Friday, November 25, 2011

Seismic trails used for poaching

Oil exploration in the Sarstoon Temash National Park (STNP) is helping poachers extract natural resources, a SATIIM/Belize Defence Force (BDF) patrol has discovered.

Since the seismic trails have been opened up, remnants (trunks and pieces of timber) of illegal logging and hunting activities were observed, and the poachers have cut smaller trails from the seismic lines to areas further into the park.

SATIIM rangers and BDF personnel departed Punta Gorda on November 15, 2011, for a 4 day monitoring mission of the STNP. On this trip they encountered US Capital Energy operations in full rig: seismic lines cut, workers drilling, boats travelling up and down the river transporting workers, etc. The seismic lines, which originate from the banks of the Sarstoon River, cut right across the park. One of the first lines cut on the Temash River has been flagged with tapes and the mangroves have been cut clean about 10 feet from the river’s edge. Other seismic lines were flagged and cut straight to the river’s edge leaving no buffer.

Gangs of illegal loggers are informed of SATIIM patrols via radio and are then able to use seismic lines to reach the river and escape to Guatemala by boat without being apprehended. SATIIM has called on the Belizean government to make US Capital Energy cover the cost for SATIIM to monitor and patrol the seismic lines which cut across the park, coming from the international border and providing open access to poachers and illegal hunters and loggers. This will help to ensure that these seismic lines will in fact not become highways for the Guatemalans to come and extract our precious resources inside the park. 

Due to the clear evidence of poaching, SATIIM is requesting that seismic testing activities are suspended until it is agreed how the impacts would be mitigated. SATIIM also suggests that an environmental assessment of seismic testing in the STNP should be conducted to identify potential impacts and recommend mitigation measures prior to the continuation of seismic testing.

Illegal logging discovered during the SATIIM/BDF patrol of the park

Seismic trail making an escape route in the park

US Capital Energy drilling a seismic line in the park
Seismic trails cut to the river's edge allow easy escape
routes for Guatemalan poachers

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

“End the Secrecy!” –  SATIIM Demands Explanation for US Oil Company’s Return to National Protected Land

*Government ignores local communities requests for information
*Defies historic Supreme Court ruling based on country’s constitution and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) calls all those who care about Belize’s biocultural diversity demand that the government explain what an oil company is doing on protected land.

On October 25 SATIIM learned that the American oil company, US Capital Energy had suddenly re-appeared on protected and Maya land -- without prior notice or consent of the communities.

According to reports, the oil company has been operating for over a week inside the Sarstoon Temash National Park (STNP) in Southern Belize. While the park is officially co-managed with the surrounding Q’eqchi Mayan and Garifuna villages, the government never informed SATIIM that a permit had been issued. The company is wasting no time -- a truck equipped for seismic drilling has already arrived along with a drill-ready tractor.  Trees were cut for two seismic lines in Sunday Wood village, with rumors of plans to cut more in the village of Crique Sarco.

This is merely the latest ‘surprise’ in a shameful history of secrecy that began one morning in 1997. Five Indigenous communities in Southern Belize woke up to learn that the government had declared their ancestral land a national park in 1994. Ever since, these communities have struggled to defend their land at every turn.

Notably, in 2006 they won a temporary injunction against seismic testing in this protected area, where an entirely new ecosystem was recently discovered. Another ruling from the Supreme Court confirmed Maya rights to land and resources and Belize’s obligation to conform to international standards of informed consent established when it signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.

Nonetheless, the government has kept all dealings with US Capital Energy secret.  SATIIM asked for information in several letters to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Chief Forest Officer. The government has ignored each one.

When SATIIM met with Indigenous leaders Monday 7 November, all villagers expressed outrage and growing concerns that the government and the company did not inform them about the seismic activities. SATIIM demands that the government respect: 1) the rule of law; 2) environmental justice; 3) economic equality; and 4) its obligations under UNDRIP and legal rulings by Belize’s highest courts.

Most of all, SATIIM demands the government end the secrecy around US Capital Energy’s new operations in Southern Belize.  SATIIM and the Indigenous communities have agreed to use any means necessary to bring the government and company in compliance with national and international law.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Listen to SATIIM board member and Conejo resident Manuel Caal talk about his village's sustainable community forestry initiative and fight for land rights:

Friday, August 26, 2011

Quilting for the Forest in Midway, Belize

This summer, 13 women in the Q'eqchi Mayan village of Midway gathered regularly to embroider quilt panels depicting flora and fauna of the Sarstoon Temash National Park, beside which they live. The quilt project is a collaboration between SATIIM, the women of Midway, and the Washington, DC-based Advocacy Project. The panels will be sewn into a quilt by a group in DC, then displayed around the US to raise awareness about the park and threats to it, like deforestation and oil exploration. Ultimately, the quilt will be sold to benefit the women who made it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

IACHR Highlights the Importance of Respecting Indigenous Peoples' Right to Prior Consultation

From Amazone Watch:
For more information, contact:
Caroline Bennett, 415-487-9600 x327 or

Washington, DC – On the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) highlights the importance of indigenous and tribal peoples' right to prior, free and informed consultation with regard to decisions that may affect them.

As the organs of the Inter-American Human Rights System have reiterated, States must guarantee that indigenous peoples are consulted on all matters that may affect them, taking into account that this consultation must be aimed at reaching agreement with regard to the administrative or legislative actions that have an impact upon their rights.
The right to consultation, and the corresponding State duty, are linked to several individual and collective human rights. Apart from being a manifestation of the right to participation, the right to be consulted is fundamental for the effective enjoyment of indigenous peoples' right to communal property over the lands they have traditionally used and occupied, and is also directly related to the right to cultural identity, insofar as these peoples' culture may be affected by the State decisions that concern them.
The right to prior consultation is especially relevant for the conduction of development or investment plans or projects and for the implementation of extractive concessions in ancestral territories, given that said plans, projects or concessions, in undermining the natural resources that are present therein, can affect the survival and cultural integrity of indigenous peoples and their members. The effective participation of indigenous peoples through their own institutions and distinctive forms of organization is required before the approval and implementation of these plans, projects or concessions, as a guarantee of their individual and collective survival, as explained by the IACHR in its Report on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples' Rights over their Ancestral Lands and Natural Resources.
The IACHR calls upon the States of the Americas to adopt the domestic legal measures required to recognize, and especially to enforce indigenous peoples' fundamental right to prior consultation and -in the cases defined by inter-American jurisprudence- to prior, free and informed consent, with regard to decisions that may affect their rights or interests.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Oil Spills Inspire Bipartisan Surprise on Federal Pipeline Safety Reforms

Some in the US might be waking up to what it takes, short of an all-out ban, to protect against oil spills. How about in Belize?

