Rumble in the jungle

Could Peru’s uncontacted Amazonian tribes be wiped out by oil giants? Not if they don’t exist … Rory Carroll investigates

Saturday 4 July 2009


Stand on the muddy riverbank at Copal Urco just before dawn and it is easy to see why the Amazon breeds legends. The vast river swishes past, almost invisible in the gloom. Insect and animal noises seep from the dense blackness of the forest. The day barely begun and already humid. As the sun rises the blackness recedes, revealing massive, tightly packed trees. Even when the light hardens it fails to penetrate far inside the jungle. The foliage is too thick, a wall sealing off an impenetrable realm.

Here is where fables begin. Anacondas the length of 10 men; ancient stone cities filled with treasure; spirits who answer a whistle; white tribes descended from conquistador shipwrecks. The stories have tantalised for centuries but the one that endures is that of uncontacted tribes – isolated communities of nomads who live deep in the forest much as their ancestors have done for millennia, cut off from the modern world.

To the village of Copal Urco, home to a few hundred indigenous Kichwa farmers and fishermen near Peru’s border with Ecuador, uncontacted tribes are no myth. They themselves were uncontacted once, until European missionaries and soldiers sailed up their river, and they say such groups still live deeper in their forest. Some are thought to have had brief contact with outsiders decades ago during the rubber boom but then, frightened or repulsed, retreated. They have mostly covered their tracks since, says Roger Yume, 38, the village apu, or chief. «We have seen the signs.» Footprints, tracks through foliage, occasional glimpses of fleeting figures – there is no doubt. «They exist. Our brothers exist.»

Not everyone agrees. The existence of uncontacted tribes in Brazil and Ecuador is accepted, but Peru’s government has ridiculed the notion of such communities in its part of the Amazon. President Alan Garcia says the «figure of the jungle native» is a ruse to prevent oil exploration. Daniel Saba, former head of the state oil company, is even more scornful. «It’s absurd to say there are uncontacted peoples when no one has seen them. So, who are these uncontacted tribes people are talking about?»

It is an urgent question. Peru, home to 70m hectares of Amazon, second in size only to Brazil, has parcelled up almost three-quarters of its rainforest for oil and gas projects. Of 64 exploration blocks, known as lots, all but eight have been created since 2004. «The Peruvian Amazon is now experiencing a huge wave of hydrocarbon exploration,» says Matt Finer, co-author of a study of oil and gas projects in the western Amazon by Duke University and Save America’s Forests.

Oil extraction is not subtle. It involves helicopters, barges, road clearance, drilling platforms, wells and pipelines. Technology is cleaner than before but still pollutes waterways and frightens game. And the workers still bring germs, which threaten tribes with no immunity to outsiders’ diseases. Flu and other ailments brought by conquistadors wiped out much of Latin America’s indigenous population, and more recent interlopers – loggers, missionaries, scientists and journalists – have wrought deadly consequences in isolated communities. After incursions by oil men into Nahua territory in the 1980s, more than half the tribe reportedly died. «If companies go in, it’s likely to destroy the Indians completely and then they really won’t exist,» says Stephen Corry of the advocacy group Survival International.

Even oil companies admit their presence would have serious implications for uncontacted tribes. The question is: are there any? If so, by law, the exploration should be halted or at least heavily circumscribed. That would impede Peru’s hopes of becoming a net oil exporter – a windfall that could go a long way in an impoverished nation of 28m. Social anthropologists say that would be a small price for preserving humanity’s rich mosaic.

The frontline of this existential battle is Lot 67. A swath of jungle in the Maranon basin in north-east Peru, it comprises the Paiche, Dorado and Pirana oilfields, which contain an estimated 300m barrels – a geological and commercial jackpot. An Anglo-French company, Perenco, holds exclusive rights. It plans to spend $2bn – the country’s biggest investment – drilling 100 wells from 10 platforms. The crude will be shipped and piped 600 miles to the Pacific coast. Extensive seismic testing has been conducted and installations built. Barges await the first barrels.

To settled indigenous communities such as Copal Urco, this spells death to their «hidden brothers». They say there are three uncontacted tribes in Perenco’s area, the Pananujuri, Taromenane and Trashumancia. Peru’s indigenous umbrella group, Aidesep, estimates their joint population at 100. Stories about sightings are passed up and down the Napo river. Denis Nantip, 22, says his uncle encountered one group in 2004. «He was deep in the forest with a logger. They were bathing in the river and suddenly saw people staring at them. They had spears and leaves with string covering their genitals.» The two intruders were left unharmed but loggers never dared venture back to that part of the forest.

