The Un-Contacted Amazon Tribes and the Oil Threat

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The world’s largest rain forest, the Amazon, spreads across nine South American countries with Peru having the second largest share of it. Around 700.000 native Amazonians live in Peru’s Amazon Basin. While most of this population has been at least partially assimilated to modernity, there are still some tribes who are living in exactly the same as their ancestors’. These people otherwise known as the Un-contacted are said to inhabit the deepest and least accessible parts of the jungle, keeping away from the reach of civilization and the hoards of problems that it entails. Throughout time these people and their way of life has come under threat for multiple times. First came the rubber boom and then illegal logging threatened these people. But nothing has prepared them for the ominous threat they have to face this time: the exploration of oil in their pristine environment. These tribes have lived in such seclusion that some previous contacts resulted in massive loss of lives on their parts due to something as ordinary as a common cold. This time the greed of the US has pushed the Peruvian president to give the green light to American companies to start exploration in the jungle. The self-explanatory titled documentary is about this jungle and the threatened people.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: The Amazon jungle is the world’s largest rainforest. It’s spread across 9 South American countries, with Peru having the second largest share of it. Sharing the living space of some of nature’s most fascinating biodiversity, around 700,000 Amazonian natives also live in Peru’s Amazon basin, an area over three times the size of the United Kingdom.

While most Amazonians have been at least partly assimilated to modernity, a few tribes are said to be living in the very same way in which their ancestors lived, hundreds of years ago.

Known as “the Un-contacted,” these tribal people are said to inhabit recondite parts of the rainforest, keeping away from the reach of civilization.

Several reports by reputed anthropologists have told of the presence of these tribes, considered to be living in voluntary isolation.

Johnathan Mazower is a representative of Survival International: a London-based NGO dedicated to the protection of tribal peoples across the world.

SOUNDBITE [English], Jonothan Mazower, Media Director, Survival International: “Very often the Indians who are now isolated and living in the most remote parts of the Peruvian Amazon are the descendents of much larger groups who were decimated during the rubber boom that swept through the western Amazon about 100 years ago, when around 90 per cent of the Indian population was wiped out both through violence and through disease. Whole communities were enslaved in the production of rubber, they were forced to collect rubber in the forest.”

Narration: When the rubber boom was over, the extraction of illegal timber replaced it as the main threat to the isolated Amazonians, although in a much smaller scale. But more recently, a bigger danger has emerged, putting at risk the subsistence of the un-contacted tribes. After going back on his electoral promises that spoke of favouring the impoverished peasantry, Peruvian President Alan Garcia committed himself to the signing of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Unfortunately for President Garcia, the ratification of the Free Trade Agreement was postponed, when the US congress demanded that Peru change its domestic laws to “secure a predictable legal framework for U.S. investors.” Garcia had to act quickly and amend Peruvian legislation on time before President Bush left the White House.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Javier Velazques Quesquen, Former Head of Peru’s Congress: “In that context, the parliament gave special powers to the president so that he could pass over one hundred laws for the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement, which is very important for our country, as it’s part of our policy of opening our markets to the world and, in particular, to a market as important as the United States.”

Narration:Determined to please Washington at any rate, Garcia hurriedly passed new legislation that provided a series of generous benefits for US and other foreign investors. The new laws also secured access to gas and oil resources in up to 75% of Peru’s Amazon basin – an area almost as big as France.

SOUNDBITE [English], Richard Chase Smith of Institute for the Common Good: “It’s the US, it’s the big consumer societies that are pushing for this, and if we’re going to criticise it then we have to criticise the consumption that is going on Europe, the Us, then China and now India are beginning to consume all the world’s resources and there are those here in Peru who will gladly sell them off at whatever price to make a quick profit, with no vision to the future.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Jonothan Mazower, Media Director, Survival International: “They are auctioning off large areas of the Amazon for exploration rights, to oil and gas companies, and of course many of these areas contain isolated indigenous groups living within them whom, of course, know nothing about this and the fact that at any minute oil crews could be penetrating into the territories where they have always lived, looking for oil and gas. And when they do this it’s in a very intensive manner: they cut tracks though the forest and they lay explosive charges through the ground and then detonate them to see if there is oil underneath.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Narration: The prospected oil development caused outrage amongst many sectors of the Peruvian population. Many voices of opposition cited its obvious negative impact on the environment and the disruption of the lives of hundreds of thousands of Amazonian natives. A few others also spoke of the danger for the subsistence of those very few inhabitants of the forest who can’t voice their concerns: the un-contacted. In order to reply to the many voices of opposition, President Garcia wrote a series of newspaper articles. In one of them, Garcia addressed the issue of the un-contacted natives.