From SolveClimate News:

Three bills moving through Congress would significantly strengthen federal oversight for pipelines like the proposed Keystone XL

By Elizabeth McGowan

Aug 12, 2011

WASHINGTON—A series of headline-grabbing ruptures along the nation's 2.5 million-mile network of oil and gas pipelines is prompting a rare attempt at bipartisanship. Democrats and Republicans seem equally intent on significantly beefing up the pipeline safety standards that might have prevented some of these spills.
The timing of the legislation they're considering is especially vital because the State Department is in the midst of deciding whether a Canadian company should be allowed to expand its U.S. presence by building a $7 billion pipeline through the Ogallala Aquifer and other fragile landscapes in the nation's heartland.
TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline would pump millions of gallons of diluted bitumen —a particularly dirty grade of heavy crude — 1,702 miles from the oil sands mines of Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Three bills — two Democratic measures in the Senate and one cross-party initiative in the House — are now circulating. All of them would give federal regulators a bigger hammer to prevent pipeline leaks and accidents. Provisions include studying how diluted bitumen affects a pipeline's structural integrity, improving leak detection technology, increasing inspections, requiring steeper penalties for violations and mandating advances such as automatic shutoff valves and excess flow valves.
One unusual development is that industry groups and environmental and public interest advocates seem heartened by what they are hearing and seeing on the legislative front. ThePipeline Safety Trust, a Bellingham, Wash.-based nonprofit whose sole mission is promoting fuel transportation safety, is also satisfied with where Congress is headed.
The Trust's executive director, Carl Weimer, and others from his organization have spent hours testifying before congressional committees.
"Before the rash of pipeline tragedies in the last 15 months, we'd be happy to have three of the 12 items on our laundry list in a bill," Weimer told SolveClimate News. "But this time around we've got most everything on our list in these bills.
"We're kind of surprised. We thought Sen. Frank Lautenberg's bill would be the high-water mark and things would go downhill in the House," he said, referring to the first bill introduced this session. "But in reality, by the time they got done with the House bill, in some ways it is stronger than the Senate bill."
Weimer says that a muscular law could emerge relatively quickly if another anticipated House bill doesn’t gum up the process — as it well could — and if legislators are judicious enough to combine the strongest pieces from each bill.
A Brief Look at the Bills
Lautenberg of New Jersey teamed up with fellow Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia in February to introduce the Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011. In addition to provisions that focus on studying diluted bitumen, improving leak detection and requiring advanced shut-off technology, it would authorize the hiring of additional pipeline inspectors and give pipeline operators deadlines for notifying local and state officials and emergency responders about accidents and leaks.
In early May, the measure passed the Democratic-majority Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which Rockefeller chairs. Lautenberg is chairman of the subcommittee that handles surface transportation. It is now awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
The latest entry on the Senate side, the Clean Rivers Act of 2011, is co-sponsored by Montana Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester. It was rolled out just a week ago, less than a month after a ruptured Exxon Mobil pipeline spilled an estimated 50,000 gallons of oil into Montana's  Yellowstone River. That Silvertip pipeline reportedly carried both conventional and oil sands crude.
In addition to upgrading oil spill response plans, the Baucus-Tester bill would update leak detection standards and require federal regulators to pay extra attention to pipelines sited near waterways. If TransCanada’s Keystone XL plans are approved, a section of 36-inch diameter pipeline would be buried in the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides most of Nebraska's drinking and irrigation water.
Over in the Republican-majority House, Rep. Fred Upton — the same Michigan Republican backing legislation that would force the Obama administration to give a "yea" or "nay" to Keystone XL by Nov. 1 — has teamed up with another Michigander, Democratic Rep. John Dingell, to cosponsor the Pipeline Infrastructure and Community Protection Act of 2011.
Environmental organizations are invigorated by the heft of the bill that Upton, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, co-crafted with Dingell, former chair of the same powerful committee.
The bill was at least partially inspired by a spill last year that fouled Michigan's Kalamazoo River with more than 800,000 gallons of heavy crude from oil sands. The Environmental Protection Agency recently realized the extent of that contamination is more far-reaching than initially thought. The pipeline that leaked is part of the Lakehead system operated by Canadian-based Enbridge Energy Partners. Both conventional oil and diluted bitumen are shipped through that system, which stretches from the Canadian border through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
"This bill demands improvements in both technology and personnel that can help prevent leaks from occurring in the first place and reduce the damage if they do," Upton said before the July 27 vote on his bill. "This is a subject with a long and bipartisan history ... and I look forward to additional improvements as we move forward."
His committee's subpanel on energy and power passed the Upton-Dingell measure in late July.
Industry on Board
Although the industry hasn't been particularly vocal about the evolving legislation, it seems to have accepted the fact that some sort of bill is going to be passed. 
Andy Black, president of the Washington-based Association of Oil Pipe Lines, told SolveClimate News that Lautenberg's bill offers a sound foundation for whatever legislation emerges. Black's group deals solely with pipelines that transport liquid fuels.