Perenco, echoing Peru’s government, dismisses these claims as rumour and misinformation by groups opposed to economic development. «This is similar to the Loch Ness monster. Much talk but never any evidence,» says Rodrigo Marquez, Perenco’s Latin American regional manager. «We have done very detailed studies to ascertain if there are uncontacted tribes because that would be a very serious matter. The evidence is nonexistent.»

A team of investigators – anthropologists, biologists, linguists, historians, archaeologists, forestry engineers – combed Lot 67. They looked for footprints, dwellings and spears. They looked for animal traps, paths, patches of cultivation. They asked the Arabella tribe, which has been in intermittent contact with the outside world since the 1940s, about recent sightings or evidence. They analysed Arabella speech patterns and oral histories for clues. Result: nothing. No compelling evidence, no compelling indications. The 137-page final report concludes that if there were uncontacted tribes, they were long gone, either dead or in Ecuador. The findings opened Lot 67 to an oil deal which the government declared to be in the national interest. «All these studies have shown there is no trace at all,» Marquez says.

Not everyone is convinced, however. Tracking uncontacted tribes, it turns out, is a detective story within a detective story.

P1020231Iquitos, reputedly the world’s largest town inaccessible by road, is a sultry, humid outgrowth of the rubber boom, a bustle of oil men, backpackers, missionaries, traders and prostitutes perched by the Amazon river. By the docks, on Avenida La Marina, there is an office stencilled with the word Daimi and a rainbow logo. It is a consultancy that carries out environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for oil companies, a mandatory requirement for government authorisation to explore and drill. They can make or break a company’s bid to drill, and shape the regulations under which they operate. Daimi, plucking scientists from different institutions, has done studies for eight companies besides Perenco, including Argentina’s Pluspetrol, Brazil’s Petrobras, Canada’s Hunt, Spain’s Repsol and the US’s Oxy.

Oil companies pay for EIAs and insist that the reports are independent and impartial. Within the NGO and academic community, there are some who have long claimed they are not. But there is nothing concrete, and it is difficult to investigate since even those with university tenure often rely on EIA commissions to supplement meagre salaries.

Virginia Montoya sits in her office, maps and books piled on her desk, and lets the question hang in the air. The silence stretches to a few seconds. She is a director of the Institution for Research on the Peruvian Amazon, a senior anthropologist and champion of indigenous women’s rights. She was also a consultant on Daimi’s report. Does she think there are uncontacted tribes in Lot 67? Montoya fidgets, then takes a decision. «Yes. Yes, I do.» She hesitates once more. «There is no doubt in my mind that there are uncontacted groups there.» She says she had documented evidence, especially pathways. «I was really upset when I saw the final report. It didn’t lie, the language was technically correct, but it did not reflect my view.»

On the other side of Iquitos, on a rutted road of colourfully painted houses, there is the same long pause before Teudulio Grandez answers the same question. An anthropology professor at the National University of the Peruvian Amazon, he was cited as a lead author in the Daimi report. A portrait of Che Guevara looks down from the wall as he wrestles with his answer. Finally, it comes out. «Yes. Certain nomadic groups are there. Our conclusion is that there are.» He exhales deeply.

And then, in another part of Iquitos, a third voice. Lino Noriega, a forestry engineer, participated in eight missions to Lot 67 to investigate the impact of seismic tests – small explosions that cleared strips of forest and probed the soil. (He has since left Daimi following a contractual dispute.) «They said there were no uncontacted groups. But there were footprints, signs of dwellings.»

There is no single smoking gun in the three testimonies. The allegations were put to Daimi, but they were unable to put forward anyone to respond. Perenco’s regional manager, Marquez, defends the EIA research. «These are just opinions. These scientists need to produce evidence. We have gone to tremendous effort to put these reports together in the most professional way. It’s easy to build conspiracy theories.»

EIAs are vetted by several government departments. «We are committed to environmental protection. We don’t want these reports to be wishy-washy,» says the foreign minister, Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde. He promises to look into the Lot 67 allegations.