GRAPHIC: “The character of the non-contacted Amazonian native is something not known but only presumed, an excuse used by the so-called 21st century ecologists, in order to justify for the Peruvian oil to stay below ground”

Narration: This was followed by declarations from a spokesperson from PeruPetro – the government-owned Peruvian oil company, in which he compared the un-contacted tribes to the Loch Ness monster. Then, Daniel Saba, the chairman of Peru Petro himself, appeared on national television talking about this issue.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Daniel Saba, chairman of Peru Petro: “It is so absurd to say that there are un-contacted people when no one has seen them...”

Narration: Roger Rumrill is one of Peru’s leading experts on Amazonian studies

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Roger Rumrill, Leasing Amazon Anthropologist: “What Daniel Saba, the Director of Peru Petro said was, frankly, rather funny. He wanted to be introduced to a non-contacted ... I get the impression that the real un-contacted ones are Daniel Saba and our President, as they seem to be living in isolation, not in contact with Peru’s reality.”

Narration: Soon after the declarations from the President and from Peru-Petro’s chairman, a crew of German and Peruvian ecologists who were flying over Peru’s Amazon basin, spotted and filmed a group of members from the Mascho Piro un-contacted tribe.Javier Velazquez Quesquen used to be the president of the Peruvian Congress and still is one of President’s Garcia’s main allies. While he doesn’t doubt the existence of the un-contacted, he has his own particular views on the topic.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Javier Velazques Quesquen, Former Head of Peru’s Congress: “It is paradoxical that in our country we can still talk about un-contacted people who cannot have access to the benefits of modernity. It is paradoxical that there are people who oppose the modification of the status quo of these communities. The respect to the ancestral rights of these communities is compatible with bringing to them the benefits of progress and development. How can it be possible that these people have no schools, computers or electricity?”

Narration: But it seems that not even the government ministers agree amongst themselves on this topic. Antonio Brack is Peru’s Minister for the Environment.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Antonio Brack, Peru’s Minister for the Environment: “Mr. Velazques Quesquen, the President of the Congress, has very respectable opinions, but how can we bring modernity to un-contacted people if we don’t even know what language they speak?”

Narration: The passing of the laws that opened up the Amazon for oil exploration proved to be one of Garcia’s most unpopular moves. The footage we are watching shows a tribe of Amazonian natives who had been persuaded by a group of local businessmen to invade a private airport. The airport belongs to an oil company that operates in a remote part of the jungle. The businessmen wanted to force the oil company to employ their services. For this purpose they offered a small amount of money to the natives, in order to use them as cannon fodder. This triggered a bloody confrontation between the natives and the police. This clash was motivated by pure greed, a usual by-product of oil development. The otherwise peaceful Achuar indians ended up murdering a policeman and injuring a few others.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Policeman: “This man here is the one who murdered one of our police officers. He shot him with a shotgun. This is the mask the officer was wearing when he was shot, with one of the shotguns we can see here...”

Narration: Undeterred by the negative social impact that oil development was causing, and still fully determined to please the interests of Washington, Garcia pressed with the enforcement of the laws that opened up the Amazon to the oil companies. By this time, the legality of such laws was under heavy questioning.

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [English], Jonothan Mazower, Media Director, Survival International: “Peru, for example, has ratified they key international law on indigenous people, which says that Indian groups in Peru have the right to the ownership of their land to be recognised. In other words, they should not be having these oil companies coming into their land without their consent.”

Narration: Indigenous Amazonians, who live in communities and are assimilated to modern life, never gave their consent for the many oil exploration contracts signed by the Government. This triggered an indigenous revolt that saw a further 35 people dead in 2009. The Peruvian Courts declared the laws that allowed for the opening of the Amazon unconstitutional, and the government had to repeal them. Garcia then pledged to honour the government’s obligations by calling for a consultation with the Amazonian communities. However, for obvious reasons, a small portion of such communities cannot be consulted: the un-contacted.

SOUNDBITE [English], Jonothan Mazower, Media Director, Survival International: “Obviously they are in no position to give their consent because one cannot communicate with them, and even if one could, they cannot possibly give an informed consent, because they cannot possibly know the consequences of what is likely happen in the exploration stages of this work and specially if there was actually oil discovered there.”

Narration: In many cases, it is the Amazonians who have long since integrated to modernity the ones who look after the interests of their un-contacted brothers.

SOUNDBITE [English], Richard Chase Smith of Institute for the Common Good: “Lot 107 was an oil concession given out at the beginning of the Garcia regime to Petrolifera from Canada, and it is on top of an area where we have two groups of isolated Cacataibo un-contacted peoples, and we managed to get the community organisation Fenacoca, to call an assembly for voting on whether the company should or should not carry tests in the area where the Cacataibo were living.

