Peru's Congress quietly passed a controversial bill Monday which declares a "priority and national interest" the construction of roads in "the border area" in the Amazonian region of Ucayali.
The initiative approved in the plenary session was introduced by conservative lawmaker Glider Ushñahua. Human rights groups have requested President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to veto the bill.
They argue that the measure will put at risk the biodiversity in the region and the survival of isolated Indigenous communities living in the forest. Opponents include the minister of Culture, Environment and Health, and the National Office for Protected Areas.
Leftist lawmaker Tania Pariona (Nuevo Peru) argued during the parliamentary session that the measure will only increase illegal deforestation and drug-trafficking, but will not favor Indigenous peoples.
Uncontacted tribes could also easily be contaminated by diseases that their immune systems are not equipped to fight, warned Indigenous groups including the Commission Pueblos. Critics recalled Pope Francis warning that "peoples living in the Amazon forest have never been as threatened as they are now" when he visited the town of Puerto Maldonado on January 19.
"The threat on their territories comes from the perversion of some policies that don't take into account the human being," the pontiff said at the time.
Earlier this month, Peru's government declared a state of emergency, suspending de facto basic constitutional rights in order to "guarantee public order" and address social conflicts prompted by mining exploitation, with the support of the armed forces.
The mining industry remains one of the primary sources of foreign trade in Peru, although investment in the sector has fallen with the drop in international commodity prices. Peru is the second-largest exporter of copper in the world, with 70 percent of exports in raw form and 30 percent as purified metal.
But environmental contamination caused by extractive industries continues to be the main cause of social conflict in the country, sometimes exploding into all-out violence. During the government of departing President Ollanta Humala, which started in 2011, 50 people died and 750 were injured in clashes between environmental demonstrators and government authorities.