"We Are on the Verge of Genocide."
An urgent call from the Peruvian Amazon
December 13, 2011 | Gregor MacLennan
"The presence of Talisman here is causing divisions between those who have accepted the company and those who won't... We are on the verge of genocide."
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In Achuar territory in the remote Peruvian Amazon, an already tense situation has taken a turn for the worse over recent months. According to the urgent testimony of two Catholic priests, who have been living in the region for more than 60 years combined, Canadian-based oil company Talisman Energy is fomenting severe divisions between indigenous communities, heightening the risk of imminent bloodshed between neighboring families.
Talisman is drilling exploratory oil wells in Oil Block 64 in a remote area of the Peruvian Amazon near the Ecuador border. The oil block overlaps the territory of the Achuar people, and wells are being drilled in the heart of Achuar ancestral territory, in the middle of critical hunting and fishing grounds in a flooded wetlands ecosystem that drains into Lake Rimachi, the largest lake in the Peruvian Amazon, and the Pastaza River Wetland Complex, a site acknowledged under the Ramsar Convention as one of the most productive aquatic ecosystems in the Amazon rainforest.
Achuar leader Peas Peas Ayui, President of the National Achuar Federation of Peru (FENAP) has just returned from Calgary, Canada where he met with Talisman CEO John Manzoni to demand that the company respect the Achuar people, withdraw from their territory and cease insistent attempts to convince communities to sign agreements. The Achuar previously delivered the same message to Mr. Manzoni in 2008 and 2010, but despite the Achuar people's steadfast opposition to oil drilling, Talisman Energy continues its relentless search for oil, resorting to dangerous industry practices: Divide and conquer.
Recent testimony from Father Diego and Father Bola highlights signs of oil company bribery, ecological disruption, threats of bloodshed between indigenous communities, and even the first cases of sexually transmitted diseases are part and parcel of a deteriorating situation along the Pastaza and Morona rivers, where Talisman is currently exploring for oil.
The Peruvian government first created Block 64 in 1995 during the Fujimori dictatorship without consultation or consent from the Achuar people who live there. The oil block and Talisman's operations span two river basins: the Pastaza and the Morona. The block directly affects Achuar territory; Shuar-Wampisa and Shapra people downriver on the Morona are also affected.
The Achuar were united and opposed to oil operations since the creation of the oil block and forced successive companies to leave, but since Talisman's arrival in the region in 2004, two new Achuar organizations representing a minority group of eight out of the 50 Achuar communities have broken off and signed agreements with Talisman. The Achuar accuse Talisman of ignoring communities who oppose their operations and creating divisions and conflict through offering high financial incentives to any community or family who signs up with the company.
The testimony from Father Diego underlines the seriousness of this situation, and calls attention to the spread of this conflict downriver in Shuar-Wampisa communities where a peaceful protest in September 2011 almost ended in bloodshed after a group of pro-Talisman Achuar confronted protestors with guns. This was almost an exact repeat of a similar incident in May 2009 when 300-400 Achuar marched in protest to a Talisman well and were confronted by armed pro-Talisman Achuar standing with the company. Talisman is subject to ongoing litigation in Peru over its involvement in provoking this dangerous conflict.