"We don't think any of these bills is perfect," he told SolveClimate News. "But we're glad they're moving forward."
Weimer said the American Petroleum Institute, the Interstate Natural Gas Association and other influential trade associations are also rallying around the proposed legislation.
"Their message has been that these bills are all right and something they can live with," he said. "They're saying, let's get legislation passed. I think they want this over sooner rather than later."
Diluted Bitumen Study a Priority
Both the Lautenberg-Rockefeller and Upton-Dingell bills authorize a study of diluted bitumen and require the pipeline regulatory agency — the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration — to use that study to decide if its current rules are strong enough.
"We see this as a very good starting point," the Natural Resource Defense Council's oil sands specialist Susan Casey-Lefkowitz told SolveClimate News. "It's really important that we know what is in those pipes and how it might affect those pipes."
TransCanada has repeatedly described oil from the Alberta mines as no different from other heavy crude the United States already imports.
However, a scientific report that the NRDC and other groups issued in February said Canadian diluted bitumen is a raw and thick form of oil that is significantly more acidic and corrosive than standard oil. It said it requires increased heat and pressure to move through pipelines and that it’s more difficult to clean up after a spill.
The researchers noted that the chemical composition of diluted bitumen — it has five to 10 times as much sulfur as conventional crude and contains more chloride salts — can weaken pipelines and make them susceptible to breaking during pressure spikes. They also found that the quartz sand and other solid material in diluted bitumen basically sandblasts pipe interiors.
Casey-Lefkowitz, who directs NRDC's international programs, said these findings show that the transparency and public information provisions in any final law must be particularly strong. 
Refiners, pipeline companies and oil firms already know what type of oil is flowing through all of the nation’s pipelines, she said. Local communities, emergency responders, government officials and cleanup crews should have access to the same information, she added.
Weimer, with the Pipeline Safety Trust, said he was surprised by how receptive Republicans members of the energy subpanel were to the Upton-Dingell bill’s stipulation that diluted bitumen go under the microscope. He said he expected more pushback on the idea of a comprehensive study.
"I didn't expect that reaction, that they'd actually speak up in support of the study," he said.
Ideally, Weimer said, the study would be completed before Keystone XL is built. That might not be possible, however, because the State Department has said it will reach a decision by the end of this year. Due to the international nature of the project, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is tasked with granting a thumbs up or thumbs down to TransCanada’s request for a presidential permit.
"A part of the precautionary principle is that you ought to know if something is safe before you approve or build a pipeline to carry it," Weimer said. "That study ought to help answer those questions."
While pipelines are considered a safer mode of transportation than other options for moving gas and liquids, records show that close to 40 pipeline incidents each year since 2006 have resulted in a fatality or injury.
TransCanada Defends 'Heavy Crude'
The U.S. portion of a diluted bitumen pipeline that TransCanada has already constructed — known simply as Keystone — has leaked at least a dozen times since it opened in June 2010.
That pipeline, which sends oil from Alberta to its southern terminus in Cushing, Okla., and its eastern terminus in Patoka, Ill., is phase one of a Keystone infrastructure that TransCanada envisions pumping up to 900,000 barrels of heavy crude daily.
TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said the crude oils destined for the Keystone system are not unique.
"[They] are similar to those already being transported and processed by other pipelines and refineries across the United States," he said in an e-mail to SolveClimate News.
Cunha emphasized that TransCanada has already agreed to go above and beyond the current industry norm when building Keystone XL by agreeing to 57 safety conditions that the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, laid out after spills on its Keystone pipeline.
But watchdog groups say PHMSA's current safety measures aren’t strong enough to guarantee that the pipeline won't spring undetected leaks and that the new legislation is needed to prod PHMSA to bolster its rules.
Fly in the Ointment?
One development that could complicate the effort to pass new pipeline safety legislation is a bill that's expected to emerge from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) chairs that committee.
Black said his trade group expects Mica's committee to have a bill ready sometime in September. Mica's office didn't respond to emails and phones calls from SolveClimate News.
Weimer said committee members assured him at a recent meeting that they would take a bipartisanship approach. However, Weimer said some Republicans hinted that the bipartisan Upton-Dingell bill stretched "too far."
"We fully expect that bill to be weaker but how it is incorporated into the whole mix will be fascinating," Weimer concluded. "I just hope we don’t take a step backward."
From the Mouth of a Landowner
Landowners living along the proposed route of Keystone XL are seconding the notion of moving forward.
Sandy Barnick and her husband operate a ranch in Dawson County, Montana. They support the strongest federal legislation possible because TransCanada’s existing pipelines don’t have a stellar track record, she said in an e-mail to SolveClimate News.
"Safety provisions should not be voluntary," she said. "Unfortunately it has taken multiple disasters to make our government realize that this is an important issue. As landowners ... who rely on the land to make our living, and who did not ask for this pipeline, and who are likely to be condemned by the company so that they can build it, we deserve fully adequate safety protections."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Forest Guardians