Critics say the environment ministry has little clout against more powerful departments driving the oil rush. Peru’s government is not impartial and does not encourage genuinely independent EIAs, says Jose Luis de la Bastida, a Peru oil specialist at the Washington-based World Resources Institute. Last year the energy minister and head of state oil company PetroPeru resigned amid a scandal over alleged kickbacks from a Norwegian oil company to the ruling party. They denied any wrongdoing. There is also unease over the revolving door between oil companies and government. «A lot of overlap, it’s an old boys’ network,» says Gregor MacLennan of advocacy group Amazon Watch.

Lima is, and feels, a long way from the Amazon. A sprawling coastal capital of eight million people ringed by slums, its downtown has Starbucks, shiny skyscrapers, smart government offices and some of South America’s best restaurants. Historically it has looked outwards to the Pacific ocean and seldom thought about the 300,000 dark-skinned «nativo» forest-dwellers, little more than 1% of the population. It has had even less reason to ponder uncontacted tribes. There was little dissent last year when President Garcia decreed laws carving up the Amazon for oil, gas, mining and biofuel projects.

The «nativos», however, rose up. Scattered, impoverished and marginalised, they organised protests against what they said were land-grabbing polluters who poisoned their soil and rivers. They blocked pipelines, roads and waterways. The president denounced them as «ignorant» saboteurs and last month ordered security forces to lift the blockades. In the town of Bagua, mayhem erupted. Officially, 24 police and 11 protesters died. Indigenous groups say there were dozens if not hundreds of civilian casualties and that bodies were burned and dumped in rivers – claims the government denies.

Garcia, realising he had misjudged indigenous wrath and strength, revoked two of the most controversial decrees, 1090 and 1064, which would have opened the Amazon to biofuel plantations. Indigenous groups suspended the protests but oil and gas projects are still going ahead. «The future scenario remains terrifying. The Peruvian Amazon is still blanketed in concessions,» says Finer, co-author of the Duke study.

There are two views about what happens next. Brother Paul McAuley, a British Catholic lay missionary, teacher and pro-indigenous activist in Iquitos, believes a flame of resistance has been lit. He sees it in his civil association, Red Ambiental Loretana. Indigenous communities are organising, plotting their next move. «I think they’re going to win this.» The 61-year-old’s mild manner belies a combative streak which has earned him death threats and a «terrorist» label from pro-government media. Had he not already given it away, he would have returned his MBE (for services to education in Peru) in protest at what he sees as Britain’s complicity. He hopes the Amazon’s «spiritual force» will mobilise western public opinion against the oil companies. «More than its oil, what the west needs is the Amazon’s spiritual energy.»

The fatalistic view holds that it’ll take a miracle, divine or otherwise, to stop the drilling. Wells are being dug, pipelines laid, profits calculated. Oil companies and the Peruvian government are committed – especially to the great prize that is Lot 67. Jack MacCarthy, a US surgeon and Catholic missionary who has spent 23 years in the jungle, believes the die is cast. «If Perenco doesn’t drill, someone else will. I don’t think there’s any way to keep that oil in the ground. There are enough powerful and rich people in the world who want it. And they’ll get it, regardless of the cost.»

In which case, if there are uncontacted tribes in Lot 67, their fate may be to disappear – definitively – and join the legends of the Amazon.

See Rory Carroll and Marc de Jersey’s film about the Peruvian Amazon

To visit the Peruvian Amazon

An Oblate Presence on the Rio Napo

By Séamus P. Finn, OMI

In mid September I was able to fulfll a promise made, and a dream long harbored, to visit the Peruvian Amazon where the Oblates have a missionary presence. The mission of Santa Clotilde on the river Napo in the vicariate of San Jose de Los Amazonas reaches north some 450 km to the border with Ecuador, and south almost to the city of Iquitos. The principal transportation routes for the people living in the region are a network of rivers, motor bike paths and welltrod footpaths.

The mission center is located in the town of Santa Clotilde. The “Santa Clotilde Health Centre” that was established by Fr. Maurice Schroeder, OMI some thirty years ago, provides health care to people living in roughly 100 villages along the river. Frs Roberto Carrasco, OMI and Edgar Nolazco, OMI are the respective leaders of the parish and the ministry to the indigenous. They are joined by Norbertine, Fr. Jack McCarthy O. Praem, who heads up the health ministry in the region and directs the work of the health center today. Suffice it to say that the expanse of the mission keeps all of them and their many collaborators extremely busy. This vast region that stretches from the mouth of the Amazon across its tributaries to its point of origin in the Peruvian jungle, which we frequently refer to as the “lungs of the earth”, is so much more than that. For centuries, it has been, and continues to be, home for thousands of small villages and communities scattered throughout the region.

