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'Hey, Leonardo, what about Peru?'

Posted: 02/09/11 19:04

The Observer recently reported that Leonardo DiCaprio, Desmond Tutu and Mikhail Gorbachev, among others, are backing Ecuador's 'Yasuni-ITT' plan to forgo exploiting billions of dollars of oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon in order to save the rainforest and protect the 'uncontacted' tribes living there.

Laudable as this plan and their support may be, do Leonardo et al realise that immediately across the border the Peruvian government is doing the exact opposite and has just given the green light to an Anglo-French oil company, Perenco, to build a 200 km pipeline?

These two regions, i.e. Yasuni in Ecuador and where Perenco is working in Peru, are so close that one 'uncontacted' tribe is believed to move between them both. Like many such tribes around the world they are semi-nomadic, and like all of them they know nothing of national boundaries.

As Ecuador's government is at pains to point out, and as scientists have confirmed, this is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. That appears to mean less to Peru. Indeed, the Peruvian Amazon's Investigation Institute (IIAP), a government scientific body which claims to specialize in the 'sustainable use of the Amazon region's biodiversity', has effectively condoned Perenco's operations in the region by signing a deal with them earlier this year.

Ecuador and Peru have taken very different attitudes to the 'uncontacted' tribes there too. Ecuador stresses its intention to protect them, while Peru's indigenous affairs department, INDEPA, denies they exist.

Perenco says the same, citing research and a report by an environmental consultancy, Daimi, which Perenco paid for and which claims, 'No information exists that demonstrates or suggests the existence of isolated indigenous people' in this region.

Oh yeah? I've just come back from Peru where I spoke to numerous Daimi employees who told me evidence for an 'uncontacted' tribe was found: sightings, paths, footprints, shacks built by them, and animal bones and feathers from birds hunted by them. See here for the full expose.

So, Leonardo, Desmond, Mikhail and all the others who have been publicly linked to Ecuador's plan. . . Edward Norton, Muhammad Yunus, Rigoberta Menchu . . . what about Peru? It's the same rainforest, after all, and even some of the same people who are involved.