The Achuar Nation in recent years has celebrated several victories in its struggle against oil development on its traditional land.
In 2006, a Protect-an-Acre grant enabled Achuar leaders to take part in a five-city tour to meet with allies and put pressure on U.S. oil companies. Gonzalo Payma, vice president of the Federation of Native Communities of Rio Corrientes, Jorge Fachin, president of the Native Federation of Achuar of the Pastaza, and spiritual leader Marcial Huaman told us their amazing story during a visit to RAN’s office.
Over the past 30 years, the Achuar’s consent was neither sought nor gained as U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum (OXY) drilled more than 150 wells and built more than 300 miles of roads and pipelines over one million acres of rainforest. Using practices long outlawed in the U.S., OXY pumped an average of 850,000 barrels a day of toxic formation waters – a byproduct of the extraction process containing cyanide, lead, arsenic, mercury and other contaminants – into local rivers and streams.
The Achuar fought back. Supported by another PAA grant, the Achuar gathered testimonials and evidence of the toxic legacy that oil companies like Occidental leave behind and presented it to the Peruvian government. When the government failed to take measures to protect the Achuar’s basic human rights, more than 800 Achuar community members occupied oil wells and joined a peaceful blockade of every navigable river, road and airstrip in a million-acre region of rainforest. The blockade lasted two weeks and shut down half of Peru’s total oil production.
Initially, the Peruvian government sent in more than 200 members of the national police with orders to disperse the peaceful demonstrators and restore oil production. According to Jorge Fachin, Achuar women and children approached the police and convinced them to refrain from using force and to respect their picket. After a weekend of intense negotiations, both the government and the oil company running the concession, Argentina-based Pluspetrol, gave in to nearly all of the Achuar’s demands. Coinciding with their arrival in the U.S., the Achuar achieved another major victory when OXY announced that it would end its operations in the Amazon.