While the challenges and pressures of daily life have always been more than enough to occupy the time and energy of the people who live there, the numerous and expansive oil and gas concessions granted by the government in recent years have brought a host of additional concerns. According to recent studies, the Peruvian Amazon is being overrun by the intrusive operations of oil and gas industries. It is estimated that 41% of the Peruvian Amazon is covered by 52 active oil and gas concessions. This is more than fve times as much land as was devoted to such activities in 2003.

Nearly all of the hot button issues on the agenda of development agencies are being played out on a daily basis in the region. Among these concerns is the quandary about facilitating the entrance of modernity, including its ideas, services and products into the lives of peoples who have lived in virtual isolation for centuries. In addition, the penetration of large oil and gas corporations into the region places standards like “free prior and informed consent” on display and on trial. The tools for assessing the impacts of exploration and production on the environment, health and ways of life are also being tested.

One day in the village of Lagarto Cocha – where we traveled by boat for two hours, walked for thirty minutes, took another boat ride, and completed our journey with a ten minute trek – we visited the local school and heard about a project organized by the primary school children to address the problem of garbage in surrounding villages. They organized themselves into teams and were advised by teachers who helped them to develop the needed resources and organize their strategies. We were privileged to be there to hear each group of students report on their experiences and to listen to their assessment of what seemed to work, and what proved less successful.

Another morning, we met with the multi-sectoral committee from the region as they wrestled with diferent challenges and gathered to consider what changes they expected to encounter in the coming fve to seven years. Was it time for more roads, a small airport or at least a heliport? How can electric power be extended beyond the present four-hour-a-day period? Is solar power an answer? Should they try to develop a tourist industry? Can food production for export be expanded? Do they have raw materials or products or services that can be exploited to create jobs or engage the growing number of young people, especially those who are migrating from rural communities? How can the intrusion of globalization, especially through telecommunications and mass media be a positive infuence?Te institutional presence of the mission and the health center provide a framework, a space and an environment where the people and communities (indigenous and settlers) are able to gather and talk about the challenges and opportunities that they face.They are also an important part of the global network that is a needed resource to protect human rights, safeguard the environment and promote sustainable and appropriate development.

Oblates from Bolivia, Peru and the United States participated in an international conference o

Respecting natural resources

June 23rd, 2011 – Peru

On June 14-16, Oblates from Bolivia, Peru and the United States participated in an international conference on Extractive Industries that focused on “the problem of natural resources in Latin America and the mission of the church”. The conference, held in Lima, was organized and sponsored by the Justice and Solidarity Department of CELAM (Bishops Conference of Latin America) and MISEROR.

Roberto CARRASCO ROJAS, Edgar NOLASCO from the Oblate mission of Santa Clotilde, Peru, Gilberto PAUWELS from Oruro in Bolivia and Séamus FINN from the United States Province’s JPIC office in Washington, DC, joined more than 70 participants from dioceses and communities that are on the front lines of the extraordinary expansion of the extractive industries in Latin America.

Extractive industries, including mining and petroleum, are under new pressure to respond to the demands for minerals and energy that are continuing to increase across the world. The price for basic commodities like gold is also an important driver in the increased demand for precious and rare metals. The development of new technologies and processes for exploration and extraction has made it possible for mining and oil companies to penetrate deeper into areas and regions that were previously inaccessible. These developments have brought them into contact and conflict with communities and areas that were previously untouched by their activities, especially indigenous communities and peoples.

During the opening days of the conference, people from all regions and communities, including bishops, priests, religious, indigenous, and peasants, have shared their experiences, including the great suffering, destruction of livelihood and conflicts that have become a part of their daily lives as a result of this increased incursion of extractives into countries such as Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Guatemala and Colombia. Also included were an analysis of the input from the opening session and proposals and recommendations for actions.