Watch SATIIM rangers and Belize Defence Force (BDF) soldiers conduct a bi-weekly 3-day patrol of the Sarstoon Temash National Park, Toledo, Belize. A group of only five rangers is responsible for almost 42,000 acres of wilderness, which is threatened by hunters, poachers, loggers, and an American oil company conducting seismic tests there. A rotating crew of four rangers and two BDF conduct these patrols every two weeks when funding permits. The Belizean government provides the soldiers, but the fuel, ranger salaries and all other expenses come from SATIIM.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Nigeria oil cleanup could take 30 years, U.N. says

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) -- Restoration of Nigeria's environmentally devastated oil-producing Niger Delta region could take up to 30 years, cost $1 billion and become the largest cleanup operation in history, the United Nations said Thursday.

A landmark report from the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) concluded that pollution from more than 50 years of oil operations in Nigeria's Ogoniland region is more far-reaching than thought. The assessment, commissioned by the Nigerian government and funded by oil giant Shell, comes on the heels of the company admitting liability for two spills in Nigeria.
Nigeria's Niger Delta, the world's third largest wetland, is diverse and rich with mangroves and fish-rich waterways. But oil drilling has turned it into one of the most oil-polluted places on Earth with more than 6,800 recorded oil spills, accounting for anywhere from 9 million to 13 million barrels of oil spilled, according to activist groups.
But the environmental disaster has never received the kind of attention paid to last year's oil catastrophe along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Amnesty International, which has researched the human rights impacts of pollution in the Delta, said people in the region have experienced oil spills on par with the Exxon Valdez disaster every year for the last half century.
Many residents make their livelihoods from fishing and are dependent on the polluted mangroves and creeks.
"This report proves Shell has had a terrible impact in Nigeria, but has got away with denying it for decades, falsely claiming they work to best international standards," said Audrey Gaughran, the monitoring group's global issues director.
In a statement issued Thursday night, Shell said the two spills to which it has admitted liability amounted to about 4,000 barrels. The statement from Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of Shell's Nigerian subsidiary, blamed most of the spills on sabotage or attempts to steal oil.
"It is regrettable that any oil is spilt anywhere, but it is wildly inaccurate to suggest that those two spills represent anything like the scale which some reports refer to," Sunmonu said. He called on the Nigerian government "to end the blight of illegal refining and oil theft in the Niger Delta."
In a 2009 report, Amnesty cited independent environmental and oil experts in estimating that between 9 million and 13 million of barrels had leaked in the five decades of oil operations in the Delta. It also quoted U.N. figures of more than 6,800 recorded spills between 1976 and 2001.
Oil companies operating in the region believe the figures are exaggerated.
In the 1990s, Shell was forced to stop operating in Ogoniland after mass protests against the lack of investment and environmental damage culminated in a military crackdown.
Then, a special tribunal found Nigerian writer-activist Ken Saro-Wiwa guilty of complicity in the murders of four Ogoni chiefs. The government executed him and other activists in a move widely condemned internationally.
Shell last year paid $15.5 million in an out-of-court settlement in a civil case brought by members of Saro-Wiwa's family and others.
Now Shell has accepted responsibility for two oil spills in 2008 and 2009.
The Bodo fishing community sued Shell in Britain alleging that oil spills in 2008 and 2009 had destroyed the environment and ruined the livelihoods of 69,000 people.
Martyn Day, who represents the Bodo people, said cases like this one languished in the Nigerian court system for years, if not decades. That's why the claim was brought in London, Day said.
"In the end there was no resolution, no compensation and there was no cleanup," Day said.
He said Shell could have to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.
The U.N. assessment team examined more than 200 locations over a 14-month period for the assessment.
Among its findings:
-- Some areas that appear unaffected at the surface are in reality severely contaminated underground.
-- In at least 10 Ogoni communities contaminated water has seriously threatened public health.
-- In one community, at Nisisioken Ogale, families are drinking water from wells contaminated with benzene, a carcinogen, at levels over 900 times above World Health Organization guidelines.
Individual contaminated land areas in Ogoniland can be cleaned up within five years, the report said. But heavily affected mangroves and swamplands will take up to 30 years.
Before any clean-up can begin, the report said, ongoing contamination has to end.
CNN's Christian Purefoy contributed to this report.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

$35 Billion of Oil Plus an "Uncontacted" Tribe Equals Coverup

by: David Hill, Truthout | Report

What do you do if you want to build a pipeline to move 300 million barrels of oil but an "uncontacted" tribe is in the way? Employing consultants who claim they don't exist certainly helps.  

On July 22, Peru's Energy Ministry [3] gave the green light to Anglo-French company Perenco to build a pipeline in a remote part of the Peruvian Amazon that was described by one US scientist as, "the most biodiverse area in South America." [4] Perenco is operating in an area between the Napo and Tigre riversknown as Lot 67 [5], the first oil concession created in that region and initially licensed to US-based Advantage Resources in 1995.

Earlier in 1995, to the southwest of Lot 67, Peru went to war with Ecuador in a dispute over their borders. The fighting was once described by Bill Clinton as,"the longest running source of armed international conflict in the Western Hemisphere." [6] It dated back to independence in the 19th century, but the stakes had been raised by the prospect of valuable natural resources below the soil. During the conflict in the 1990's, Peruvian troops at one military post in the Napo-Tigre region refused to patrol in small groups. Scared of the Ecuadorians? Actually, it was the no contactados they were scared of: indigenous people who lived without regular contact with outsiders. Some years later, in 2002, two Peruvian soldiers glimpsed two of these no contactados - or "calatos" (naked people), as they're sometimes called -  and were so alarmed that they bolted, lost their bearings and spent the next 13 days wandering about the rainforest until rescued by colleagues.[1]

The soldiers aren't the only ones to have seen or found evidence of the no contactados in this region. Local indigenous people and mestizos, loggers, fishermen, anthropologists - all have stories to tell.[2]

Numerous Peruvian government institutions have acknowledged the no contactados in this region too, including the Energy Ministry, [3] Health Ministry [7], the Natural Resources Institute,[4] the Indigenous Affairs Institute (INDEPA) and the national ombudsman.[5] "It has been proven that isolated indigenous people live in this zone," INDEPA stated in a letter to the Energy Ministry in 2007.[6]

Even Ecuador's government has followed suit, with a promise to allocate $38,000 to fund a "bi-national" plan to protect the no contactados in this region.[7] Indeed, Ecuador's famous "Yasuni-ITT initiative" [8] to forgo exploiting millions of barrels of oil in rainforest inhabited by no contactados in return for billions of dollars in compensation is so close to Lot 67 and Lot 39 [5] - which was created in 1999 and surrounds Lot 67 - that some no contactados, not recognizing national borders, appear to move between both regions [9] - that is, between an area one government has said it is willing to protect and another where the government intends to do the exact opposite.

