Thursday, March 27, 2008

Indigenous Groups in Amazon Threatened by Big Oil?

The negative impact of unregulated development and industrialization on indigenous groups and territories is an all too familiar story to anthropologists. Rising global energy prices are fueling oil development across the globe, and Peru is no exception. The drive of developers into the oil-laden Amazonian rainforest poses serious threats to the area’s indigenous groups, National Geographic reports, and approximately 75 percent of Peru’s Amazon rainforests have been leased to oil prospectors and developers. BBC News details the story of one of Peru’s indigenous communities, the Achuar, that is not isolated, and is filing a class action lawsuit against Occidental Petroleum for contaminating their territory and damaging their population's health. David Hill of Survival International says, “Isolated Indians are especially vulnerable to any contact, because they have no immunity to outsiders’ diseases.” The elusiveness and vulnerability of some indigenous groups makes it difficult for civics and rights organizations to assess the impact of expansion into the rainforest. Oil and gas companies, along with Peruvian President Alan Garcia, maintain that there is no evidence for the existence of these groups, and that their presence may have been conjured up as a means to oppose development. Rights groups are currently petitioning the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to intervene in this matter.

How can anthropologists contribute to this dialogue? Can social scientists verify the existence of such groups while respecting their desire to remain isolated?

BBC News article

National Geographic article

Organization of American States

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights