Eye on the Amazon

“My Message for GeoPark? Don't Enter Achuar Territory.”

An indigenous delegation from the Peruvian Amazon prepares to take the fight to GeoPark's doorstep

Wampiu (community of Chuintar), Andrea (community of Washintsa), and Chiwiant (community of Putuntsa). Photo credit: Amazon Watch

The humid heat of the Peruvian rainforest begins to recede as the sun sets over the Manchari River, deep in Achuar territory. Bats fly erratically overhead, feasting on the evening's buffet of insects. Taking advantage of a break in the late March assembly of 45 communities under the umbrella of the Achuar federation FENAP, I'm chatting with Andrea Cisneros López, a community leader who can be fiery as she encourages other women to participate but also understated as we talk in the dimming evening light. Earlier in the day she was elected by consensus – along with four other community representatives – to travel to the GeoPark annual meeting in Chile, scheduled for late June.

In simple and direct terms, Andrea explains the Achuar rejection of oil operations in their territory. "We don't want the oil company to enter our territory because they contaminate everything – the air we breathe, the forest from which we source our food. As our ancestors left our territory to us, we want to leave it for future generations." I ask her what message she wants to carry from the Achuar homeland, located in the northern Peruvian Amazon close to Ecuador, to the GeoPark meeting of shareholders and senior managers. "My message for GeoPark is: 'Don't enter my territory.'"

For five years, the Achuar of Peru's Pastaza region have been telegraphing that clear message to the Chile-based oil company GeoPark through official letters, public statements, and protests. Last year, Amazon Watch helped the Achuar launch the #AdiosGeoPark campaign, bringing the Achuar cry to the international public's attention via a short video, shot in Achuar territory, and a petition to GeoPark garnering thousands of signatures.

To date, the company has opted to ignore these calls, push forward, and attempt to implement the ages-old divide-and-conquer strategy between communities. The Achuar face a dangerous scenario, in which the approval of GeoPark's flawed environmental impact study would allow them to initiate construction of their oil extraction project – including a drilling platform and pipeline – in Achuar ancestral territory.

Another elected delegate for the Chile trip, Wampiu Yampis Tiinch, is a veteran defender of Achuar territory. He has mobilized his community of Chuintar and others against the long list of oil companies that have attempted to work in Block 64 over the years, including Arco, Occidental Petroleum, and Talisman Energy. He tells me anecdote after anecdote of his encounters with different representatives of companies over two decades, and his successful effort to send them packing.

"Perhaps years ago, our grandfathers and fathers didn't have the knowledge about how pollution is generated and allowed the oil companies to enter," Wampiu tells me in his native Achuar. "But in the current day we won't permit any longer, we don't want any oil company to enter. I am a child of God, and the company's people are also children of God. Even so, they want to destroy our environment. We're asking them to respect us."

Accompanying the Achuar will be representatives of the Wampis Nation, a powerful indigenous confederation comprising 65 communities, including several within the area of influence of GeoPark's project. In recent years, the Wampis Nation has joined FENAP in denouncing not only the project but the existence of Block 64, the oil concession that is currently under the auspices of GeoPark and PetroPeru, the country's state-owned oil company.

With the help of Amazon Watch, numerous Achuar delegations have traveled in past years to the United States and Canada, intervening in the annual meetings of oil companies like Oxy, ConocoPhillips, and Talisman. This year is different, as the trip will take them to a neighboring South American country. Travel to Chile is less expensive and doesn't require a visa, facilitating a larger and more diverse delegation of indigenous community leaders.

Wrapping up a lively discussion with Wampiu, I ask him if he has a message for the international public. "Why do we want the help of international non-governmental organizations? We want to be free. I want for my grandchildren to not get sick, and for future generations not to suffer."

The Achuar people find themselves at a watershed moment. Whether or not they are able to stop GeoPark's planned oil extraction will greatly determine the viability of Wampiu's vision. Join us in accompanying Wampiu, Andrea, and the delegation of Achuar and Wampis leaders as they take their message straight to the doorstep of GeoPark's decision-makers. The future generations they are fighting for are not only their own, but ours as well.

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