The seminar was organized to search for a way to place the challenges of the extractives industry within the mission of the Church, the People of God. It sought to increase knowledge about the actual state of this type of industry in its global dimensions and the social, political, ecological and economic character of its consequences, beginning from a doctrinal, theological reflection that will guide the design of certain lines of pastoral action. (Séamus Finn)

“Now you will meet Manuela; she is a woman with a lot of energy.” – MUJERES VALIENTES

Some very energetic women

Fr. Roberto CARRASCO is a young Oblate serving in the mission of Santa Clotilde in Peru, along the River Napo, a tributary of the Amazon River. In his blog, he speaks of some of the dedicated women religious who tirelessly serve the people.

After my diaconate ordination, I immediately moved to the Loreto region, specifically to the new mission taken on by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at Santa Clotilde – the Napo River. It was in September of 2008.

It was surprising – and this happens to many when they have their first contact with the tremendous Amazon – floating on and on towards the town of Angoteros in the district of Torres Causana. I went with Fr. Edgar NOLAZCO – my brother and companion in the mission – and when we got to that place, the first thing that surprised me was to find an indigenous community that preserves their language, their customs and their entire worldview. A couple of years before, Fr. Juan Marcos Mercier, OFM, had died. I met Manuela, Virginia and Janet for the first time.

The mission house is in the midst of the community, a house like all others, palm bark on the floor and the roof of palm leaves.

Manuela and Virginia, the older members of the community, welcomed us, and with them the youngest member, Janet, who also arrived that year. I remember every expression, every aspect of the three Peruvian Sisters, Mercedarian Missionaries, who had come to the High Napo at the request of Juan Marcos, so as to continue the mission in this part of the Vicariate.

Manuela, the incomparable Manuela. The first thing Fr. Jack told me when I got to Santa Clotilde was: “Now you will meet Manuela; she is a woman with a lot of energy.” I cannot help but remember that, when I met Manuela, I was greatly impressed by her dedication to the people. Her closeness; her wanting to dialogue and understand the culture. The first thing she said to me was: “Quickly, quickly. We have to leave soon. I still have a lot to do. What a disgrace that you are just sitting there.”

A lovely little expression that sticks with us all these years. Manuela is, true to her style, the one who carried on, in her way, Christ’s mission among the Napurunas after Juan Marcos. There are many examples and anecdotes that come to mind. Her intensity and strength for doing things correctly and being in the communities. Her desire to arrive on time at every village to begin her visit. All the old papers and materials, ready for talks and workshops. Her little notebook in which she wrote down everything about her daily life. How many baptisms were done; the most pressing problems in each community; the names of the new community authorities. At every moment, she was like a little ant, busy doing something. She was a veterinarian because she would inject a chicken that Virginia or Janet considered sick; she was a plumber, a builder; she could grab her ax to chop firewood. She knew exactly how to use each tool and where everything belonged. What was surprising was not so much that, but that as a woman and a big woman, she had such enviable energy. “Man, you must be useless…” she told me and I burst out laughing.

Beyond all these things, I want to highlight about the Mercedarian Missionaries that, true to their charism, sitting in the floor, they prayed every day in the morning and took communion. There was no priest in the mission. They presided over the faith community. Thanks to Florentino, Ronald, Roger, Lino and the youngest, the beloved and unforgettable Amable. The kuyllur runa – Christian leaders – laity formed by Juan Marcos and maintaining the Napurana Mission when the “missionaries” are not there, as it is at this moment as I write these lines. Thanks to each of them for their testimony, they faithfulness, their love of Pachayaya (Father of the Earth) and the community of faith.

Is an important experience that should be continued. – PROYECTO RECREARTE

Recreate yourself 2012: in the Peruvian rainforest

February 28th, 2012 – Peru

The Peruvian rainforest remains more than ever a very impressive target for foreign investors. Statistics tell us that in 2011, Peru grew economically by 7%. They say that was a good year. They speak of a country that is growing and is in good condition to face the economic crisis. In the executive branch, they speak of a policy of social inclusion. The development of a powerful oil industry is starting in the Napo-Loreto basin.

On the other hand, the indigenous communities are concerned about such topics as the pollution of the rivers because of oil spills; the spread of drug trafficking; the increase in illegal logging; the unlawful mining of gold; the taking of large quantities of fish from the lake in freezers; the increasing lack of teachers on all levels. And there is only talk about social inclusion, but they don’t have much on the policy level.

