| Friday 28th March
2008 | Issue 626
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FOR YOUR PERUSAL
A British film crew has been hitting the mainstream headlines for breaking a ban on visiting remote barely contacted tribes in the Peruvian Amazon. Looking for a location for their drearality TV series where personable Brits ‘Mark and Olly’ live alongside yer bona fide savages for the entertainment of Discovery Channel viewers, they got a permit to visit the Matisigenka Indian community.
But soon quickly decided the locals just didn’t look the stereotyped part they wanted: “The shorts, the guys playing soccer and the school...just won’t cut it” and set off deeper inland, ignoring the fact their permit expressly stated they weren’t allowed to visit uncontacted or recently contacted tribes, causing a flu outbreak which took several lives and made scores more ill.
The regional Indian organisation FENAMAD confirmed that the crew did go deep upriver despite their flat schoolchild-like denial, “The accusations made do not tally with the facts, as we never entered the headwaters, we were not in the locality quoted at any time and certainly not at the time of any outbreak and, in any case, there has been no officially reported outbreak.’ (No sir, it wasn’t me, I wasn’t there, and even if I was I didn’t do it, even if anything was done. Which it wasn’t..honest!). The head of the local Protected Areas department didn’t buy it and they have now been banned from entering the area.
But another, less media-friendly news-nugget of a story, gets less copy: the ongoing expeditions into deepest Peru by oil companies that threaten the indigenous people and the whole eco-system for more seriously than one errant film crew.
Drilling – accompanied by environmental destruction and disease spreading - has been going on for decades, fuelled by dodgy governments up for raking in the cash from selling off exploratory rights to vast swathes of land, some home to indigenous tribes who’ve lived there for thousands of years. The global oil price surges of late have led to a renewed interest in the area, with increasing fossil fuellishness and damage threatened (See SchNEWS 613) - just when mankind should be doing everything possible to preserve and promote these precious places...
Perhaps some of the indigenous tribes affected can learn from the story of the Achuar tribe, Amazon residents in the North East of Peru. They suffered at the hands of Occidental Petroleum, the company who came into their area 30 years ago and began oil extraction and processing. Over the years they caused illness outbreaks, with fatalities, and contaminated the land by dumping billions of barrels of toxic waste.
All indigenous indignation was ignored. Occidental then pulled out eight years ago and handed over operations to a firm called Pluspetrol, but business just continued. Their livelihoods finally ruined, the tribe finally took direct action and, armed with shotguns and spears, occupied oil wells in October 2006. And it brought swift results: the government and the company, losing millions of dollars a day, were finally forced to come to the negotiating table. The Achuar obtained a commitment from Pluspetrol to reduce contamination and to pay millions of dollars to clean up and establish a 10-year health plan. They also effectively blocked any new oil exploration on their territory. Duly empowered, they then, last year, took the fight home to roost and filed a class action lawsuit against Occidental, in Los Angeles – a case still pending.
It just shows what determined people can do when they get together to fight for their rights...
* For more on indigenous struggles see www.survival-international.org
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