Peru approves gas project, spells disaster for uncontacted tribes
January 28, 2014

Peru has approved the highly controversial expansion of the Camisea gas project onto the land of uncontacted Amazon tribes – despite international outrage, the resignation of three ministers, and condemnation by the United Nations and international human rights organizations.

Peru’s Ministry of Culture, tasked with protecting the country’s indigenous population, has approved plans by oil and gas giants Pluspetrol (Argentina), Hunt Oil (US) and Repsol (Spain) to detonate thousands of explosive charges, drill exploratory wells and allow hundreds of workers to flood into the Nahua-Nanti Reserve, located just 100km from Machu Picchu.

The expansion could decimate the uncontacted tribes living in the reserve, as any contact between gas workers and the Indians is likely to result in the spread of diseases or epidemics to which the Indians lack immunity.

Pluspetrol itself recognizes the devastating impact the expansion could have. In its ‘Anthropological Contingency Plan’ the company states that any diseases transmitted by workers could cause ‘prolonged periods of illness, massive deaths, and, in the best cases, long periods of recovery.’

When oil giant Shell first started explorations in the area, it led to the death of nearly half the Nahua tribe. One Nahua man recounted, ‘Many, many people died. People dying everywhere, like fish after a stream has been poisoned. People left to rot along stream banks, in the woods, in their houses. That terrible illness!’

The project violates Peruvian and international laws which require the consent of any projects carried out on tribal peoples’ land.

Last year, protests were held around the world to stop the expansion of Camisea, and more than 131,000 Survival supporters have sent a message to Peru’s President Humala demanding a halt to the oil and gas work on uncontacted tribes’ land. Today, Survival handed the list of the thousands of petition signatures to the Peruvian embassy in London.

As a result of the high profile campaign by tribal rights organization Survival International, local organizationsAIDESEP, FENAMAD, COMARU and ORAU, and others, to stop the expansion, seismic testing has been averted from riverways and the location of one well was moved from the land of an isolated tribe.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘Thirty years ago workers prospecting for the Camisea deposit penetrated deep into the territory of the Nahua people – and soon after, half the tribe were wiped out by flu and similar diseases. Has the Peruvian government really learnt nothing from history, that it is prepared to risk this happening again for the sake of a few more gas wells?’


The Nahua were first contacted in the 1980s. Subsequent epidemics killed many members of the nation.  

Peru: Mercury poisoning epidemic sweeps Indigenous People

Up to 80% of a recently-contacted Indigenous nation in Peru have been poisoned with mercury, raising serious concerns for the future of the people. One child has already died displaying symptoms consistent with mercury poisoning.

The source of the Nahua nation’s poisoning remains a mystery, but experts suspect Peru’s massive Camisea gas project, which opened up the Indigenous land in the 1980s, may be to blame. The project has recently been expanded further into the Nahua’s territory, prompting fierce opposition from the nation.

Rampant illegal gold mining in the region is another potential source of the mercury poisoning.

The Nahua, who live inside a reserve for isolated Natives in south-east Peru, have also been suffering from acute respiratory infections and other health problems since they were contacted.

Other Indigenous communities in the area may also have been affected by mercury contamination, but tests have not been carried out. Some of these communities are uncontacted or extremely isolated. It is understood that the Peruvian Health and Environment Ministries have been aware of the problem since 2014.

AIDESEP, the main Indigenous organization in Peru’s Amazon, is lobbying the government to carry out full health checks on the Nahua and other Indigenous nations in the area, and to conduct a proper investigation into the cause of the poisoning. A study was conducted by the Ministry of Health in spring 2015, but the results have yet to be published.

Nery Zapata, an Indigenous leader, said: “Mercury contamination is extremely damaging to human health because its effects are irreversible. The health department must investigate this, and stop the contamination that is poisoning the Indigenous population.”

Survival has also written to the Peruvian Ministries of Health and Culture urging them to publish the results of their study and put an end to the catastrophe.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said: “The Peruvian authorities have always been pretty indifferent to the problems facing their Indigenous communities, and the total neglect they’ve shown in this case just proves it. It’s nothing short of scandalous that they are not doing more to sort out this crisis. It’s also very telling that they are withholding information about it from the public.”