The president of the Alto Purús indigenous federation (FECONAPU), Emilio Montes Bardales, calls for support from conservation and indigenous rights groups in his fight against a proposed highway. During a recent interview, Mr. Montes expressed his utmost concern for highway bill #75/2016-CR, recently submitted to Peru’s congress, which proposes construction of a paved highway across the Alto Purús National Park and the Madre de Dios Indigenous Reserve for isolated tribes. It would connect the Interoceanic Highway in Madre de Dios to the remote and relatively undisturbed Alto Purús region, one of the wildest places left anywhere in the world. The indigenous communities of the Alto Purús region, who will be most impacted by the road, have repeatedly rejected the proposal over the last decade. In addition, the indigenous federation representing the tribes on the Madre de Dios side (FENEMAD) also vehemently opposes the planned highway, warning that it would result in genocide for isolated tribes.
Proponents are led by a Catholic priest, who claims the highway is needed to bring economic development to the region. However, his small group of supporters are mainly non-indigenous, “mestizo” land-owners, business owners, or others connected to the logging industry who are poised to benefit financially. Currently the Alto Purús is accessible from the rest of Peru by plane or by river from Brazil. The priest has successfully lobbied members of Peru’s new government to submit the bill. In fact, a similar version of the bill was submitted in 2012 and rejected by Congress due to overwhelming opposition by the region’s indigenous tribes. H0wever, the new bill claims that the highway is a “public necessity” for the people of the Alto Purús of “national interest” for Peru. This language is needed to approve a road though a national park.
According to FECONAPU’s Montes:
“The Federation feels abandoned . . .even though we are wealthy with abundant flora and fauna, we live in fear of the road and the pro-road groups . . . the priest is taking advantage of a weak federation to manipulate the people, filling the streets with pro-road propaganda. We lack the funds to respond. I want to ask the non-governmental organizations to provide more support to FECONAPU so we can respond to his campaign and communicate with our constituents. We need more financial support from the NGO’s, more projects that strengthen the federation.”
UAC and its sister organization, ProPurús, have been working with the indigenous peoples of the Alto Purús for over a decade. We are developing new strategies to support FECONAPU in their struggle against the road proponents, ensuring that their traditional rights as stewards of the Alto Purús are respected.
Additional information on the highway:
Copy of the Bill describing the highway a “public necessity” and of “national interest”