In the depths of the Amazon rainforest, the poorest people in the world have taken on the richest people in the world to defend a part of the ecosystem none of us can live without. They had nothing but wooden spears and moral force to defeat the oil companies – and, for today, they have won.
Here’s the story of how it happened – and how we all need to pick up this fight. Earlier this year, Peru’s right-wing President, Alan Garcia, sold the rights to explore, log and drill 70 per cent of his country’s swathe of the Amazon to a slew of international oil companies. Garcia seems to see rainforest as a waste of good resources, saying of the Amazon’s trees: “There are millions of hectares of timber there lying idle.”
There was only one pesky flaw in Garcia’s plan: the indigenous people who live in the Amazon. They are the first people of the Americas, subject to wave after wave of genocide since the arrival of the Conquistadors. They are weak. They have no guns. They barely have electricity. The government didn’t bother to consult them: what are a bunch of Indians going to do anyway?
But the indigenous people have seen what has happened elsewhere in the Amazon when the oil companies arrive. Occidental Petroleum are facing charges in US courts of dumping an estimated nine billion barrels of toxic waste in the regions of the Amazon where they operated from 1972 to 2000. Andres Sandi Mucushua, the spiritual leader of the area known to the oil companies as Block (12A)B, said in 2007: “My people are sick and dying because of Oxy. The water in our streams is not fit to drink and we can no longer eat the fish in our rivers or the animals in our forests.” The company denies liability, saying they are “aware of no credible data of negative community health impacts”.