An environmental consultancy working for an oil company withheld evidence of an “uncontacted tribe” where the company is operating in Peru’s Amazon, a leaked report obtained by the Guardian reveals.
The leak is acutely embarrassing for Perenco, based in London and Paris, because it has consistently claimed there is no evidence for indigenous people living without contact with the outside world near its operations and cites research by the consultancy, Daimi Peru, as proof.
The report was written by three anthropologists from the National University of the Peruvian Amazon (Unap) who were contracted by Daimi, which in turn was contracted by Perenco. The anthropologists list the evidence they found – “bent branches, footprints, women bathing in the rivers and crossed spears on pathways” – all of which was reported by local people..
“We found evidence of their existence,” says Teodulio Grandez, one of the anthropologists. “There were signs. We never said there weren’t any.”
But when Daimi made its findings public, combining the anthropologists’ research with that of academics in other disciplines from another university, none of the evidence listed by Grandez et al appeared.
“No information exists that demonstrates or suggests the recent existence of isolated indigenous people in the area under investigation,” Daimi claimed in a final report dated September 2008.
The report obtained by the Guardian is a scanned version of a paper copy, with every page bearing Unap’s insignia and signed by the anthropologists. It is addressed to Daimi’s general manager, Milton Ortega.
“We verified that this information (about the ‘uncontacted’ people) was in the paper version,” says Jose Moscoso, another Unap anthropologist. “But when the digital version appeared, it wasn’t there.”
Daimi’s final report is now used by Perenco to defend its operations, which have come under fire from indigenous organisations and NGOs including Survival International. Contact between Perenco employees and the “uncontacted” people could decimate the latter because of their lack of immunity to diseases.
“There has been no evidence of non-contacted tribes,” Perenco claims on its website, while its Latin American regional manager once compared them to the Loch Ness monster. “Much talk,” he said, “but never any evidence.”
The news of the leak will not surprise some former Daimi workers who were involved in the research and later disturbed when the final report said no evidence was found.
“This confirms what everyone who knows anything about this region has been saying all along,” says Survival’s Rebecca Spooner, who said evidence for “uncontacted” people in this region has been collected for years.
Daimi’s Milton Ortega did not comment. “I
don’t want to talk about this by telephone. I’ll give you an official answer by email,” Ortega said, from Ecuador, but no reply was forthcoming despite several follow-ups by the Guardian.
Perenco, which refused to say whether it had seen a copy of Unap’s report, is seeking permission from Peru’s energy ministry (MEM) to begin the next stage of its operations, in the north-east of the country near the border with Ecuador. When MEM asked Peru’s indigenous affairs department (INDEPA) for its opinion on the company’s environmental impact assessment (EIA), INDEPA accused Perenco of completely ignoring the “uncontacted” people and endangering their lives.
Last month an American NGO, E-Tech International, released a highly critical report on the company’s plans. “Perenco is following a 1970s-era project design that is totally inappropriate for the Peruvian Amazon,” said the report’s author, Bill Powers. “If designed and built using current best practices, the impacts would be one-tenth what they will be with the current design.”
[Amazon rainforest via Dr. Morley Read / Shutterstock]