Bolivia & Chinese Oil Exploration

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Thanks as always to the Guardian for its coverage of important environmental issues:

Fears for isolated Bolivian tribe met by Chinese oil firm in Amazon

Company operating near the border with Peru has reportedly had near encounters with indigenous people living in “isolation

David Hill

Teams from a Chinese oil and gas company exploring in the remote Bolivian Amazon have reportedly had near encounters with a group of indigenous people living in what the United Nations calls “isolation”, raising major concern for the group’s welfare.

The company doing the exploring, BGP Bolivia, is ultimately a subsidiary of the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), one of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world. The near encounters are reported to have taken place in the north-west of the country, close to the border with Peru and just to the east of the world-famous Madidi National Park.

One near encounter has been confirmed in a BGP report dated 17 September. It includes hand-written statements by three eyewitnesses – all Bolivian nationals – as well as photographs of evidence provided by two BGP teams believed to confirm the isolated group’s existence.

“Personnel from the team called Topografia 10 reported the presence of possible members of originarios indigenous people shouting and calling out. . . initially about 100 metres away,” states the report, written by BGP’s Yu Fengbo and Alfredo Salvador and dated the same day as the encounter. “Afterwards, the three workers reported that they continued to hear shouts and calls, getting increasingly closer until they were about 80 metres away and it became clear they were men and women. . . Their immediate reaction was to stay calm in order not to be detected. Later, the shouting stopped and the team, with considerable caution, began its return to camp.”

One of BGP’s team, Freddy Mullisaca, reported hearing a “shout from an uncivilised man about 100 metres away on our right”, before feeling scared and later hearing further shouts about 80 metres away. Another, Jose Carlos Paredes Caiti, described how “we heard a shout up to about 80 to 100 metres away on our right. We kept calm and stayed together. We approached the stake [used for the team’s survey work] and the shouts could be heard like they were surrounding us. We were scared but [continued working], while I watched to check no one came near us. We finished. . . and then heard various shouts by men and women.”

BGP’s 17 September report effectively acknowledges that this wasn’t the first time evidence of indigenous people in “isolation” has been found during its operations, noting that on 12 September a member of Topografia 10 had said, via radio, that they had come across “paths and human footprints.” The report states that this raised the possibility that there were “people hunting in the area”, but it wasn’t “sufficient to indicate the presence of possible members of originarios indigenous peoples.” The third member of Topografia 10, Franklin Beltran Aguada, appears to refer to this evidence in his testimony about the 17 September encounter, saying he had found signs of “uncivilized people” prior to that.

A BGP report issued two days later, also written by Yu Fengbo and Alfredo Salvador, records another near encounter involving a different BGP team. According to the report, Topografia 3 “reported the presence of possible members of originarios indigenous peoples” sometime between 23:00 on 18 September and very early morning of 19 September near a fly camp and helicopter landing area, where some company belongings were attacked.

Yet further evidence of indigenous people in “isolation” has been reported as a result of BGP’s operations – although it isn’t included in either of the company’s 17 or 19 September reports. On 14 September, the Central de Comunidades Indigenas Tacana II Rio Madre de Dios (CITRMD), an organization representing indigenous Tacana people, wrote to Bolivia’s Vice-Ministry of Justice and Vice-Ministry of the Environment, among others, urgently requesting government intervention and expressing “serious concern” about the threats posed by the company.

According to the CITRMD, evidence for “uncontacted” indigenous people – “footprints and broken branches” – had been found by Cuadrilla 7, another BGP team, on 20 and 23 August. In addition, the CITRMD alleges further evidence was found by Topografia 10 on 13 September, although BGP’s 17 September report says that team found nothing on that day…

Read the whole article here.

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