Bush Administration-linked Gas Project in Peru may be Held Liable for 15 Deaths

According to reports from conservationist groups, 15 indigenous children died from illnesses previously unknown in the area of works.

The story starts In November 2002. By that time, PRAVDA.Ru reported about a huge gas project in Peru that could threat Amazonian rainforests. Quoting reports from The Washington Post and environmental organizations, the article was reproduced by the independent media and specialized resources as the Alexander Gas & Oil Connections.

Argentine, Peruvian and Texas based oil companies participate in the project. One of the US giants engaged is the Halliburton Co. of Houston, in charge of designing a $1 billion terminal to ship liquefied gas from the Peruvian coast to the United States. The US Vice President, Dick Cheney is a former chairman and chief executive officer of Halliburton. Not surprisingly, Washington recently backed Peru to obtain funds from the Inter-American Bank for developing the Camisea project.

On Tuesday, Associated Press reported that 15 Nanti children who lived near the Camisea natural gas project died between August and December from illnesses previously unknown to their area. The Nantis are an indigenous tribe that have no contacts with the white man and have lived in the Amazonian forests for centuries.

The Rainforest Action Network, Environmental Defense, the Bank Information Center, the Institute for Policy Studies, the Friends of the Earth International and Amazon Watch said contact with Camisea workers endangers isolated communities that lack immunities to diseases common to modern societies. Therefore, the 15 children could have become infected by the simple contact with Camisea workers.

However, a representative of the Argentine Oil Company Pluspetrol, the anthropologist Jose Luis Carbajal rejected claims made by conservationists. Carbajal said that the Nanti communities, which are two days' travel by river from the Camisea project area, frequently contact Pluspetrol workers by radio. "If people were dying, they would have called us", he said to AP.

According to Carbajal, Camisea workers are heavily vaccinated, evacuated from the jungle if they become sick and required to report contact with indigenous groups. He also said that work on the project is monitored by the Peruvian government, unlike the scores of environmentalists, evangelical missionaries and anthropology students who have been making contact with native groups in the Camisea area for more than a decade.

Notwithstanding, it is not clear whether strong security measures have been adopted to prevent environmental damages. By pressure of the conservationists groups, the Government of Peru signed a US$ 5 million loan in January to improve environmental supervision of the project and Peru's Government pledged to contribute with another US$2.2 million. Also, Peru's finance minister visited Washington last month in search of a US$75 million loan to fund the pipeline to transport the natural gas to Lima.

All in all, it is clear that a US$ 1.35 billion project is enough reason to justify a certain threat to the world's largest biologically diverse rain forest and a number of indigenous lives. Peru wants to pay its foreign debt by piping gas over the Andes to the coast and for the giant multinational oil corporations is an excellent profitable business.

As for Washington, this project is part of an openly declared strategy, which consists of obtaining new alternative energy resources, as quickly as possible. In fact, the above named US Vice -President Dick Cheney first stated this strategy on the report of the National Energy Policy Development Group, as the necessity of increasing US energy reserves in controlled areas outside the country.

Hernan Etchaleco PRAVDA.Ru Argentina

Photo (www.perupetro.com): View of the Camisea project pipeline construction.