Achuar and the Amazon Basin

The Achuar Indigenous People live in the remote headwaters of the Amazon rainforest on the Pastaza, Morona and Corrientes Rivers, located on both sides of the Peru-Ecuador border.  The total population of Achuar People is an estimated 5,000 to 16,000 people in Ecuador and 11,000 in Peru.  35 years of oil drilling in the Corriente region on the Peru side has made a devastating impact on the health and environment of the Achuar People.  As said by Pitiur Unti Saant, Achuar leader and elder from Unkum, “We have seen with our own eyes how the company has worked here the last ten years. Now the rivers are polluted, the land polluted, the air polluted, the forest too.”  Since the mid nineties, the Achuar have been working to terminate a planned oil project for the area.

The oil company Talisman Energy from Calgary, Canada holds a license to areas in Ecuador and Peru that “entirely overlap” the Achuar territory.  These areas are called oil blocks; Talisman Energy has rights to blocks 64 and 101, which include about 4 million acres of “pristine tropical rainforest.”  Already cutting seismic testing lines and drilling exploratory wells in a “remote watershed which the Achuar rely on for hunting and fishing,” the company is causing rapid and extensive environmental damages. (

Land for the Achuar People is intrinsically imbued with the sacral.  Achuar elder and leader, Pitiur Unti Saant, reveals the value of his sacred land with succinct power:  “Leave us in peace. We want to live free, breathe pure air. The Creator made this land here so we could live peacefully.”  Integrated completely into every facet of Achuar existence, the land and its resources are “fundamental to their physical and spiritual wellbeing.” Their territory is:

“the source of their identity and provides the link between the past and the present necessary to form future generations. Without their territory, the Achuar could not continue as a cohesive people, as they would not simply be missing food and shelter, but all the resources – both material and immaterial – which create Achuar minds, bodies and spirits, and sustain their social and cultural activities and memory” (

Living in perfect harmony with their environment, the Achuar have everything they need to survive. The rivers and forests provide the Achuar with clean water to drink, fish, animals, insects, and mushrooms.  They build their houses and make their canoes from plants and trees, and have large gardens that feature vegetables and produce as well as the medicinal plants necessary for sacred Achuar spiritual practice.

In Pastaza and Morona, the Achuar continue to inhabit a rainforest “free from contamination and abundant in fish and wildlife.”  For the Achuar, this land is imbued with “deep historical, cultural and spiritual ties.”  Located in Ecuador’s central Amazon province of Pastaza, the problem that the Achuar People in the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Pastaza (OPIP) was faced with in the early nineties was that the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) had discovered petroleum on Indigenous territory and “had begun drilling its second oil well to assess the reservoir’s size and the quality of its crude” (Sawyer 1).

Five Indigenous leaders from OPIP sought to defend their sacred land in a meeting between an oil executive from ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Company) and a representative of Ecuador’s Ministry of Energy and Mines in 1993.  Susana Sawyer, in her book Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and

Neoliberalism, discusses what it was like to be at this meeting, and the multifaceted issues that persist today regarding the sacred land of Ecuador’s Indigenous People.  An Achuar public statement made on March 28th, 2010 reads: “We demand that the Peruvian government immediately annuls the contracts for blocks 64 and 101 and that Talisman immediately withdraws from our territory.”

The Ecuadorian government, however, has been reluctant to even acknowledge the demands of their Indigenous People.  In reference to the protesters who belong to the National Confederation of the Indigenous in Ecuador, the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, said recently “These people are gringos who are coming here with NGOs. Take it somewhere else. These people’s stomachs are full enough” (Zibechi).

It is the opinion of Raúl Zibechi, an international analyst for Brecha of Montevideo, Uruguay, lecturer and researcher on social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and adviser to several social groups, that the original peoples, who have created new conditions for their liberty, will not continue to tolerate political marginalization. According to Zibechi, “they know that the State needs to exploit natural resources to pay its bills, but they also know that this logic leads to destruction. This is why they have decided to protest; they were strong enough to bring neoliberalism to a standstill, and now they refuse to lose their opportunity.”

The outlook is not excellent for the Achuar, but they have made considerable strides through protests, marches, and talks with the government.  Public awareness on the issue needs to remain aroused due to the racism and marginalization that continues to occur regarding the voices of the Achuar People.

– Sonja Lokensgard

Works Cited

“The Achuar of the Pastaza and Morona.”

27 January 2011.

Raúl Zibechi.  Bolivia and Ecuador: The State Against the Indigenous People. 27 January 2011.

Raúl Zibechi.  “Ecuador: The Battle for Natural Resources Deepens.”  27 January 2011.

Sawyer, Suzana.  Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and

Neoliberalism. 28 January 2011.

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