In the midst of this reality, the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption in Santa Clotilde-Rio Napo-Loreto, for the fourth consecutive year, is focusing on the education of indigenous boys and girls and teenagers of the Kichwa peoples. The RECREATE YOURSELF project is a program created by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate for providing a place for the integral formation of the children and youth of the Napo. This January 2012, a total of 24 indigenous Kichwa communities in the basin were present at Santa Clotilde by sending their representatives: 51 boys and girls, accompanied by a team of young leaders and professionals. The central theme for their work was “Children and care for creation.” Each day, there was academic enrichment, group work, a workshop for painting and drawing, a puppetry workshop, a singing workshop, catechesis for the first encounter with Christ, and a workshop on indigenous Kichwa values. Nor did we leave out recreation, sharing, the common life, and interchange with the neighbors in the barrio. Each participant was examined by the doctors of the Health Center of Santa Clotilde.


At the same time, 25 indigenous youth from the Upper and Middle Napo received pre-university training at the St. Eugene de Mazenod Academy. For the third consecutive summer, their academic background was reinforced and they have been prepared for entering the National University of the Peruvian Amazon. The young students, many of them high school graduates, found in the SEM Academy an opportunity to learn and to prepare themselves. This year, the focus of discussion was “The presence of oil in the Napo river.” They shared information about oil spills in the Loreto region in the past five years, the increase in deforestation and illegal logging, as well as the increase in drug trafficking in the area. Their concern was evident in their faces and in the prolonged dialogue. Our thanks to the professionals who guided this academic formation. We are happy that this year, two Kichwa indigenous youth from the High Napo, Edgar Jota and Ítalo Noteno, have succeeded in getting into the university, Edgar for a career in nursing and Ítalo for pharmacy and biochemistry. They are the first indigenous Kichwa youth to take this step. Now it’s up to us to accompany them in their training.

The mission of Santa Clotilde is grateful to those who were involved in this task: the benefactors, the youth leaders of the parish, the professionals from the Health Center of Santa Clotilde, the lay professionals who came from the Parish of Nuestra Señora de la Paz–Comas–Lima. May God, the Father of the Earth, whom we call in Kichwa “Pachayaya,” bless the work and the efforts of each one. We believe that this work is a contribution to the Amazon and to the indigenous communities. We believe that RECREATE YOURSELF is an important experience that should be continued. We believe that by listening to the indigenous children and youth, we learn a lot. (Edgar NOLAZCO ALMEYDA y Roberto CARRASCO ROJAS)

“Sta’ in gamba!… Io al posto tuo prenderei una nuova avventura missionaria”


di Roberto Carrasco, OMI

De dove sono ?

Sono sacerdote peruviano della Congregazione dei Missionari Oblati di Maria Immaculata. Nato nel 1974 a Lima, capitale del Perù. Era l’anno 2004 quando ho finito la Teologia a Cochabamba, in Bolivia. Dopo tre anni degli studi sono arrivato in Perù. Ho deciso di consacrarmi come religioso oblato con voti perpetui… “solo Dio sa se mi è dispiaciuto facerla”.

AUCAYACU – La prima esperienza

La prima volta ho vissuto nella Missione di Aucayacu, a Huanuco – Perù. Ero un giovane entusiasta che iniziava l’avventura missionaria. Mi dicevo: “questo è come un sogno, Gesù ha mandato in tutto il mondo ad annunciare il Vangelo…, se Dio vuole sarò sacerdote missionario oblato”.

Prendere la decisione di accantonare per un tempo nella foresta peruviana, allontanarsi da familiari ed amici e di lasciare le comodità della nostra quotidianità non è estato facile, ma alla fine ho deciso di fare questo passo nel buio, forse perché spinto dalla voglia di conoscere una parte del lavoro della Chiesa. Va da sé che la foresta è un posto difficile dove stare.

Purtroppo, dal 1980 al 2000, Aucayacu era una delle regioni più depresse e dimenticate dal governo. Che cosa è succeso…? I civili si trovarono sempre più coinvolti negli scontri armati tra Sentiero Luminoso e lo stato peruviano. Se non soddisfacevano le richieste dell’esercito erano trattati come terroristi e spesso spazzati via in terribili massacri. Se non aiutavano, o semplicemente non si sottomettevano a Sentiero Luminoso, venivano accusati di essere traditori e correvano il rischio di rappresaglie dall’altro lato. Questa situazione fu particolarmente brutale fino al 1985: in soli due anni furono uccise 5567 persone, 96% delle quali civili. Fare a meno di questo era un peccato. Non fare parola era la regola. Avevo paura.

