A rare victory for people power. The Guardian has reported how the Achuar Indians from the Amazon have managed to get the Peruvian government to take notice of their plight.
For decades they had been saying that their land had been heavily polluted and their waters poisoned by oil exploration, but they had been consistently ignored.
So last month some 800 tribespeople from the borders of Peru and Ecuador peacefully blockaded Peru’s largest oil facility. They stayed for nearly two weeks, shutting down power to most of the region’s oil production.
The loss of millions of dollars in revenue and around 40,000 barrels of oil per day forced the government and Pluspetrol – Peru’s largest oil and gas operator – to concede to most of the Achuar’s demands, including re-injecting all the contaminated waste water back into the ground within two years, and building a new hospital with enough money to run a health service for 10 years.
The victory was particularly sweet for the Achuar because it was the only time in 36 years of oil exploration and extraction in their area that the state had intervened. Companies have long been given a carte blanche to flout international environmental laws.
But still the long-term future for the Indians may not be great, if more oil is discovered. “The future is very bleak if the case is that an indigenous group is simply not going to be listened to unless they stop petrol production,” says Gregor MacLennan, co-founder of Shinai, an NGO that works with indigenous people in Peru.
He continues: “The problem is that petrol companies think they can go to the jungle, act how they like, cover up any spills with mud, and be pretty sure that no one’s ever going to find out what happened – and that no one really cares enough about the people that live there to invest some money and do something about it.”