At first, the oil companies seemed to agree. In 2003, Spanish multinational Repsol-YPF, operating in Lot 39, held a public workshop titled, "The no contactados" during which, according to a record of the meeting signed by a Repsol-YPF representative, the company agreed to prepare a response plan in case its workers made contact with the no contactados.[8] One subsequent plan was submitted to the Energy Ministry and listed a series of recommendations - some bizarre, others dangerous - to its workers. They included: 1) "Use a megaphone to inform the natives in the local languages why we are there and that it is not the company's intention to interfere with their activities" and 2) "Explain to them their vulnerability to Western diseases and the risk they run of getting ill and infecting others in their group which could kill them."[9]

Likewise, Barrett Resources, which had taken over Lot 67, acknowledged the existence of the no contactados and recommended megaphones to communicate with them, [10] a move slammed by Peru's national indigenous organization, the Interethnic Association of Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (known by its Spanish acronym, AIDESEP), as "farcical." [10]

"Workers will probably come across these uncontacted people," Barrett admitted in its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), [11] after announcing, in late 2006, that the oil deposits in Lot 67 were commercially viable and Peru's president, Alan Garcia, had paid a visit to the site to celebrate.[12]

But then things changed - dramatically. AIDESEP had long opposed the companies' operations by demanding this region should be made off limits and turned into a reserve,[13] and now it stepped up its opposition by filing a lawsuit against the companies [11], appealing to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights [12] and making increasingly frequent public statements. International organizations joined the fray, too. Survival International [13], where I worked at the time, launched a high-profile media campaign in 2007, while US-based Amazon Watch and Save America's Forests issued the starkest possible warning to Anglo-French company Perenco when, in early 2008, it announced it had taken over Barrett and Lot 67 [14]: "You are Inheriting a Potential Disaster in Peru. [15]"

What was all the fuss about? First, that under international agreements and norms such as the International Labor Organization's Convention 169 [16] or the United Nation's (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [17], neither Perenco nor Repsol-YPF has the right to operate in Lot 67 or Lot 39. Second, as Repsol acknowledged in its response plan, the no contactados, because of their lack of immunity to outsiders' diseases, could be decimated by contact with any oil company employee - or, indeed, any outsider.

The companies responded by doing U-turns: they started to cast doubt on the no contactados' existence, or to deny it outright. Perenco estimates at least 300 million barrels of oil, worth about $35 billion at current prices, lie in the Napo-Tigre region, and Repsol-YPF, partnered by ConocoPhillips until recently [18], will be hoping large deposits lie in Lot 39, too. With that kind of money at stake, neither company wants any "naked people" in the way.

Perenco justifies its claims by citing a 137-page report by an environmental consultancy, Daimi [19], a participant in the UN's Global Compact [20], a business initiative supposedly aimed at curbing human rights and environmental abuses. This report, paid for by Perenco, was based on research done by various teams sent into the region by Daimi, including archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, linguists, and biologists, and claims that, "nothing happened and there was no sign of any anthropological character" to suggest there were no contactados in Lot 67.

"No information exists that demonstrates or suggests the existence of isolated indigenous people in the area under investigation," stated Daimi's report, dated September 2008. "Given the lack of proof or traces, it has not been possible to confirm their existence."

But how reliable was Daimi's report, given that Perenco funded it? And what about all the evidence that had been collected in the past?

When AIDESEP proposed a reserve in this region for the no contactados, it had interviewed scores of local people and produced its own weighty report listing all kinds of evidence for no contactados' existence: sightings, gardens, meat remains, shelters, paths, footprints and even crossed spears.[14 ] The local group Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the East (known by its Spanish acronym, ORPIO) followed this up with its own report in 2009, including 23 sworn legal testimonies from local people.[15] It was this sort of material that has permitted so many different individuals and organizations, over the years, to acknowledge the no contactados in this region: not just government institutions like the Energy and Health Ministries, but a long, long list of NGOs and others, including Survival, Amazon Watch, Save America's Forests, The Field Museum,[16] Intermón Oxfam, Rettet den Regenwald [21]Rainforest Action Network [22], Accion Ecologica, Forest Peoples Programme, the International Federation for Human Rights, and representatives from the Environmental Defense Fund, EarthRights International, and the Centre for International Environmental Law.

In 2009, I received a tip-off about a Peruvian anthropologist, Virginia Montoya, who had worked for Daimi, but whose name, for some mysterious reason, didn't appear on its 2008 report. The rumor was she had found evidence of the no contactados, but it had been buried. I tried to contact her, but didn't hear back, and then mentioned the existence of a potential whistleblower to British journalist Marc de Jersey, who, with Channel 4 News, was contemplating a trip to Peru to investigate. Three weeks later, on April 30, 2009, Channel 4 fixer Ines Fisher met Montoya in Peru for "a long chat" and reported via email:
Her team made two expeditions to Lot 67 (in addition, she made another one all by herself), which resulted in the confirmation of traces of tribes. This finding was obviously included in the final overall report delivered to Perenco. Soon after, she found out (someone within Perenco told her) that her part, that is, the chapter in which was explained the finding of traces, was completely deleted from the final report. Even her pictures with objects, and proofs of the traces, as well as other evidence were deleted. Who did this? She says the advisory team of Perenco.
Channel 4 didn't pursue the story, and de Jersey made the trip with Guardian journalist Rory Carroll. On June 30, 2009, I read an advance copy of Carroll's proposed article, due to be published in four days time, on July 4, in The Guardian's Saturday magazine. It described how Carroll met Montoya in her office in Iquitos, the largest town in the region, and her response when he asked if she thought there were no contactados in Lot 67:

"Yes. Yes I do." She hesitated once more, then it came out. "There is no doubt in my mind that there are uncontacted groups there." She had documented evidence, especially pathways. "But it was all edited out. I was really upset when I saw the final report. It didn't lie, the language was technically correct, but it did not reflect my view or that of many colleagues."
Carroll's proposed article also quoted Teudolio Grandez, an anthropologist at Peru's National Amazon University (UNAP) [23] who was cited as one of the lead author's of Daimi's report: "Yes. Certain nomadic groups are there. But they [Daimi] wanted to show that there aren't any. Our conclusion is that there are."

Carroll also spoke to Lino Noriega, described as a forestry engineer who had visited Lot 67 on several occasions. Noriega said: "There were a lot of irregularities in the reports. Besides playing down the damage to vegetation and wildlife, they said there were no uncontacted groups. But there were footprints, signs of dwellings ... Perenco got everything it wanted."
But when the article was published [24], the claims had been toned down. Noriega's “There were a lot of irregularities in the reports. Besides playing down the damage to vegetation and wildlife. . . Perenco got everything it wanted” was removed, and so too was Grandez's “But they (Daimi) wanted to show that there aren't any (no contactados).”

