Unreported World, Peru: Blood and Oil
Peru Indian tribes join forces to fight off Amazon sale to oil companies
Ramita Navai in Washintsa, Peru
Published at 12:01AM, October 9 2009
They emerged from the thick, green jungle clenching their spears: a long file of barefoot chiefs and elders, their faces painted with their tribal markings and crowns of red, blue and yellow parrot feathers.
They had been summoned by the chief of Washintsa village for a meeting to discuss an oil company’s efforts to buy the rights to their land. Most had travelled for hours, padding silently through the dark undergrowth.
They came from Achuar Indian communities scattered along the Pastaza River, one of the most remote parts of the Peruvian Amazon near the border with Ecuador.
These men are part of a growing resistance movement crystallising deep in the jungles of Peru. For the first time isolated indigenous groups are uniting to fight the Government’s plans to auction off 75 per cent of the Amazon — which accounts for nearly two thirds of the country’s territory — to oil, gas and mining companies.
They oppose 11 decrees issued by President García, under special legislative powers granted to him by the Peruvian Congress, to enact a free trade agreement with the US. These would allow companies to bypass indigenous communities to obtain permits for exploration and extraction of natural resources, logging and the building of hydroelectric dams.
Indigenous leaders say that the laws will affect more than 50 Amazonian nations representing hundreds of thousands of Indians.
One by one the men step forward and deliver angry, defiant messages. “If an oil company tries to come here, we will block its path and block the rivers. We will not let them in and we will take strong action,” Jempe Wasum Kukush, a local leader, said. Another, Tayajin Shuwi Peas, warns: “We are not scared and we will fight to the death over this.”