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“The squeaky wheel gets the grease”? The conflict imperative and the slow fight against environmental injustice in northern Peruvian Amazon

Martí Orta-Martínez, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam; University of Vic-Central University of Catalonia; Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA), Autonomous University of Barcelona; Instituto de Geografía, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
Lorenzo Pellegrini, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam; Instituto de Geografía, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
Murat Arsel, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam; Instituto de Geografía, Universidad San Francisco de Quito

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-10098-230307

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Abstract

We chronicle a four-decades-long struggle that has been taking place in the Peruvian Amazon between indigenous groups, oil companies, and the state. We provide a broad overview of the strategies of the communities in the area, juxtaposing the outcomes of different negotiating strategies. In addition to documenting what is an especially important case of socio-environmental conflict in the Peruvian Amazon, we go beyond the dominant approach in the literature, which sees dialogue as inherently desirable and conflict as necessarily unwelcome, and describe the Achuar decision to engage in open conflict with the oil company as one that testifies to the existence of a conflict imperative. In other words, the overcoming of environmental injustice in certain circumstances requires various forms of direct action that take grievance and complaint to the level of open conflict. The corollary of this hypothesis is that dialogue is sometimes neither peaceful nor useful for affected communities.
This calls for a rethinking of the boundaries between conflict and negotiation. In our chronicle, conflict itself was often the antecedent to a new round of dialogue and negotiation made possible by the presence of government officials purposively and urgently dispatched to the area. Echoing Clausewitz’s famous dictum concerning the continuity between war and policy, indigenous decisions to occupy, blockade, and disrupt the working of oil operations might tentatively be understood as an attempt to continue negotiating with the state and corporations by using other tools they have at their disposal.

Key words

Achuar; Amazon; extractive industry; indigenous people; Kichwa; oil extraction; Quechua; socio-environmental conflicts

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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