Why such changes? Perenco's lawyers had been getting heavy, that was why. On Friday July 3, less than 24 hours before publication, general counsel Roland Fox had sent an urgent email and fax to The Guardian, saying he was aware of its intention to publish an article about Perenco:
Perenco Peru to date has read with increasing disquiet several completely false allegations made against it. We have taken the view that to take action against the writers of such internet articles is pointless, particularly as we consider that most objective observers would give little credence to their unsubstantiated allegations. However, if a newspaper with the standing and credibility of The Guardian were to repeat these allegations, either directly itself or by quoting those who have made the allegations, we would take a different stance, as we are determined to protect our reputation. I would therefore suggest that a very careful legal review is made of this article.
I continued trying to contact Montoya but still didn't hear back. Later that year, I gave her name to two Belgian researchers, Marijke Deleu and Thomas Quirynen, who met her twice in Iquitos and whom she told - like Fisher, like Carroll - that she thought there were no contactados in Lot 67:
She says the area of Perenco is used as a corridor for uncontacted tribes that move back and forward across the border with Ecuador. She doesn't want to make any statements ... She told us the stuff DAIMI deleted is history of population in the region (and) photos of paths and testimonies. When we told her about ORPIO, she said she was going to contact them ... She clearly wanted to show off a little, saying she had sooooo many more testimonies (than ORPIO).... She said she was invited by Perenco to talk about the case (and was received by someone pretty high up, I think, I think she mentioned it was a French guy). And this guy was really interested in her work and claimed Perenco never received any of her work from Daimi....
Earlier this year, I flew to Peru hoping to meet Montoya myself. What exactly did her evidence consist of, and would she share it with me? On my first day in Iquitos, by complete coincidence, a public meeting about the no contactados was held at the National Institute of Culture. The meeting's stated aim was to find ways to protect Peru's no contactados, numbering an estimated 15 groups in total, and it had been convened by the Peruvian Amazon's Investigation Institute (IIAP) together with INDEPA. The chairperson? None other than Virginia Montoya [25], now working as the head of IIAP's sociodiversity program.

No mention was made of either Lot 67 or Lot 39, although at one point Montoya said, tellingly, that regions should be made off limits even if only one "uncontacted" person was thought to live there. After the meeting, I introduced myself to Montoya, who said she would be "delighted" to talk and suggested ringing her office on Monday to fix a time. When I called I was told she was traveling and wouldn't be back for several days.

In the meantime, I went upriver to get as close to the action as I could. This wasn't easy: a rapido speedboat from Iquitos to a tiny port downstream, a five minute mototaxi ride on a concrete strip through the rainforest, another rapido for four hours up the Napo river to Santa Clotilde, the town where Repsol-YPF had admitted the existence of the no contactados in 2003, and then, after two nights there, I hitched a lift with a logger, whom I'll call "O," going in the same direction. O's boat was a battered old speedboat with no roof, no protection from the sun or the rain. Just me, O, and two workers of his. We left Santa Clotilde after lunch, spent the night at a Kichwa village, and arrived at an indigenous-cum-mestizo village, Buena Vista, one of the remotest in the entire Peruvian Amazon and one of the closest to Lot 67, late the next morning.

Buena Vista was rumored to be difficult. In the past, residents had gone on record about the no contactados,[17] but after striking deals with the oil companies they were now less prepared to talk. Back in Iquitos, the advice had been, "Don't say you're interested in the no contactados or they won't let you stay."

But one of O's two workers, whom I will call "J," was happy to talk.

"Yes, they're there," he told me, one morning, after I had speculated how dangerous his job as a logger must be: the rainforest, the wild animals, the no contactados.

He told me he had seen them, once, four months before. "Groups of them."

What happened? "Nothing. All very calm. We looked at them and they looked back at us."

What were they wearing? No clothes, but they had bracelets, feathers in their noses, red paint under their eyes, and something around their private parts.

I said I had heard that some people in Buena Vista now claimed they didn't exist. He shook his head and said that was because they "didn't want foreigners coming to try and find them."

J continued upriver and left me in Buena Vista, where I spent almost a week. Evidence of Perenco and Repsol-YPF was everywhere: launches and speedboats going up and down the river, orange jumpsuits hanging on washing lines, helicopters overhead, announcements on the village radio about meetings with company personnel and thank-you's to Perenco, Lego given to the children by Repsol-YPF, sweets and mineral water handed out after church. In one house, there was even a DVD of "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," which had been given to the family living there, according to the head of the family, by Repsol-YPF's community relations officer. This was eery: Repsol-YPF had given the Smithsonian Institution $635,000 to work in Lot 39, according to The Washington Times [26], and has used this connection to defend its activities there [27].

Sometimes in Buena Vista, the no contactados came up in conversation without me having to mention them. Over lunch one day, my host, Victoria, mentioned a German evangelical missionary, Christian, who had recently built a house in the village.

"He's here to find the Arabelas malas," she said - literally, the "bad Arabelas." Buena Vista was officially an indigenous Arabela village, but many of its residents were mestizos.

Who did she mean? "The people who live hidden, further upriver."

"The no contactados!" her husband chimed in, his mouth full of plantains.

Others in Buena Vista said the same. One evening on the village's main drag, standing around a blaring television, I got talking to an old man, Modesto, who had lived there for years. He was calm until I asked about the no contactados.

"There aren't any, mister!" he cried, suddenly very agitated. "We've got to work with the company!"

He gestured how the seismic lines and the no contactados were in different places.

"This is where the seismic lines are," he said, "and the no contactados are here over the border with Ecuador."

He called them the "no adoptados, the people we don't know much about."

Then he mentioned the missionary. "He's come here to look for them, to talk to them, to teach them."

Back in Iquitos, I tried to meet Montoya again, but I was told she was still away and to ring back. This was becoming the story of my life. What to do? First, find the missionary. Second, track down the 22 people listed as contributors to Daimi's research and 2008 report. If Montoya wouldn't blow the whistle, maybe someone else would?

Finding a missionary named Christian in a city of several hundred thousand people wasn't easy, but eventually, after knocking on random church doors, I found someone who knew someone who knew him and could direct me to his church. Within minutes, I had found out his full name and was speaking to his wife on the phone. She invited me to dinner. Christian mentioned the no contactados before I did, after asking about Buena Vista.

