Eye on the Amazon

Achuar Indigenous People to GeoPark: Stay Out of Our Territory!

Striking photos add to twenty years of sustained rejection of oil extraction in Achuar territory

When we traveled to Achuar territory last month to the bi-annual assembly of the Federation of the Achuar Nationality of Peru (FENAP) deep in the Peruvian Amazon, we didn't just drop by for a friendly visit. We went to confer with FENAP and its 45 member communities about the threat of oil drilling in their territory, this time from GeoPark, a small Chile-based oil and gas company. In late 2014, the Peruvian government sold GeoPark the rights to explore for oil in Block 64, which overlaps over 40 percent of FENAP territory.

The communities' stance couldn't have been more clear. As FENAP president Jeremías Petsein told us in an interview, "We totally reject oil operations within the territory of the Achuar people." The assembly made that position official by voting emphatically to publicly reiterate its rejection of GeoPark operations in FENAP territory.

To explicitly demonstrate their commitment to prevent GeoPark from trespassing, Amazon Watch helped these Achuar communities take photos of the entire assembly and each community with messages of resistance. "The photos are evidence that the Achuar people of FENAP roundly reject the presence of oil company GeoPark within Achuar territory," noted the official assembly minutes.

The decision to affirm its opposition to GeoPark required little deliberation from the assembly. After all, the Achuar Life Plan, which lays out the Achuar's vision for how it will protect its culture and territory, clearly states that outside actors must "respect the agreements of the Achuar congresses which have decided to not accept the incursion of oil companies, loggers, or mining in Achuar territory."

Prior experience with oil companies also helped with the decision. "We have lived through the bad experience of damage to our habitat, health, and life," FENAP wrote in a statement last year, "due to activities related to the Northern Peruvian Oil Pipeline and activities of the oil company Talisman, from which there continues to be environmental damage, in part within our territory, that to date has not been remediated. Given this, we have made the firm decision not to permit any oil activity within our territory."

In fact, the Achuar have already succeeded in kicking five oil companies out of Block 64, which was created in 1995 and is located in the northern Peruvian Amazon near the border with Ecuador. Since that time, several international oil companies have tried to carry out oil activities there, including ARCO, Occidental, and Talisman, all of which were eventually forced to abandon operations. Most recently, Talisman announced its decision to leave in September of 2012, followed by an announcement in early 2013 that the block had been transferred to Peru state-owned company PetroPeru.

GeoPark Reaction to Achuar Opposition

Despite the Achuar's unwavering opposition and its history of expelling oil companies, GeoPark appears to be stubbornly sticking to its plans to extract oil from Block 64. Although the company was quoted in a December 9, 2016 Reuters article as saying, "GeoPark respects the rights of Indigenous people and would not seek to develop areas where local populations are opposed to drilling activity," it has also publicly expressed its enthusiasm for carrying out oil activities throughout Block 64, most of which is in territory pertaining to the 45 communities associated with FENAP.

This week, GeoPark is holding a conference call with its major investors to report on its third quarter "results". Though we don't know yet if they will talk about Block 64, what we do know is that GeoPark's investors need to understand that this is a highly controversial project from which multiple more well-established oil companies have fled, and that the Achuar commitment to territorial protection is resolute.

Last week, Amazon Watch released a report highlighting the investments of leading U.S. financial institutions JPMorgan Chase and BlackRock in GeoPark and other oil companies attempting to drill for oil in Indigenous territories in the Amazon rainforest. The report details the climate, Indigenous rights, and financial risks of these investments, and we will continue to bring these issues to the attention of the oil companies and their investors!

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