Eye on the Amazon

Divide and Conquer: GeoPark Resurrects Nefarious Old Tactics

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Let's say you're an oil company (because, you know, corporations are people, too). You have plans to drill in the Amazon rainforest. The government encourages you to go in, since it will get a share of your profits. There's just one problem: local Indigenous communities are vehemently opposed, having seen nearby rivers polluted and people poisoned by other oil companies. What do you do?

Why not rely on tried-and-true tactics, applied across the globe? Some people call it "Divide and Conquer," but for a better public image you can refer to it as "Benefit Sharing."

A great example of this is happening right now in and around an oil concession designated as "Block 64" in the northern Peruvian Amazon rainforest. GeoPark, a multinational oil company based in Chile, is ramping up its activities in the region. Facing Indigenous opposition, it is adopting many of the same tactics previously attempted by other oil companies. Watch and learn!

Step 1: Back pro-oil Indigenous front groups. If you're lucky, the last oil company that tried to go in will have already created some corrupt, development-friendly organizations. If not, set up your own! It will cost less than last year's Senior Management Team retreat.

In the case of Block 64, years ago Talisman Energy created FASAM, a "federation" made up of individuals from a small handful of Achuar communities in the western edge of Block 64, according to a report from the Peruvian prosecutor's office. GeoPark is now working with this group to carry out a dubious environmental impact study, which was submitted to the government for approval in early July.

Step 2: Create your own dog and pony show. Don't skimp! Shell out some travel funds. Send your "community representatives" to the city so they can talk about their rights to "benefit sharing," even if they don't actually live within the oil concession. This is a great way to make it appear that at least some Indigenous people are in favor of the project. Government representatives and corporate media love this stuff.

In late July, representatives from some Wampis organizations down-river from Block 64 held a meeting in Lima with Peru's Vice Minister for Territorial Governance to talk about "territorial defense related to oil activities in Block 64: rights, benefits, obligations." Subsequently, the Wampis Nation, which represents 60 communities, issued an official statement denouncing the delegation as an artificial creation of the oil company and in violation of collective community decision-making processes.

Step 3: Sit back while competing factions fight among themselves. This is the best part! Before you know it, the different sides will be at each other's throats. If all goes according to plan, they'll be so caught up dealing with each other that they won't have the time to oppose the oil operations.

As noted above, a rift is opening among the Wampis that could deepen if not addressed soon. The Achuar federation FENAP issued a statement in July accusing GeoPark of generating "another conflict scenario, as they encourage FASAM and FIAMK to threaten us, to travel to Iquitos to delegitimize us through the media, and to attempt to expand their territory over part of our ancestral territory."

Step 4: Publicly ignore resistance while adopting benign public discourse. Even if the Indigenous people are speaking out through the media, don't respond! Avoid at all costs a public debate between you, the oil company, and them, the local Indigenous people who depend on the lands you'll likely pollute. If you must say something, keep it general and throw in some human rights jargon that you have no intention of actually respecting.

Starting in December 2016, the Achuar have issued multiple public statements against oil operations and have been quoted in media articles by Reuters, EFE, and AJ+ Español. To date, GeoPark has only made the following statement: "GeoPark respects the rights of Indigenous people and would not seek to develop areas where local populations are opposed to drilling activity," as cited in the Reuters article.

Step 5: Profit! If everything works out, you will have successfully prevented organized resistance to your scheme to move forward and drill for oil despite the opposition of the communities who will be affected by your activities. Good job! And if you don't succeed, consider selling your interests in the project to yet another oil company who may willing to try even more unscrupulous tactics than yours.

In bad news for GeoPark, the Achuar of FENAP have vowed not to back down, and are forming new alliances with the Wampis Nation. And they count on strong allies like Amazon Watch, and our supporters, to stand with them!

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