"There are petrol companies up there. There's another tribe up there. I was looking for them ... I want to give them the chance to receive the Gospel," he told me in excellent English.

He was due to travel to Buena Vista very soon. To look for the no contactados? "Yes."

Had the people there ever spoken to him about them? He nodded, as if to say, "Many times."
What did they say? "Years ago, they said they were there. Now, it's not convenient for them."
What did Perenco and Repsol-YPF think of his work? "They don't like it."

Christian said how easily rumors could spread in Buena Vista, and how many there had been about him - for example,  that he was "selling information to NGOs."

Information about what? "About the tribe above."

The three lead authors of Daimi's report were almost all equally candid. First I spoke to Grandez, the UNAP anthropologist who had gone into the field with Daimi and had been quoted by The Guardian two years before.

"We found evidence of their existence," Grandez told me in his UNAP office. "There were signs. We never said there weren't any."

Grandez said that, in the most remote village in the region, just upriver from Buena Vista, he had heard how one man, Alejandro, had seen the no contactados - one woman and two children - and had returned home, scared, to tell his wife. Grandez wanted to hear this from Alejandro firsthand, so he visited his house, but he was away, working, and only his wife was in.

"It was nine o'clock at night," Grandez told me. "I called out to her once, twice, three times, and when she opened the door, she asked me what I wanted. I told her. She invited me in, lit a candle, and we began to talk. Her husband had been upriver, she said, and saw several people, all naked, gathering suri grubs."

Did he tell Daimi? Yes, he said, he told Daimi representative Violeta Chamorro, but it didn't appear in the report. There was even more evidence than this, he said, but he didn't have it on hand.

Grandez was especially critical of how little time he had to investigate: five days upriver from Buena Vista, more or less. "It was all so quick. More studies need to be done. For us, as professional anthropologists, it wasn't satisfactory."

Did Daimi deliberately conceal the no contactados' existence? Grandez chuckled and said, "They've come to the conclusion that suits them."

While we were talking, another of the cited lead authors of Daimi's report entered the office. This was Rosa Aguilera Rios, another UNAP anthropologist, who hadn't gone into the field with Grandez but had read a "draft report" about their findings. What did the draft say?
"That some signs of their existence were found," Aguilera replied.

I remarked that Daimí's 2008 report claimed no evidence was found. Aguilera appeared to be unaware of this, pulled a shocked face and appealed to Grandez, on her right, for confirmation.
"Of course," he said.

"You can't say there isn't any evidence for their existence," said Aguilera, who had visited the Napo-Tigre region years before, "because there is evidence.  There are people all over that area who have seen them, who talk about them."

Did she think there are no contactados there? "Of course."

She said the man to speak to about the draft was Jose Moscoso Conde, another lead author, another UNAP anthropologist who had gone into the field and shared the same office.

"We didn't see them ourselves, but we found signs," Moscoso told me. "We heard about one sighting and saw broken arrows and cut branches."

He talked in detail about the sighting: how one local man had seen "two people, naked, about 200-300 meters away, a long way away. They realized a mestizo was watching them and fled."
Moscoso said this sighting, along with information about a path or track, camps or fire remains believed to belong to the no contactados, was included in a paper copy draft which he, together with Grandez, signed but which now he didn't have. When I told him Daimi's report claimed no evidence at all was found, he seemed extremely surprised, like Aguilera.

"Our intention was to sound an alert so an area could be created for the no contactados which the companies couldn't enter," Moscoso said.

It was extraordinary: all three lead authors were saying the precise opposite of what Daimi's report claimed. Did other contributors feel the same? Some were in Iquitos, some Lima, others elsewhere. One, whom I will call "A," who did not confirm whether I could use his name or not, informed me that the following evidence for the no contactados was 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...."

A said he had been in Buena Vista and the village upriver, Flor de Coco, for a month, "talking to the Arabela about their uncontacted relatives," then spent another month upriver from there, and then another month along another river. What happened to all this evidence?

"It was all given to Daimi," he said. "We were left with nothing. The videos, photos, recordings ... they have it all."

What did he think of Daimi claiming no evidence was found?

"The final report was dressed up and presented as if no evidence was found in order not to cause any problems for the government ... It makes no mention of what any of the local people told us. They deny it all. Yes, they say there aren't any no contactados, but time will tell.

Which other contributors might confirm that evidence was found? Two people, independent of each other, suggested I speak to Haroldo Salazar Rossi, but Salazar, working for INDEPA, now part of the Culture Ministry, denied it.

"Nothing, nothing was found, no recent evidence, no evidence found," he told me in his office in Peru's National Museum in Lima, although he did point out that they had wanted to visit an area where no contactados were reported to have been seen but it was too far away.

Salazar didn't deny their existence entirely. They had wanted to "do a good job," he said, but there wasn't enough time, meaning large areas weren't visited at all. For example, Lot 39, which completely surrounds Lot 67. For example, the Pucacuro Reserve, a supposedly protected area. In short, Salazar's conclusion was: "It can't be said the no contactados don't exist. You can't say there are or there aren't any."

Linguist Rossana Arbaiza Gonzales, another of the listed contributors, said the same. She cancelled our meeting in Lima, but emailed this: "We only visited half of the places we were supposed to ... Given that, we can neither confirm or deny the existence of isolated indigenous peoples in the areas we didn't go to."

But some of the listed contributors did deny their existence. "Fiction," said archaeologist Ruben Wong Robles in his Lima office. "Total lies," said Klever Oversluijs Quevedo in Iquitos. "No traces were found," said anthropologist Felix Auqui Baygorrea via email from Cusco, although Auqui pointed out the Daimi team had entered the region after seismic tests had already been done. That is, the no contactados might have been scared out of the region before Daimi even got there.

