Protecting a lifeline with weapons

Protecting a lifeline with weapons

tooth and nail

Protecting a lifeline with weapons

Matses are the indigenous tribe of the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon. There are almost 3,500 Matses – 1,700 of whom live on the Peruvian side and almost 1,600 on the Brazilian side.

The Matses have publicly opposed operations by Canada-based firm Pacific Rubiales Energy for at least five years, but they say that neither the company nor Perupetro, the government body which granted the licences to two oil concessions in Peru, are taking any notice. “We have told the company no, but it isn’t listening,” says Nestor Binan Waki, a Puerto Alegre resident. “Our patience is running out. We have nothing more to say. The only thing we have is our spears.”
Past reflects in the present.

Many Matses stress that previous generations were forced to fight against rubber-tappers, loggers, road-builders and soldiers invading their territories, and that they could do the same now. “Even before contact (in the late 1960s), there was always conflict in this region,” says Romulo Teca another resident from Puerto Alegre. “It could come to that again. We are the sons of those fighters. We can defend ourselves with arms like they did. I’ll always fight to ensure no oil companies enter.”

“Our fathers had to defend our territories and fight with other tribes, mestizos and soldiers. Why don’t we continue that position, given that we are the sons of fighting fathers?” Felipe Reyna Regijo, from Remoyacu village in Peru, told a bi-national meeting held by the Matses recently. The bi-national meeting concluded with the total rejection by the Matses of both oil concessions, and stressing the social and environmental impacts of oil operations elsewhere in Peru.

The Matses based in Brazil are equally concerned about the concessions – partly because they consider the Peruvian side of the border their territory too and partly because of the potential impacts on the Brazilian side where they live in the protected Javari Valley, one of the largest indigenous territories in the country. “We don’t want the oil company,” says Waki Mayoruna, the head of the remotest Matses village, Lobo, in Brazil. “No means no. If they don’t listen to us, there’ll be conflict that’ll lead to people being killed. That will always be my position.”
“We’ll always fight against the invasion of our territories,” says Jose Tumi, from Sao Meireles in Brazil. “We could fight like we have done in the past, with bows and arrows. We’re not afraid of dying.”

Brazilian anthropologist Beatriz de Almeida Matos, who has worked with the Matses for 10 years, says that they will do whatever it takes to defend their territory from anything threatening their way of life and existence.

Neglected opinions
“It wasn’t so long ago, in the 1970s and 1980s, there were conflicts between
Matses and non-indigenous people in their territories, with deaths on both sides,” she says.

“If they’re not consulted and their decisions not respected, they’ll understand dialogue is over and defend themselves by taking up arms again.”

The Matses say they were not consulted by Peru’s government before the two
concessions were established in 2007, which is their right under a legally-binding agreement ratified by Peru in 1994. But Pacific Rubiales claims that this right has only applied since 2012.

According to Peruvian NGO CEDIA, one of the concessions, Lot 137, includes 49 per cent of the Matses’s titled community land in Peru and 36 per cent of a supposedly ‘protected natural area’ called the Matses National Reserve, which they consider their territory too. The other concession, Lot 135, also includes community land, the reserve, and other areas considered as Matse’s territory, as well as a huge chunk of a proposed reserve for indigenous people living in what Peruvian law and indigenous organisations call isolation or voluntary isolation.

The eastern boundary of Lot 135 and part of Lot 137 is the River Yaquerana – which acts as the Brazil-Peru border and many Matses from both countries rely on for drinking water, cooking, washing, bathing and fishing. Together, the two concessions cover almost 1.5 million hectares and have been estimated to hold almost one billion barrels of oil. Some
exploration has already been done by Pacific Rubiales in Lot 135, starting in late 2012, which involved conducting seismic tests and drilling wells.

Aggressive statements made by Matses men stress on wielding and thrusting long spears or carrying bows and arrows.

Former president of the Matses community in Peru, Angel Uaqui Dunu Maya,
focusses on the potential environmental impacts and the Matses’s past experience of oil operations in the 1970s when many people died of illnesses as a result. “Yes, in my opinion, it’s certain that this is going to create a lot of conflict between the Matses and the state,” he says.

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