A non-partisan journal of the left.

Get lost, Petrobras! (Or do I mean Brazil?)

Sat 19th Nov 2011

Just two days before the Amazon rainforest was declared one of the provisional 'New Seven Wonders of Nature', indigenous leaders in Peru were complaining how a massive company from neighbouring Brazil is intent on ruining a large chunk of it.

Secoya leaders were speaking out against Petrobras, which is majority-owned by Brazil's government and is hoping to explore for oil in Northern Peru in an area known as Lot 117. For the last few years, the Secoya and other indigenous groups from that region have been trying to establish a national park and two reserves there.

'We'll continue trying to create the park and protect our natural resources in the same way our ancestors did,' leader Guido Sandoval was quoted in a regional newspaper. 'We say: No to contamination.'

One of Peru's national indigenous organizations, AIDESEP, recently spoke out too. Indigenous people 'will not allow the entrance of any oil company into Lot 117,' said AIDESEP, adding that exploration would affect more than 10,000 people, more than 100 communities, and members of at least one 'uncontacted' tribe.

Petrobras 'represents a severe threat to wildlife and human communities,' Corine Vriesendorp from The Field Museum has said. This 'region is spectacularly diverse: species richness of several biological groups – plants, fishes, amphibians and reptiles, birds, and mammals – is among the highest of any other region on the planet.'

Amongst its neighbours, Brazilian muscle and money has been making a habit of this kind of thing. Hundreds of people have protested against a Brazil-financed road in Bolivia; there is controversy surrounding Brazilian projects in Argentina, Ecuador and Guyana; and in Paraguay, where Brazil has long had huge influence, Brazilian cattle-ranchers have been bulldozing forest belonging to the only 'uncontacted' indigenous people in South America outside the Amazon basin.

Peru, in particular, has come in for a hard time. A bi-national agreement signed last year between then President Alan Garcia and his then Brazilian counterpart Luis Inacio Lula de Silva included building six new hydroelectric power plants in the Peruvian Amazon, which would make a lot of money for Brazilian firms and generate energy for Brazilian consumers but flood huge areas of Peru's rainforest leaving thousands of Peruvians without homes or land.

One of the most controversial of these dams would have been on the Inambari River in Peru's south-east. However, after recent protests the Brazilian consortium due to build the dam had its license revoked.

Extraordinary as it may sound, the Inambari dam would have flooded a large stretch of a recently-built highway connecting Brazil's Atlantic coast to Peru's Pacific, thereby enabling Brazil to export goods to Asia more cheaply. This highway itself has been the object of strong protests from certain groups in Peru, partly because Brazil appears to be the main beneficiary.

There is also the threat of a road being built from Cruzeiro do Sul in Brazil's far West to Pucallpa in Peru, which would create another coast-to-coast road link and cut right through a reserve created for members of an 'uncontacted' tribe, known as the Isconahua.

It is clear that more than one 'uncontacted' tribe is under threat from Brazil's growing regional influence. It is a tragic irony that although Brazil's government has a 'no-contact' policy regarding 'uncontacted' tribes within its own borders, it is unwilling or unable to extend that to neighbouring countries where Brazilian companies are operating or Brazilian money is being invested.


Footnotes:

New 7 Wonders of Nature: http://www.new7wonders.com/archives/wonder/amazon

Sandoval: http://diariolaregion.com/web/2011/11/10/nosotros-estamos-detras-de-la-categorizacion-definitiva/

AIDESEP: http://www.aidesep.org.pe/index.php?codnota=2251

Vriesendorp: http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/expeditions/corine_expedition/dispatch11.html

Brazilian muscle and money: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/05/world/americas/brazils-rapidly-expanding-influence-worries-neighbors.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=%22brazil%27s%20growing%20influence%22&st=cse

Brazilian cattle-ranchers bulldozing: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/7851

Six new hydroelectric power plants: http://www.internationalrivers.org/node/6240

License revoked for the Inambari dam: http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/jun2011/2011-06-16-01.html
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