Explaining such differences in opinion isn't difficult. For people continuing to work for Perenco, or in the industry in general, or those who may want to do so in the future, admitting any evidence was found clearly isn't in their interests. Or they may genuinely be unaware that any evidence was found: after all, different teams of people went to different places at different times. When I asked forestry engineer Peter del Risco Torres, who went into the field with Daimi but wasn't listed in its report, about Virginia Montoya, he said he had never heard of her.
"Do you think it's possible that someone found evidence, but you just didn't know about it?" I asked Oversluijs, remarking that although he said no evidence had been found, others disagreed.

"Who said that?"

"Virginia Montoya."

"She saw some footprints," he said dismissively, as if that didn't matter.

Montoya never saw me, though. I tricked my way into her Iquitos office, got her mobile number, and spoke to her. She told me if I flew from Iquitos to Lima, she would meet me. She didn't. She didn't answer her mobile again. I left messages for days running; I texted her; I emailed her: no reply. Not even visiting IIAP's satellite office in Lima helped. There, an IIAP employee rang another number for Montoya and an assistant answered and promised he would ring back later, about four o'clock, with a time the next day, about noon, to meet Montoya. He never did so.

Why wouldn't Montoya talk? Explaining that isn't difficult either. Her employer, IIAP, is a Peruvian government institute within the Environment ministry [28], and the government is so determined to keep Perenco working in Lot 67, it has declared operations there a "national necessity." [29] Second, Montoya, in her IIAP role, is, or has been, working closely with INDEPA [30], anothergovernment institute [31], which has since done its own U-turn from its June 2007 position, and now claims there isn't enough evidence to prove the no contactados exist, after all. Third, IIAPsigned a deal [32] earlier this year with - guess who - Perenco, the stated aim of which is to carry out "biodiversity studies, cultural salvage work, and strengthening of productive activities" in the Lot 67 region.

Not that Montoya was the likeliest to speak out anyway, if her past record is anything to go by. Back in 2003, AIDESEP slammed a report of hers about Peru's biggest gas fields where other no contactados were in danger, describing her as being "extremely well known" for being on the side of oil and gas companies and "bolstering the argument that our isolated brothers don't exist so that oil and gas activities can continue happening."[18] Sound familiar? AIDESEP was so angered by this report, it declared her co-author, Juan Ossio, persona non grata in the Amazon [19], which is ironic given that Ossio is now the culture minister, [33] the titular head of INDEPA, and has been under fire again [34]in recent weeks after revealing new plans [35]making it easier for oil and gas companies to operate on no contactados' land elsewhere in Peru.
A coverup has taken place: none of the evidence found by Grandez, Moscoso, A or Montoya found its way into Daimi's report.

Neither did Montoya's own name. Who else was omitted, and what might they know?

I visited Daimi's office in Iquitos to ask such questions, but they had moved on. Punching their name into Google revealed a (spoof?) Facebook account [36], with a profile photo of a man wearing a balaclava and clutching a laptop and a wad of US dollars.

Currently, Perenco is gearing up to build a more than 200 kilometer pipeline [37]right through the Napo-Tigre region, while Repsol-YPF has recently acquired a new partner in Lot 39,PetroVietnam [38], after ConocoPhillips sold its stake. Now that this cover-up has been exposed, there should be no delay in aborting any such pipeline plans or further exploration and leaving some of Peru's most vulnerable citizens, some of the world's last "uncontacted" people, to live in peace.

If that doesn't happen, they could be wiped out.

Chamorro and IIAP's president, Luis Campos Baca, did not respond to questions about their work in Lot 67.

1. Estudio Técnico: Delimitación Territorial a favor de los pueblos indígenas en situación de Aislamiento Voluntario ubicados en la Cuenca Alta de los Rios Curaray, Napo, Arabela, Nashino, Pucacuro, Tigre y Afluentes, AIDESEP, 2005.
2. Ibid.
3. Letter to Survival International, 17 May 2007.
4. Letter to the Energy Ministry, 29 March 2007.
5. Informe Defensorial 101: Pueblos indígenas en situación de aislamiento voluntario y contacto inicial, Defensoria del Pueblo, 2006.
6. Letter to the Energy Ministry, 5 June 2007.
7. Plan de Medidas Cautelares a favor de los Pueblos Taromenani y Tagaeri, presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2007.
8. Resumen del Seminario Taller: Promocion de la Actividad de Hidrocarburos en Comunidades Indígenas, 2003.
9. Plan de Contingencia para pueblos indígenas en aislamiento voluntario y/o no contactados, Repsol-YPF, 10 July 2007.
10. Plan de Contingencias Antropólogico para Pueblos Indígenas Indígenas en Aislamiento Voluntario, Barrett Resources, 2007.
11. Estudio de Impacto Ambiental de la Prospección Sísmica 3D del Lote 67, Barrett Resources, 2007.
12.  Statement by the Energy Ministry, 17 December 2006.
13. Estudio Técnico: Delimitación Territorial a favor de los pueblos indígenas en situación de Aislamiento Voluntario ubicados en la Cuenca Alta de los Rios Curaray, Napo, Arabela, Nashino, Pucacuro, Tigre y Afluentes, AIDESEP, 2005.
14. Estudio Técnico: Delimitación Territorial a favor de los pueblos indígenas en situación de Aislamiento Voluntario ubicados en la Cuenca Alta de los Rios Curaray, Napo, Arabela, Nashino, Pucacuro, Tigre y Afluentes, AIDESEP, 2005.
15. Fortalecimiento de la Propuesta de Creacion de la Reserva Territorial Napo-Tigre, ORPIO, 2009.
16. Rapid Biological Inventories, 18, Nanay-Mazan-Arabela, The Field Museum, 2007.
17. Estudio Técnico: Delimitación Territorial a favor de los pueblos indígenas en situación de Aislamiento Voluntario ubicados en la Cuenca Alta de los Rios Curaray, Napo, Arabela, Nashino, Pucacuro, Tigre y Afluentes, AIDESEP, 2005. Fortalecimiento de la Propuesta de Creacion de la Reserva Territorial Napo-Tigre, ORPIO, 2009.
18. AIDESEP statement 1 July 2003.
19. Ibid. AIDESEP confirmed Ossio is still persona non grata, eight years later, in a recent statement [39].