Lauren Baker, PhD

2012 TRI Fellow in Peru

Just Concessions?: Indigenous Rights and Identity Politics in the Peruvian Amazon Related to Oil Concessions

Why and how are indigenous rights claims being articulated in response to oil concessions in the Peruvian Amazon?  Oil exploration concessions have rapidly and recently increased in Peru, with oil concessions now covering over 70% of the Peruvian Amazon, up from 15% just 5 years ago.  The upsurge has in turn provoked a re-examination and upsurge in advocacy and critiques of previous oil extraction in the region.  In my research, I analyze indigenous advocacy and rights claims being made in response to oil extraction and exploration concessions in the Peruvian Amazon, as well as the ways in which such rights claims are addressed, silenced, or contested by company and government officials.  Fieldwork for this research was carried out over an 18 month period, spanning from late February 2011 to late August 2012, with support of the TRI Endowment Fellowship for July and August 2012 (previous support was provided by the Inter-American Foundation Grassroots Development Fellowship).  Over my final two months of field research, I was able to closely track coordination between several indigenous federations with the regional government of Loreto, having largely to do with new and potentially significant commitments for government sponsored and independently monitored analyses of oil contamination.  Additionally, I conducted participant observation at two rights trainings for indigenous leaders (each one attended by representatives from over 25 indigenous communities, and in which oil activities were hotly discussed during at least a portion of the workshop); community visits with two Cocama indigenous communities; and a number of final interviews and oral histories of indigenous leaders, government officials, NGO activists, anthropologists working in the region, and oil company personnel.  These final two months of fieldwork served as an invaluable capstone to my dissertation research, which I will analyze and write up over the coming two years.