Peru - Brazil indigenous people pledge to fight Amazon oil
Peru is facing
rebellion by a 3,500 strong indigenous people deep in the Amazon
committed to fighting oil exploration in their forest territory,
following the government's failure to consult Matsés communities or
respect their rights.
Members of an indigenous people living on both sides of the
Brazil-Peru border in the remote Amazon say they are prepared to fight
with spears, bows and arrows if companies enter their territories to
explore for oil.
The Matsés have publicly opposed operations by Canada-based firm
Pacific Rubiales Energy for at least five years, but they say that
neither the company nor Perupetro, the government body which granted the
licences to two oil concessions in Peru, are taking any notice.
"It seems that the [Peruvian] state is a child", says Dora Canë from
the most remote Matsés village on the Peruvian side of the border,
Puerto Alegre. "It doesn't listen. We say no, but it just carries on. It
wants to extinguish us."
"We have told the company no, but it isn't listening", says Nestor
Binan Waki, another Puerto Alegre resident.
"Our patience is running out. We have nothing more to say. The only
thing we have is our spears."
"They should respect indigenous peoples' rights, but in my view
they're not doing so", says Lorenzo Tumi, also from Puerto Alegre.
"We've been saying no for many years. The only weapon we have is to kill
one of them. We could kill one of the company."
The Matsés based in Brazil are equally concerned about the
concessions - partly because they consider the Peruvian side of the
border their territory too and partly because of the potential impacts
on the Brazilian side where they live in the protected Javari Valley
"We don't want the oil company", says Waki Mayoruna, the head of the
remotest Matsés village, Lobo, in Brazil. "If they don't listen to us,
if they don't understand our no means no, there'll be conflict that'll
lead to people being killed. That will always be my position."
"We'll always fight against the invasion of our territories", says
José Tumi, from Sao Meireles in Brazil. "If they don't listen, we could
fight like we have done in the past, with bows and arrows. We could
attack anyone who invades our territory. We're not afraid of dying."
"The government is not listening, not respecting, our decision", says
Juan Bai, another Sao Meireles resident. "One day our patience could run
out. We have our limits. If they invade the only thing to do will be
this [to fight]."
Many Matsés stress that previous generations were forced to fight
against rubber-tappers, loggers, road-builders and soldiers invading
their territories, and that they could do the same again now.
"Before contact [in the late 1960s] there was always conflict in this
region", says Romulo Teca from Puerto Alegre in Peru. "It could come to
that again. We are the sons of those fighters. We can defend ourselves
with arms like they did. I'll always fight to ensure no oil companies
"Our fathers had to defend our territories and fought with other
tribes, mestizos and soldiers", Felipe Reyna Regijo, from Remoyacu
village in Peru, told a bi-national meeting held by the Matsés last
month. "Why don't we continue that position, given that we are the sons
of fighting fathers?"
The bi-national meeting concluded with the "total rejection" by the
Matsés of both oil concessions, and the signing of a statement saying
the decision was "unanimous" and stressing the social and environmental
impacts of oil operations elsewhere in Peru.
Raimundo Mean Mayoruna, from Soles village in Brazil and president of
the General Mayoruna Organization (OGM), says that the Matsés don't want
conflict, but it is possible if their rights are not respected.
"We don't want this, but if there is a lot of anger it could happen",
he says. "My message to the companies is that they respect our decision
and understand we've lived here for a long time and want to live in
peace. We didn't come from any other place. We're from here."
Empty threats? Or are the Matsés for real?
Many of the most aggressive statements were made by Matsés men
wielding and thrusting long spears or carrying bows and arrows - leading
one man, Rafael Shaba Maya, a teacher in Puerto Alegre, to remark, "It's
true they will fight. When they say something, they do it." That opinion
is shared by the former president of the Matsés community in Peru, Ángel
Uaqui Dunu Maya, who stresses the potential environmental impacts and
the Matsés's past experience of oil operations in the 1970s when "many
people died of illnesses" as a result.
"Yes, in my opinion, it's certain that [this] is going to create a
lot of conflict between the Matsés and the state", he says.
"Why? Because the Matsés don't want hydrocarbon activities in their
territories but the state wants to explore."
Brazilian anthropologist Beatriz de Almeida Matos, who has worked
with the Matsés for 10 years, says that "without a doubt" they will do
"whatever it takes to defend their territory" from anything threatening
their way of life and existence.
"It wasn't so long ago, in the 1970s and 1980s, there were conflicts
between Matsés and non-indigenous people in their territories, with
deaths on both sides", she says.
"If they're not consulted and their decisions not respected, they'll
understand dialogue is over and defend themselves by taking up arms
again, rather than using the law."
The Matsés say they were not consulted by Peru's government before
the two concessions were established in 2007 - as is their right under a
legally-binding agreement ratified by Peru in 1994 - but Pacific
Rubiales claims this right has only applied since 2012.
Billion barrel oil concessions overlap indigenous territories,
According to Peruvian NGO CEDIA, one of the concessions, Lot 137,
includes 49 percent of the Matsés's titled community land in Peru and 36
percent of a supposedly 'protected natural area' called the Matsés
National Reserve, which they consider their territory too.
The other concession, Lot 135, also includes community land, the
reserve, and other areas considered Matsés territory, as well as a huge
chunk of a proposed reserve for indigenous people living in what
Peruvian law and indigenous organizations call 'isolation' or 'voluntary
The eastern boundary of Lot 135 and part of Lot 137 is the River
Yaquerana - which acts as the Brazil-Peru border and many Matsés from
both countries rely on for drinking water, cooking, washing, bathing and
fishing. Together the two concessions cover almost 1.5 million hectares
and have been estimated to hold almost one billion barrels of oil.
Some exploration has already been done by Pacific Rubiales in Lot
135, starting in late 2012, which involved conducting seismic tests and
Pacific Rubiales says it "fully respects" the Matsés's position and
is therefore not currently" performing any exploration activities" in
Lot 135 and Lot 137, but declined to respond to a question from The
Ecologist why it still holds the licences to both concessions.
According to Brazilian NGO Instituto Socioambiental, there are almost
3,500 Matsés - 1,700 of whom live on the Peruvian side and almost 1,600
on the Brazilian side, although movement across the borders is common.
- Third World Network Features.