Vista la situazione politico-economica in cui si trova il posto e le persone…, “magari dovrei lasciarlo”, ho pensato. A volte alcuni di loro mi hanno detto che devo lavorare in questo posto missionario. Dopo aver parlato con miei fratelli oblati ho deciso di rimanere.

La missione ha una radio comunitaria. Ho lavorato lì per quattro anni. Avevo un programma radiofonico. Una prima esperienza affascinante che cambierà la mia vita. Essere un comunicatore sociale.

SANTA CLOTILDE – Nel fiume Napo

Dopo quattro anni, il padre superiore mi ha scritto e mi ha dato una notizia bomba: hanno accettato i miei voti perpetui… “Roberto, eccoti i tuoi voti perpetui”. Ma la lettera anche diceva: “Devi prendere in considerazione, si apre una nuova missione nella foresta peruviana, vicino alla Colombia ed all’Equador…, vieni a Lima, dobbiamo di parlare”.

Santa Clotilde è la capitale del distretto del Napo, nella provincia di Maynas. È una circoscrizione territoriale che fa parte della regione Loreto. Partendo da Iquitos, il capoluogo regionale, vi si arriva solo con barca a motori oppure con i piccoli monomotori ad elica, dai quali, nelle quasi tre giorni di viaggio, si può vedere una landa sterminata di vegetazione incontaminata. Distante solo 350 chilometri dalla frontiera equatoriana. La città – ma sarebbe opportuno chiamarla Posto di Missione, visto che è la sede parrocchiale – ha una popolazione urbana più meno attorno ai 4,500 abitanti e la popolazione rurale più meno de 7,500 abitanti. È bagnata dal fiume Napo, che nasce nella Cordigliera delle Ande Equatoriani. Queste fiume è grande e lungo. Unisce il Perù e l’Ecuador come una sola cultura. Solo nella parte peruviana si trovano 124 comunità indigene, diversificate tra loro per stirpe, usi, costumi e lingua. I gruppi etnici presenti sono Kichwas, Secoyas, Arabelas, Muruy – Muinane, Maijunas.

Sulla parola “indigeno” ci sarebbero moltissime cose da dire: tutti infatti siamo indigeni del proprio paese, ma le persone che vivono qui affermano sempre di essere “indigene”, come per caratterizzarsi e differenziarsi dagli altri peruviani – la cosa interessante è che però non sanno dirti quali sono i prerequisiti per essere definito “indigeno”. Voi cosa ne pensate? Vi lascio con questa domanda, anche perché ora non c’è tempo e lo spazio per approfondire questo tema.

Ricordo le parole del Padre Mauricio, il mio superiore: “Sta’ in gamba!… Io al posto tuo prenderei una nuova avventura misionaria”. Allora, ho pensato: “Secondo me è meglio prendere una nuova missione. È necesario che la mia vita abbia una nuova esperienza”. Con tutto questo sulla spalla sono arrivato a Santa Clotilde, era ottobre 2008. Dopo un po’, posso affermare che in moltissime circostanze nelle comunità si incontrano diversi casi di denutrizione, specialmente tra i bambini, e di analfabetismo e/o di incomprensione del castigliano e di usanze tribali che, per esempio, portano uomini e donne a mangiare in tavoli separati. Il matrimonio dei figli viene ancora combinato dai genitori nelle comunità più distanti da Santa Clotilde, ma con il tempo le cose stanno cambiano ed i più giovani ora possono trovare autonomamente la persona con cui vogliono instaurare una relazione affettiva. Sono molte cose che hanno penetrato in mio cuore.

La cosa più importante che ha richiamato la mia attenzione della Cultura Napuruna è la vita quotidiana del indigena napuruna. Ha una relazione molto profonda con Dio e con la foresta, con la sua familia e con la sua comunità. “Dio cammina e visita nostra comunità, visita le nostre case. Lui parla con noi. Da consigli”. Le persone che vivono qui sono semplici, in quanto vivono con poco.

Per concludere come si deve: dopo sette anni di lavoro, un giorno l’ho detto a Florentino Noteno, animatore cristiano indigena con chi abbiamo lavorato insieme: “ti ringrazio tanto per tutto ciò quanto ho imparato a casa tua, nella tua comunità. Devo andare verso una nuova missione…”

NOTA: Mi scuso, è la prima volta che scrivo un articolo in lingua italiana.