The impact of oil exploitation in the indigenous resguardos of the Colombian Amazon

The impact of oil exploitation in the indigenous resguardos of the Colombian Amazon

Colombia - 12 May, 2021

This interview with María Fernanada García invites us to understand some of the local visions concerning hydrocarbon explotation in the indigenous resguardos of the Colombian Amazon. Her research project "The humanized forest versus the commercialized forest: The impact of oil exploitation over the Koreguaje resguardo El Diamante, Caquetá" was supported and accompanied by Tropenbos Colombia and presented successfully in the Anthropology Department of the Universidad Externado de Colombia.

1. Your research was about the oil exploration in a resguardo in the Amazon. Could you tell us where you worked, who worked with you and which were the main problems that hydrocarbon exploration brought to that place?

I did my research in El Diamante, an indigenous resguardo of the Koreguaje ethnic group located in Solano, Caquetá. I worked mainly with the cacique of the resguardo and most of the ethnographic interviews were done together with a local agent and some of the teachers in the local school. I also visited the Koreguaje resguardos San Luis and Jericó-Consayá. El Diamante today is undergoing a prior consultation process for seismic exploration. The arrival of the oil company to the territory has generated disagreement among the community including the members of the resguardo as well as indigenous and campesino families. They consider the prior consultation process has not been transparent, that there was not a clear socialization with all the members of the resguardo and the arguments of the oil company are at least ambiguous (i.e. they use technical terms that are not explained to the communities and so the real impact to the territory remains unclear). We may say that all of the above has damaged the social fabric and has affected the autonomy and governance of the indigenous community. In addition, the beginning of the seismic exploration operations has generated negative impacts at a socio-environmental, spiritual and identity levels: According to their own traditional knowledge, the area of influence that the seismic line crosses through underground bodies of water that connects with lakes, creaks and springs of water that are not only important for the physical subsistence of the community but also have great importance in a spiritual level since they are sacred sites, places where the original spiritual owners live together with ancestral owners and maintain with life the sources of water and the forest.

2. How is oil conceived from a traditional perspective?

In words of Oliver, the cacique of the community: “Everything that exists has an order and it exists that way so that there is a balance, when you disrupt an element everything destabilizes.” The elements that reside in nature has the objective of guaranteeing balance, and in the Koreguaje world elements such as stones have the function to cool down, the gold has the role of generating oxygen and oil is a vital organizing function: It is the blood of Mother Earth and keeps the equilibrium as well as it is a vital source that nourishes the Earth that gives food to humans and animals.



3. How do communities respond to these threats?

Two big oil companies are involved in the prior consultation process the El Diamante resguardo. The first process was sued for the lack of transparency and the oil company retired, nonetheless, the consultancy rights were relinquished to the other company and is precisely since this second oil company became an actor that the community has joined mobilizations for the defense of the territory, water and the indigenous minga. On the other hand, in the last negotiation meetings, the community has expressed its inconformity with the process and is claiming its right to veto in the prior consultation meetings.

4. You also included study cases from other sites in the Amazon with similar threats, what do you consider important to underline of these experiences?

It is essential to recognize the patterns throughout the Colombian Amazon in which oil exploitation has taken place in order to make projections on the probable impacts and make evident that their fears do not lack of basis but are real. The other two study cases were in locations that have been dealing with the extraction of hydrocarbons for some years: The Inga community in Puerto Umbría and the Cofán resguardo Yarinal in La Hormiga, Putumayo. It is evident the high dependency to all the activities surrounding that industry and, in consequence, there have been changes in the ways of living and a loss of their own knowledge systems and language. It has also affected food security due to the loss of hunting and the contamination of water sources, which has in turn effected the health of locals. It is important also to acknowledge the spiritual and cultural affectations that the Inga people (Puerto Umbría) and the Cofán (Yarinal) have endured: For these indigenous groups, oil extraction has implied a disturbance of the order of the world, a fracture of the relationship with the spiritual beings and the owners of the territory and an interruption of the communications with non-humans; as a matter of fact, the yagé ceremonies have been affected by the noise of the machines and the permanent building of paths and infrastructure which has also implied the loss of some sacred plants. Also, there has been an increase in armed violence and a closer articulation with illegal economies after de decline in production in the oil wells. In my research I also systematized 161 complaints in 19 indigenous resguardos in the Colombian Amazon and some of the patterns among them are: The pollution of water sources, a strong militarization of territories, the increase of violence, forced displacement due to violence, and environmental degradation. These patters are not independent, it is more like a network of affectations that have become recurrent as the loss of their territory, a change in their ways of living and cosmology and a loss in food sovereignty.