities, she says: "This is also a lie. We began consultations with the communities together with the government in September 2000. Since then we have convened 222 meetings with the indigenous communities. This was necessary for us to receive our environmental license to begin work, which we received in December 2001."

Indigenous Movement Divided

A part of the answer for this seeming contradiction lies in the consortium's relationship with another Peruvian indigenous alliance, the Confederation of Amazonian Nationalities of Peru (CONAP), founded in 1987. The consortium has held meetings with CONAP representatives in some of the impacted communities, and an open rivarly has emerged between CONAP and AIDESEP over the issue.

CONAP president Cesar Sarasara, an Ahuajun from the Rio Maranon in the northern Peruvian Amazon, maintains that the Camisea project can bring progress to the region's indigenous peoples. Interviewed at CONAP's Lima office, he says:

"We defend the project, not the company. We support the project if it is under compliance with world environmental norms, and if it improves the quality of life of the indigenous peoples, and respects our culture. We want the project to be an opportunity for the indigenous people to develop."

Sarasara says CONAP is pioneering a new relationship between the Amazon's indigenous peoples and policy-makers. "We have established a dialogue between the indigenous and the state and the company, without intermediaries. Until now, the Peruvian state has used the resources, but the indigenous continue in poverty. This is not just. The state and the company--neither have experience in a new relation with the indigenous. The easier position is to just say no to the project. But the subsoil rights do not belong to the indigenous, they belong to the state. Many NGOs take the easy position of ęthe indigenous say no.ę But in the times we live in, the indigenous are part of the world market. No indigena can live today without money. The situation demands new alternatives. The indigenous need to be compensated for the resources taken from our communities. It is unjust that others have better conditions of life and we don't. It is not just that others live 90 years and we only live 40."

AIDESEP's Harolodo Salazar dismisses CONAP's claim to be a legitimate indigenous coalition: "CONAP represents individual interests. Its base is in a few people in each community it claims to represent. It does not represent the base. The government uses CONAP to compete with us."

He points out that the TGP consortium gave CONAP $50,000 in 2003 for their house in Lima, with another identical sum promised for 2004.

AIDESEP also accuses CONAP of authoritarianism. "CONAP's president has been in power eight years, and just elected to four more," says Salazar. "AIDESEP has a new president every four years."

Jorge Aburto, a technical secretary with the Permanent Coordinator of Peruvian Indigenous Peoples (COPPIP)--a new federation linking highland and rainforest indigenous groups, which includes AIDESEP--says: "AIDESEP is answerable to the base. Not everything is perfect. Some communities are better represented than others. But it maintains its independence from the government and the corporations."

An Aug. 31, 2003 CONAP "Public Manifesto" on the Camisea project accuses AIDESEP, COPPIP, COMARU and other indigenous organizations that oppose the pipeline of an "anti-patriotic attitude."

"The Government Used Us"

Shell, Mobil and Chevron all explored in the Urubamba region in the 1980s, but quit the zone in the early '90s--unoficially, because of the threat from Sendero Luminoso and other guerilla groups. Chased out of the highland regions of Ayacucho by a wave of harsh repression in the 1980s, these guerillas fled en masse into the rainforest, where a new war ensued--this time with the Amazonian indigenous peoples whose lands they had invaded. The Ashaninka were the most impacted by this invasion, with communities being massacred and enslaved by Sendero guerilla fighters. Ashaninka leader Alejandro Calderon was assassinated in 1989 by the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a rival guerilla group, for refusing to collaborate with them. AIDESEP's Haroldo Salazar says it was not the army, but the Ashaninka themselves who beat back the Sendero and MRTA invaders, organizing "rondas"--self-defense patrols--armed only with bows and arrows. "We cleansed the valley of Pichis-Palcazu of guerillas and narcos," he boasts.

Salazar admits the Ashaninka were eventually given some weapons by the Peruvian army--but "only some old hunting rifles." And now, he says, the Ashaninka and other Amazonian Indians have been betrayed. "Now the state says the area is free of guerillas, it is open for the oil industry. The state used us." Some of the very wells that the Camisea consortium plans to exploit were first perforated by Shell in the 1980s, before it abandoned the zone.

Salazar makes clear that just because the Ashaninka fought the guerilla invaders doesn't mean they support capitalism and the state. "We are good socialists," he says. "We are good communists. This is not an imposed socialism, it is a living socialism."

Salazar rejects the government's official agency for indigenous affairs, the National Commission of Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples, or CONAPA, charging that it does not truly represent indigenous communities. "We want constitutional changes and an indigenous-led indigenous agency," he says. "We will have this, if not under this government then under another."

Until then, Salazar pledges that AIDESEP will continue to resist the Camisea project. "We will not sell our lands, our biodiversity, and much less the non-contacted peoples. We want the oil companies out of the reserves."


Oct. 31, 2003

Reprinting permissible with attribution.