João Zinclar

Two major corporations pull out of controversial Amazon projects

By 16 May, 2011

Two weeks ago Santander Bank pulled out of the controversial Santo Antonio dam project, citing environmental and social concerns. Now, oil giant ConocoPhillips have pulled out of a similarly controversial project in the Peruvian Amazon.

The decision of Santander to pull out of the Santo Antonio dam project was a serious blow to its progress. The dam is one of a series of dams planned for the Amazon that have prompted protests in Brazil and around the world. Earlier this year, three indigenous leaders from the Amazon traveled to Europe to protest against the dams.

Santo Antonio and another dam, Jirau, are both being built on the Madeira River, at an estimated cost of US$15 billion. Both dams will devastate large numbers of indigenous people, including isolated Indians whose presence near the dams has been documented by the government.

Santander (parent bank of Sovereign in the US) had reportedly been due to provide approximately US$400 million for the scheme, but has now suspended its funding pending further environmental and social impact studies from the Brazilian authorities.

Many organisations around the world, including Survival International, have called for the project to be scrapped. Valmir Parintintin, leader of a Parintintin Indian community, stated, “The government has still not come and spoken to us about what impacts the dam will have. The market, the supermarket of the Indians is the river. If the dam is built, what will happen to the Indians’ way of life? Will anybody bring us food? No. Nobody will bring us anything. We are very worried.”

The news of ConocoPhilllips pulling out of the controversial oil block 39 in the northern Peruvian Amazon could be a significant step for those opposed to the project. More than 50 international NGOs signed a letter from Survival International last year asking oil companies Repsol, Perenco and ConocoPhillips to withdraw immediately from the region.

Uncontacted Indians lack immunity to diseases brought by oil workers and could react violently if their lands are at threat. ConocoPhillips held a 45% interest in block 39, which is majority owned by Spanish-Argentine company Repsol-YPF.

Survival International have recently been applying much pressure to Repsol to step away from the project. Last month they released a document with compelling evidence stating why the company’s work should not endanger the lives of uncontacted tribes and of the company’s workers themselves. You can read that document at the Survival website here.

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