Indigenous people are asking the Vatican to remove a controversial Catholic priest who is pushing for a road through a remote part of Peru’s Amazon region.
The road through a national park in the Purus region in southeast Peru would threaten two uncontacted tribes, including the Mashco-Piro, photographs of whom made headlines around the world in January. Uncontacted tribes are extremely vulnerable to any form of contact with outsiders because they do not have immunity to Western diseases.
Miguel Piovesan, who is Italian, has been vigorously promoting the highway in his parish magazine, on the parish radio and even during mass in the local church.
FECONAPU, an indigenous organization based in Perus’s only town where almost everyone is indigenous, Puerto Esperanza, says that Piovesan is running a “disinformation campaign” and that he has “insulted,” “mocked,” “humiliated” and “defamed” Purus’s indigenous residents opposed to his plans.
The priest has previously denied the existence of the tribes, leading one critic to describe him as “believing in the existence of God but not in indigenous people who live in voluntary isolation.”
FECONAPU wants the Vatican to remove the priest and are questioning his “real motives.”
“It’s reprehensible that a representative of God should adopt this kind of attitude,” says ORAU, an indigenous organization, based in Pucallpa, to which FECONAPU is affiliated. “It’s an attitude that is far removed from his role as an evangelist and quite different from what is recommended by the Catholic church.”
Peru’s Bishops have opposed the economic exploitation of the Amazon.
The indigenous people are supported by the director of the national park, Arsenio Calle Cordova, who says that a road will lead to massive illegal logging, particularly of ‘red gold’ — mahogony — as has happened elsewhere in the Amazon. Others have warned it will lead to a flood of drug trafficking, mining and poaching of animals.
Last year, I reported on how a Brazilian NGO had alleged that Amazonian loggers had ‘burned alive’ a child from uncontacted members of the Awá, and last month on how Colin Firth has launched a campaign to save ‘Earth’s most threatened tribe’ – the Awá of the Brazilian Amazon, many of whom are the survivors of brutal massacres.
The World Wildlife Fund says that the region contains “a vast portion of the Amazon in its original state.”
Piovesan has received support from members of Peru’s parliament, who say they will lobby for the road’s construction, but international law recognizes the Indians’ land as theirs, just as it recognizes their right to live on it as they want to.
Peru has been ignoring United Nations guidance and past experience and allowing oil and gas exploration in the region. In the early 1980s, Shell workers opened up paths into the uncontacted Nahua Indians’ land. Diseases soon wiped out half the tribe.
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Picture of Mashco-Piro people courtesy Survival International