Oil chief ? Do uncontacted tribes really exist?

The president of Perupetro, the government body responsible for granting oil exploration licences, has caused outrage after calling into doubt the existence of uncontacted Indian tribes in the Peruvian Amazon.

The comments come after the Peruvian government recently opened up 70% of its rainforest to oil exploration. Some of this territory is inhabited by uncontacted tribes. A vast amount of evidence for their existence has been collected by Survival, local indigenous organisations and other researchers going back decades, ranging from the testimonies of other Indians to sightings, encounters, photographs, and even reports of violent clashes with loggers and oil workers.

Yet Perupetro’s president, Daniel Saba, said during an interview on Peruvian TV, ‘It’s absurd to say there are uncontacted peoples when no one has seen them. So, who are these uncontacted tribes people are talking about?’

The uncontacted Indians have no immunity to outsiders’ diseases because of their isolation from the rest of society and any form of contact, no matter how brief, can be fatal. Following oil exploration on their land in the 1980s, more than 50% of the Nahua tribe died.

Survival’s director, Stephen Corry, said today, ‘Doubtless Mr Saba would much rather there were no uncontacted Indians in the areas where he wants to explore for oil. Declaring they don’t exist at all, however, is a shameful self-fulfilling prophecy. If Perupetro allows companies to go in, it’s likely to destroy the Indians completely and then they really won’t exist.’

For further information contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]