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Vested interests pushing Amazonian highway bill, putting uncontacted groups and the environment at risk under the guise of development

15th May 2013

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Plans to build a 270 km highway through the Peruvian Amazon are mired in legal violations and potential conflicts of interest, said Global Witness in a new report today.

The Purús highway bill, currently being considered by Peru’s Congress, proposes a new road between Puerto Esperanza (Ucayali) and Iñapari (Madre de Dios) in the Amazon rainforest. This pristine wilderness harbours the richest stands of mahogany left in Peru (1),  and is home to some of the few remaining indigenous groups living in ‘voluntary isolation’(2).

If approved, the new highway would have devastating impacts on the environment and indigenous communities in the area, violating laws on protected areas, the consultation rights of indigenous peoples and protections for ‘uncontacted’ indigenous groups. The Transport Committee, which is charged with making recommendations to Congress, however, has failed to highlight any of these concerns in its official deliberations.

“It is crucial that investment comes to the isolated Purús region to improve services for the population, but there are important questions to be answered over who this project would actually benefit. The huge social and environmental costs that would result from this new highway have not been properly assessed and Congress should vote it down,” said Billy Kyte, campaigner at Global Witness.

Global Witness’ investigation suggests that access to valuable commodities such as timber and gold, which the highway would provide, may be one of the driving factors behind the bill’s support:

  • Local officials previously drew up an illegal contract with logging company Agro Industrial SAC granting logging rights along the road in return for its construction. Priest Miguel Piovesan, a key promoter of the highway locally, led the negotiations over the deal that was never signed in full.
  • Congressman Carlos Tubino, the bill’s main sponsor, was Political Military Head of Ucayali at a time when illegal timber from Purús was openly transported using military planes.
  • Congressman Francisco Ccama, another key supporter, has extensive gold mining interests and potentially stands to benefit through the opening up of new gold reserves.

“There are so many concerns with this proposal, it’s worrying that things have even got this far. Some of the most vocal supporters of this project have links to timber and gold interests, two commodities sure to be extracted from the area via any new highway. Such voices are dominating the debate while calls from Peru’s National Ministries and indigenous organisations to reject the bill are being ignored,” said Kyte.

The report also documents bribery and other crimes at the local level associated with the highway plans:  

  • Forest is being illegally cleared along the route of the proposed highway, using funds provided by the local municipality in Purús.
  • The Purús municipality has been accused of fraudulently obtaining the signatures of indigenous peoples to falsely claim indigenous peoples’ support for the highway.
  • One indigenous leader was offered a bribe of 30,000 Soles (around US$10,000) to gain the support of indigenous groups for the road project.

Global Witness is calling for the bill to be suspended, pending a full investigation into evidence of legal violations, and potential conflicts of interest.

“Peru’s Congress should suspend the bill. A parliamentary investigative committee needs to urgently look into these allegations whilst the bill’s implications are properly examined”, said Kyte. 

Contacts:

In Peru: Billy Kyte +51 962623604; bkyte@globalwitness.org

In UK: Oli Courtney +44 7912517147; ocourtney@globalwitness.org

Notes to editors:

(1)      Global Witness put the allegations contained in the report to the principal individuals and companies involved. Responses were received from several parties including Congressman Carlos Tubino and Agro Industrial SAC, denying many of our allegations. Their responses are summarised within the report and are available upon request.

(2)      SPDA et al, Impact of the land connection between Iñapari and Puerto Esperanza, 2012; and Kometter et al, Impacts of unsustainable mahogany logging in Bolivia and Peru,  Ecology and Society 9(1): 12, 2004   

(3)      Upper Amazon Conservancy, Peru: Illegal Mahogany Logging Continues in Reserve for Uncontacted Tribes, July 2010