MLuftmensch at hubcap.mlnet.com
Sat Apr 6 04:20:01 MST 1996
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/* Written 3:40 PM Dec 2, 1995 by pchatterjee in
/* ---------- "peru prospectors" ---------- */
From: Pratap Chatterjee <pchatterjee at igc.apc.org>
PERU-ENVIRONMENT: Prospectors defy Peruvian Amazon natives
by Pratap Chatterjee
WASHINGTON, 19 Sep (IPS) -- Medicine hunters from Missouri and oil
drillers from California and Texas are on their way to exploit the
rain forests of the Peruvian Amazon despite a clear message from
the native people: Stay out.
Walter Lewis, a scientist from Washington University in St. Louis,
Missouri, will be flying to Lima later this month to talk to the
Peruvian government and local groups about searching the Amazon
for new medicinal plants that may hold the cure for diseases like
California-based Occidental Petroleum, a U.S. multinational with
1994 sales of 9 billion dollars, set off huge explosions in the
same region this summer in a vain effort to find underground oil
reserves. The company says it is now pulling out, but other
companies are on their way.
''Is this a boon to mankind or the last great pillage of the rain
forest?'' asks Edward Hammond, an activist who works with Peruvian
native groups for Rural Advancement Foundation International
(RAFI), a non-governmental group in North Carolina.
''The answer will depend on whether scientific and corporate
interests can be turned into solid support for the local peoples'
own priorities: land rights, self-determination, and a healthy
ecosystem,'' he says.
So far, the reports activists like Hammond have received from the
remote Peruvian forests have not been very promising. In fact RAFI
and Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a San Francisco-based group,
have both sent out alerts to their members warning them that the
situation looks grim for the region and its peoples.
The Maranon region of northern Peru, named after the Maranon
river, has some of the most unique forests in the world because of
its geographical location -- the junction between the temperate
rain forests of the Andes meet the lush Amazon jungle along the
banks of the river.
The jaguar, the giant river otter and the giant anteater -- all
endangered species -- roam these forests. Three groups of
indigenous peoples -- the Aguaruna, the Candoshi and the Huambisa
-- have also lived in this region for centuries.
None of the indigenous groups are happy about the new visitors.
But the government of President Alberto Fujimori, which achieved
the highest economic growth rate in the world last year largely by
exporting of natural resources has rolled out the welcome mat.
The native people fear that oil drillers will chop down forests
and pollute the many waterways that run through their forests with
toxic chemicals. They are also convinced that they will receive
almost none of the profits, according to groups like RAN.
There are good reasons for their fears. Oil drilling by Texaco,
another U.S. multinational, has ruined the fragile Oriente region
of Ecuador's Amazon, just north of Peru. The company spilt an
estimated 66 million litres of oil into the rivers that the
Quechua peoples, an Ecuadorean indigenous group, depend on.
Nor are there historical reasons to believe that money from new
plants will be given to the local people. Quinine, the drug used
to treat malaria, was discovered in Ecuador, while the potato, a
staple food for millions of people around the world, comes from
Peru. No money from the billions of dollars in sales from these
plants goes to the native people.
Candoshi leaders, who represent the 2,000 members of the
indigenous group, say that Occidental failed to meet their own
environmental promises when they started searching for oil in what
is called ''Lot 4,'' in the eastern Maranon. Last August, the
Candoshi people voted to tell Occidental to go away, and began
organising to protest.
Their message was circulated here by Shannon Wright, a RAN
activist who mailed out an alert last month headlined: ''Oxy
invades Candoshi homeland in Peru.'' Shortly after that, the
company pulled out.
''We have ceased exploration because we have not found any
commercial quantities of oil. It has nothing to do with any
protests. We have very good relations with the Candoshi,'' says
Roger Gillott, a public relations official at Occidental.
The neighbours of the Candoshi -- the Aguaruna and the Huambisa,
who live in the western part of the Maranon -- also had some
initial success in keeping out visitors when they complained to
the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which oversees the work
of Walter Lewis.
A 400,000 dollar annual grant for Lewis was frozen after the
native people wrote to the NIH to say that he had not told them of
plans to sell the plant collections to Monsanto, a pharmaceutical
multinational in St. Louis with 1994 sales revenue of 8.3 billion
The Consejo Aguaruna y Huambisa, the council that represents the
45,000 people who belong to the two indigenous groups, alleges
that Lewis illegally exported plants he had gathered.
''Lewis ran into a number of problems. It is a difficult
situation. We will wait and see what happens at the meeting at the
end of this month. In the meantime, we have mounted a thorough
investigation into his contracts,'' Joshua Rosenthal, the program
manager for the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups
Program (ICBG) at the NIH, which dispenses the money to Lewis.
''What will the Aguaruna see of these wonderful new medicines?
There are promises, but they are vague and depend upon whims of
bureaucrats and thumps of the market,'' says Hammond, who is still
sceptical. Lewis did not return repeated telephone calls.
But now the Aguaruna and Huambisa are about to be invaded oil
companies. YPF, an Argentinian company, and Quintana Minerals of
Houston, Texas, are currently negotiating to drill for oil on
This land, known as ''Lot 50,'' was explored three years ago by
two Houston-based firms -- Edward Callan Interests and Halliburton
At the time, local people complained bitterly about the
explorations. ''The detonations and the clearings being made are
scaring away the animals and destroying the resources that our
families depend upon to survive,'' said Emir Etsam Nugkuag, a
native Aguaruna from the community of Napuruka.
The indigenous groups have vowed to keep up the struggle. ''Oil
companies have already been conceded seven million hectares of
indigenous lands in the Peruvian Amazon. We cannot allow
indigenous people's voices to be quieted on this subject again,''
says Juan Chavez Munoz, the president of AIDESEP (Interethnic
Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon).
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