But by this time the organisation’s leaders were already on the payroll of the company...”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Town’s Voter: “We are calling for a vote to see if the seismic line will pass through that part of the forest where our “naked” (un-contacted) brothers live.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Town’s Voter: “Therefore, Petrolifera (oil company) needs to be respectful of the people’s decision.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Richard Chase Smith of Institute for the Common Good: “First vote was something Like 30 “no” to 2 “yes” and there was a conference between the leaders of the organisation and the company officials and the leaders declared it null, the voting didn’t count. They went through discussions again on whether the company should do it, so forth and so on. They did another voting and the voting was 26 no and maybe 6 no. Again another conference with the company officials and they annulled that voting. They went through four votings and in the final vote the yes vote went up but still the no vote won.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Town Voter: “OK raise your hands now, let’s see... one, two, three, four, five six, seven, eight, nine, ten eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen... That’s eighteen.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Richard Chase Smith of Institute for the Common Good: “The vote meant nothing in the long run. And they went ahead with the seismic testing in those areas and found quite a bit of evidence of the existence of this people.”

Narration: In the remotest regions of the southern Peruvian Amazon, some villagers have experienced encounters with the un-contacted natives. In this part of the world, settlements where people live can only be reached after very long boat journeys, across rivers rich in impressive wildlife.

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Julio, Amazon Native, Amahuaca Tribe: “I can tell the current government that the un-contacted brothers do exist, because I’ve seen them from a distance of 20 or maybe 15 metres. First they threw their arrows in our direction, but not aiming at us. They were only trying to scare us away. So I shouted in my dialect: “brother, please don’t shoot your arrows at me”I believe they understood my sign language and put down their arrows. Those people don’t want to become civilized, they want to stay living happily in their natural habitat instead of being like us, who have already been civilized and now we’ve got more problems than

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Jose Trigoso, Amazon Native, Yine Tribe: “Almost fifty of them. They were there on the riverbank. But not all of them came out. There were more than that in total, some of them still in the undergrowth. They were makingall kinds of animal noises, imitating every kind of animal. They were clapping as well. When we said, 'Look, we've brought these machetes' they clapped. They were laughing and cheering.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], German, Amazon Native, Yine Tribe: “In the mouth of this river we saw about ten un-contacted people. They were looking at us and swinging like this, like monkeys. They planted their arrows in the ground. By the side of the river we came across a caiman about four metres long. Too big for us. It had an arrow in its side. The un-contacted natives had shot it and it was clear they wanted to take it with them.”

Narration: Johnathan Mazower strongly believes that the natives living in isolation do not want to be contacted.

SOUNDBITE [English], Jonothan Mazower, Media Director, Survival International: “There have been quite a few incidents on recent decades, not only in Peru but in other parts of the Amazon where isolated indians have attacked oil workers and other outsiders, as illegal loggers for example, whom they have found in their territories, because they view them as a threat.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Jose Segundo, Amazon Native, Yine Tribe: “Then, when we came back downriver, we saw them. They almost shot me. I was driving the boat, my father and my uncle were with me, and they (the un-contacted) fired an arrow at me. It went past me like this.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Abel, Amazon Native, Yine Tribe: “They came from upstream and also from the other side. And so, what did we do? We went downstream. That was how we escaped. They entered the house and they took everything: our clothes, everything in the kitchen, our bowls, machetes, axes. Everything. They left the house empty.”

Narration:Despite being able to live with no clothes in a jungle where an average civilised man would be likely to perish within days, the un-contacted Indians are vulnerable to the simple health hazards of the modern world. Very few oil exploration projects were carried out before the passing of the controversial laws of President Garcia. However, some of these proved fatal to un-contacted Indians, vulnerable to diseases such as the common flu.

SOUNDBITE [English], Jonothan Mazower, Media Director, Survival International: “Shell was exploring for oil in the South East of the Peruvian Amazon during the 1970’s and 80’s, and they were exploring in a an area where an un-contacted Indian tribe know as the Nahua where known to live. After Shell left, local loggers then went into the area using the tracks that the oil workers had opened into the forest, so it was much easier for them to get into the forest where the valuable timber was, and also they viewed it as being safer. And it was actually the illegal loggers working in that area who made contact with them, and many Nahua died very soon after that contact, from diseases that they caught.”

