Achuar Leaders visit Houston to Discuss Oil Drilling in the Amazon
Two Achuar indigenous leaders from Peru came to Houston to talk about the effects of oil drilling in their Amazon territories. The Achuar recently gained two victories against major oil companies in the region; representatives from Amazon Watch came to the meeting to describe the judicial process in detail.
An Apu, or tribal leader, from one of the Achuar communities, spoke first. In his native language, he said theyâ€™d traveled far to come here and thanked everyone for supporting them. He said that since oil companies have come into their territory (during the 1970s), their resources have been destroyed. â€œWe donâ€™t want any more companies,â€ he said. â€œWe want to defend our right to leave our children with healthy land.â€
Gonzalo, vice president of the Achuar Federation of the Corrientes River, demanded that no more companies come into the region, and that no companies should be let in without consulting the indigenous people living in those territories.
In October 2006, 31 Achuar communities and over 100 leaders united to resist the oil companies and demand change. For two weeks, they blocked roads, airports and rivers and were able to completely halt 50% of the oil processes in Peru. They also split up 800 men, women, and children into groups of 25 to cut all the electricity wires running to oil wells in their lands.
At one point, the government sent in over 200 police officers to stop one of those blockades. The Achuar refused to leave, saying that they were willing to die for their land and people. In the end, they were able to convince the government forces to retreat. A couple of days later, government officials and company representatives met with the Achuar leaders to discuss their demands.
Leila, from Amazon Watch, described the judicial victories. Earlier this month, the US oil company Oxy said it would be ending its activities and leaving Peru. Also, the Peruvian government and Argentina-based Company Pluspetrol, which is currently drilling in the territory, agreed to almost all of the demands put forth by the Achuar.
They agreed to undertake 100% of re-injection of the toxic formation waters back into the ground within a year, and will set aside $25 million for remediation services. From now on, 5% of all state royalties from oil production will be used for community development in those territories. Also, $1 million will be set aside for emergency food and aid for the next year, and theyâ€™ve also agreed to build a permanent hospital.
The health benefits won are crucial. Leila said that in May 2006, the Peruvian Ministry of Health conducted a blood study of the region. They found that nearly 100% of those tested had levels of lead and cadmium in their blood that exceeded the normal limit. A lack of potable water and the destruction of traditionally eaten wildlife have also led to severe health problems needing immediate medical attention.
A combination of public pressure and corporate responsibility helped the Achuar achieve their victories, said Leila. She also noted all the publicity they gained when Qâ€™orianka Kilcher, the 16 year old actress who played Pocahantas in The New World, held a press conference in support of the Achuar. Kilcher is of Quechua/Huachipaeri Indian descent and much of her family resides in Peru.
Amazon Watch came to Houston earlier this year for the Conoco Phillips shareholderâ€™s meeting. Conoco Phillips, an oil company based out of Houston, currently holds over 8 million acres in Achuar Territory. Amazon Watch reports Conoco does not respond to Amazonâ€™s phone calls.
They said that Amazon Watch will probably be back in Houston for the next ConocoPhillips shareholders meeting which will be held at the end of April/beginning of May.
Town hall meeting on tasers & police brutality
Community members and activists voiced concerns about police brutality, racial profiling, and institutionalized racism at a town hall meeting to discuss the use of tasers. Members of the community along with a panel of activists, lawyers and three Houston police officers met Monday at the SHAPE Community Center to debate the current use of tasers by HPD officers, discussing the current policy and the disproportionate use of tasers on people from the black community.
New statistics showing that over 60% of the people tasered in Houston are black led to an emotionally charged discussion about racism and racial profiling. While the police defended their policy on tasers, ensuring that strict guidelines are placed to prevent officers from misuse of the weapons, several people from the audience stood up and shared stories of being unfairly harassed and tasered by Houston police officers.
Deloyd Parker of SHAPE facilitated the meeting and quickly introduced the panel â€“ made up of three HPD officers, two lawyers, representatives from city council and community activists – before giving the floor to the community. Many people, angered about reports showing that some officers had tasered people for being â€œverbally combative,â€ asked the HPD officers if there were any guidelines concerning the use of tasers.
Assistant Police Chief Charles McClellan insisted that the use of tasers is under highly scrutinized guidelines and stated directly that â€œbeing verbally combative is not a justification for using a taser.â€
McClellan said that it takes a physical threat to justify tasering and as long as people follow instructions, they wonâ€™t get tasered. He also talked about how HPD is going to be testing a new taser that includes a video/audio recorder to hold police officers more accountable.
He, along with another assistant police chief also talked about how a committee made up of community members, including people from the NAACP and LULAC, had analyzed the first four months of taser use and recommended changes that have been implemented to strengthen the departmentâ€™s guidelines. Officers now must go through trainings and watch instructional videos teaching them proper procedures, with a focus on prohibiting using verbal abuse as justification for using a taser.
But those who came up to the microphone argued that whatâ€™s really happening is that police officers are still violating those guidelines, profiling, and abusing black people without justification. The focus of the night was centered on this issue of race. One community doctor, who says he had been unfairly harassed before, expressed his belief that the problem weâ€™re facing right now is the inability of the police department to treat black people correctly and asked Officer McClellan to stand up for his people. The same sentiments were shared by Quanell X when he said that the police officers â€œsee their uniform before they see their own people.â€
Deloyd asked the officer why over 60% of people tasered were black when they only make up 23% of the population â€“ the officer responded by saying that 1 out of every 2 people arrested in Houston is black. The question then centered on why those numbers are so high. Deloyd pointed out that racial profiling is real and present; he said we are living under a system of domestic neocolonialism.
Several people shared their experiences with police brutality and tasering in Houston. One shared the story of being pulled over and verbally harassed by a police officer who quickly changed his demeanor when a media crew arrived on the scene. Another man told of how police officers tasered him and split his eye open with a pistol when he was trying to protect his own son from being injured. Another man explained how a police officer had threatened to taser him if he kept asking questions. Anyone who has been a victim of police brutality is encouraged to get help at SHAPE.
The meeting also included a discussion on the health effects of tasers.
The officers talked about how a committee of national experts said the use of tasers does not have a permanent effect on a personâ€™s health. Officer McClellan explained that the max voltage going through a personâ€™s body from the shock is 1200V, but what really affects the body is the amp of the shockâ€“which is only 0.04.
But a local doctor on the panel argued that voltage affects you more because thatâ€™s what penetrates the body and said that there is â€œno way the body can handle thatâ€“it has to have some permanent effect.â€
Quanell X spoke in support of a moratorium on all use of tasers until a comprehensive medical study is conducted on the health effects of tasers.