The Achuar of Peru
"We have seen with our own eyes how the company has worked here the last 10 years. Now the rivers are polluted, the land polluted, the air polluted, the forest too."Pitiur Unti Saant, leader and elder from Unkum community next to Talisman's operations
The remote Amazon headwaters along the border of Peru and Ecuador are one of the most biodiverse places on earth. This remote region, up to a week's travel by bus, boat and canoe from the capital city of Lima, is home to over 11,000 Achuar indigenous people. As their ancestors have done before them, they hunt, fish, and raise crops in the Corrientes, Pastaza, and Morona river basins.
Today, the Achuar's way of life and survival is threatened by international oil companies exploring and drilling for oil.
The Pastaza and Morona river basins have been occupied by the Achuar for many generations. Streams, hunting grounds, old farms, sacred waterfalls and burial sites all tell a story and connect the Achuar with their ancestors. Achuar territory provides everything they need: medicinal plants, roofing palms, blowpipes for hunting, rivers full of fish, and spiritual sites where they search for a vision.
The Peruvian State has recognised Achuar land rights with "Native Community" titles, but these titles only cover a third of ancestral lands.
Over the past six years the Achuar have documented and mapped everything important to them in a vast territory of over 2.5 million acres shared by over 40 Achuar communities.
The Achuar's vision for their territory reflects the special connection to their ancestral homeland. Achuar spiritual beliefs dictate they have been living in these river basins since the beginning of time. Among the Achuar there is a profound respect for the spirits of the forest and its animals. Their way of life can best be described as a harmony between these people and their environment. This connection to the land drives the Achuar’s resistance to oil operations. The history of destruction in neighboring river basins is a clear sign to the Achuar of what is at stake should they allow oil companies to operate in their territories. The Achuar are opposed to all oil development on their land and will fight until the last person to protect what they deem sacred.
The oil fields under eastern Achuar territory, on the Corrientes River, have been drilled for oil since the 1970's, first by US-based Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) and now by Argentina's Pluspetrol. For over three decades Oxy cut costs by dumping 9 billion gallons of ‘produced waters' directly into the rivers instead of re-injecting them. These "produced waters" contain highly toxic substances such as barium, lead and arsenic and together with hundreds of ongoing oil spills have destroyed hunting and fishing grounds and left the Achuar with severe health problems.
Adults and local children have tested positive for dangerously high blood-lead levels, and local residents cite countless tales of unexplained diseases, tumors, skin ailments and miscarriages from oil exposure. Fish and local game are not fit for consumption and fraught with contamination, and the soil is also no longer fit to produce agricultural crops on which the Achuar depend for subsistence.
In response, the Achuar have mobilized through peaceful means, forcing Pluspetrol to re-inject "produced waters", and filing a class action lawsuit against Occidental Petroleum in the U.S.
Talisman Energy in Block 64
To the west of Corrientes, the Pastaza and Morona river basins have until recently remained free of oil drilling. Then, Canadian oil company Talisman Energy began drilling exploratory wells in Block 64 in the middle of the Achuar peoples' ancestral territory, despite steadfast opposition.
Talisman first invested in Block 64 in 2004 with Oxy, and as of 2011 they operated and owned 50% of Block 64 and 70% of Block 101. These two blocks cover roughly 4 million acres (1.7 million hectares) of pristine tropical rainforest and overlap the Morona and Pastaza river basins.
Blocks 64 and 101 also affect the Pastaza River Wetland complex, a site acknowledged under the Ramsar Convention as one of the most productive aquatic ecosystems in the Amazon rainforest. The wetlands in the middle of Block 64 are crucial fishing and hunting grounds for hundreds of surrounding indigenous families and drain into Lake Rimachi, the largest lake in the Peruvian Amazon.
Given the Achuar's experience with Oxy and the risks of oil drilling in a crucial watershed in the heart of Achuar territory, the majority of Achuar within Block 64 maintained steadfast opposition to any new oil activities on their lands. From 2008 to 2012 Achuar leaders traveled many days on several occasions from their communities deep in the rainforest to Talisman's Annual General Shareholder Meeting at their headquarters in Calgary, Canada, to demand that Talisman respect the Achuar peoples' rights and immediately withdraw from their homelands. They also traveled to Lima formally petition the Peruvian government to respect their self-determination, including legal recognition of their ancestral territory, annulment of existing oil blocks and a government guarantee of no future oil drilling in their lands.
Talisman argued it operated with the consent of a handful of communities, which it claimed were the only people directly affected by their operations. The Achuar contended that drilling affects key hunting grounds, water resources, and sacred lands important to the well being of all Achuar communities, and activities could not continue without the consent of all Achuar people.
The Achuar accused the company of fomenting division amongst the Achuar people and brought charges against Talisman for transporting a group of armed pro-oil community members to confront protesters at a Talisman drilling platform in May 2009 and nearly provoking a violent conflict.
A Victory for the Amazon: Talisman Withdraws From Peru
After many years of diligent resistance, the Achuar won a major victory in the struggle to defend their rights and territories. In September of 2012 Talisman Energy announced its decision to cease oil exploration activities in the Peruvian Amazon and to exit the country upon completion of ongoing commercial transactions, making it the fifth company to withdraw from highly controversial Block 64. The Achuar’s inspiring efforts to defend their territory, coupled with support from organizations like Amazon Watch that brought their struggle into the global spotlight and pressured Talisman shareholders, have sent a message to extractive industries across the world: the Achuar will continue to resist oil, mining, and logging companies that threaten their territories and cultural survival. Amazon Watch is proud to continue supporting the Achuar in defense of their rainforest home, and the fight is not over. New oil blocks, harmful development projects, and the terrible legacy of Oxy’s oil contamination continue to threaten the Achuar’s way of life. Please help the Achuar protect their ancestral homeland.