Narration: The Nahua wasn’t the only tribe who suffered human losses as a consequence of the first contact with the outside world. The Murunahua indians followed a similar fate.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Armando, Amazon Native, Amahuaca Tribe: “When our Murunahua brothers first appeared, about 20 of their families died. This was because they hadn't eaten salt before. They didn't eat anything. They arrived at the village of Raya. That was where the disease hit them and they died. Almost all of the “naked ones” died. Those who survived, they're still living. The old men and women, the really old people, didn't survive. They died from headaches, from colds. They didn't know that kind of illness before all this.”

Narration: In 1995 Jorge lost an eye after being shot by illegal loggers during first contact. In his original dialect, he explains us what happened to his people.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Jorge, Former Un-Contacted, Murunahua:“We came out of the jungle when the loggers made contact with us. We didn't eat any salt, we didn't eat anything like that. That was when the disease came, although we didn't know what a cold was back then. There was a group of us who were poisoned in a village called Raya. Half of us died as a result of this. My aunt died, my nephew died, half of my people died.” Before contact we didn't have any salt. We ate tapir, peccary, monkey, and fish, but never with any salt. We didn't have machetes then either. We ate every kind of meat: tortoise, tapir, fish, but never with salt.”

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

Narration: Several spotting of the un-contacted natives have been reported in specific parts of the rainforest. Because of the overwhelming evidence gathered, in recent years the Peruvian government created five national reserves for the people living in voluntary isolation.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Antonio Brack, Peru’s Minister for the Environment:

“In this area we have three reserves for the un-contacted natives as well as two national parks, so this is a protected area. Oil, gas and timber exploration is forbidden in the national parks, but it’s not forbidden in the reserves where the un-contacted live. That’s a problem of those who passed the legislation at the time.”

Narration: Mayta Capac Alatrista is the President of the INDEPA, the Peruvian government’s institute for the development of the Amazonian, Andean and Afro Peruvian peoples.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Mayta Capac Alatrista, President of the INDEPA: “The government protects these un-contacted people, or people living in voluntary isolation, by assigning special reserves for them.These reserves cannot be entered by illegal loggers, fishermen or informal traders. The reason for this is because we have to look after the un-contacted natives’ habitat. This doesn’t mean that the state cannot have economic activities within these reserves.”­

SOUNDBITE [English], Richard Chase Smith of Institute for the Common Good: “The Congress stuck in a small clause which really undid the full protection which the law was providing for this people by saying that these indigenous reserves which were set up for un-contacted peoples will have full protection unless there were projects in the national interest that had to take place in these areas and that of course was the window that the government was looking for which will allow gold mining, petroleum and gas and timber extraction and so forth.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Mayta Capac Alatrista, President of the INDEPA: “It is also true that, in some cases, the oil concessions that the state has given are superimposed over these reserves. The best example is that of the Kuguapakori Nahua Nati reserve for un-contacted natives. The Camisea gas that supplies fuel for Lima and for many other parts of the Peruvian coast is extracted from this reserve. But this is an example to follow, because the necessary protocols have been fulfilled.”

Narration: Coincidentally or not, in November 2010 an unprecedented event took place in this same reserve where the Camisea gas is being extracted. A tribe of several dozen un-contacted natives were spotted when fleeing the habitat in which they had lived for centuries. Staff from the Indepa decided to approach them in order to establish first contact.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Mayta Capac Alatrista, President of the INDEPA: “The latest sighting of the un-contacted natives took place in this same reserve, where oil and gas extraction activities are taking place. The oil company occupies a portion of this reserve but, because they follow the protocols, the negative impact is mitigated.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Richard Chase Smith of Institute for the Common Good: “We’ve got more information and we’ve got photographs and things not necessarily because they are moving out, but because people are moving in to the areas were they are. The last corners of the Peruvian Amazon are being occupied and that exposes these isolated peoples immediately and there has been cases along the Brazilian border were isolated population on the Peruvian side are moving to the other side of the border, because they got nowhere else to go, they are on the run.”

Narration: With a fully operational Free Trade Agreement now in place, Garcia is still determined to exploit the Amazon’s oil and gas potential. Contracts signed before the repealing of the unconstitutional laws have been kept in place and several companies are already exploiting the vast oil plots. [MAYBE ADD?]

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Mayta Capac Alatrista, President of the INDEPA: “I believe that the government authorities and humankind in general don’t have the right to keep these natives isolated. The world has developed, humankind has developed.”

SOUNDBITE [Spanish], Roger Rumrill, Leasing Amazon Anthropologist: “They are being pushed out of their habitat and are retreating to their last refuges, basically as a consequence of oil and timber extraction. Unfortunately, at this rate, in the short term these un-contacted people could become extinct - they won’t survive.”


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