Anglo-French oil company Perenco has recently been given permission by Peru’s government to build a 200-kilometre pipeline in the remote Peruvian Amazon. The company’s operations there have caused international outrage: it is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world and home to at least one ‘uncontacted’ indigenous group (in Spanish, the no contactados), who could be decimated if contact between them and company workers is made.
Perenco’s response? To say that there is no evidence that the no contactados even exist.
Perenco defends this claim by appealing to a report by an environmental consultancy, Daimi. This report, based on research by various teams of Daimi employees sent into the region, concludes: ‘There is no information that demonstrates or suggests the existence of isolated indigenous people.’
But that isn’t what Daimi’s researchers told me when I was in Peru earlier this year. Here are 10 facts that explode the claims made in its report and any based on it:
1 All three lead authors named in the report disagree with its conclusions and say that evidence for the no contactados was found.
2 One of the lead authors, anthropologist Teudolio Grandez, heard about a sighting of three no contactados by a man called Alejandro who was living in one of the villages nearest to Perenco’s operations. ‘We found evidence of their existence. There were signs. We never said there weren’t any,’ Grandez told me.
3 Another lead author, anthropologist Jose Moscoso Conde, found physical evidence of the no contactados and heard about a different sighting. ‘We didn’t see them ourselves, but we found signs. We heard about one sighting and saw broken arrows and cut branches,’ Moscoso told me. He described the sighting in some detail: one local man saw ’two people, naked, about 200-300 metres away, a long way away. They realized a mestizo was watching them and fled.’
4 The final lead author, anthropologist Rosa Aguilera Rios, didn’t travel into the region with the others but did read a ‘draft report’ based on their findings. What did it say? ‘That some signs of the no contactados’ existence were found,’ Aguilera told me.
5 One Daimi researcher, also listed in the report, informed me it was ‘dressed up and presented as if no evidence was found, in order not to cause any problems for the government.’ He said the following signs of the no contactados were found: ‘twisted leaves, tracks leading to the river, animal bones and feathers from birds hunted by them, small shacks recently built by them, footprints, fruits from wild trees recently eaten by them…’ What happened to all this evidence? ’It was all given to Daimi. The videos, photos, recordings… They have it all.’
6 Another Daimi researcher, anthropologist Virginia Montoya, found evidence for the no contactados but it was omitted from the report too. ‘There is no doubt in my mind that there are uncontacted groups there,’ Montoya was quoted in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, adding she had documented the evidence, including paths used by them. ‘But it was all edited out. I was really upset when I saw the final report.’
7 Despite her involvement in Daimi’s research, Montoya’s name was omitted from the report. Who else’s name was omitted and what might they know?
8 Perenco paid Daimi for the report. By building the pipeline, Perenco hopes to move an estimated 300 million barrels of oil, worth an estimated $35 billion at today’s prices, and knows that any admission of the no contactados’ existence could jeopardize those plans. Is it any wonder that an environmental consultancy like Daimi, which looks to a company like Perenco for its business, is telling it what it wants to hear? How else do you explain Daimi’s report claiming no evidence was found?
9 Even the head of INDEPA, the Peruvian government’s indigenous affairs department, publicly distanced himself from Daimi’s report, despite the fact that INDEPA has been under huge pressure to support Perenco’s operations. In response to Daimi’s claim that INDEPA played a key role in its research, Mayta Capac Alatrista Herrera, recently replaced as head, strongly rejected such claims and told a Peruvian magazine, Allpathay, that INDEPA ‘has not corroborated, confirmed nor validated the conclusions of Daimi’s report.’
10 Others listed in Daimi’s report said their research was inconclusive. ‘We only visited half of the places we were supposed to,’ linguist Rossana Arbaiza Gonzales informed me. ‘Given that, we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of isolated indigenous peoples in the areas we didn’t go to.’