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.

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Keywords Achuar, Amazon, extractive industry, indigenous people, Kichwa, oil extraction, Quechua, socio-environmental conflicts
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-10098-230307, hdl.handle.net/1765/113996
Journal Ecology and Society: a journal of integrative science for resilience and sustainability
Orta-Martínez, M, Pellegrini, L, & Arsel, M. (2018). “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”? The conflict imperative and the slow fight against environmental injustice in northern Peruvian Amazon. Ecology and Society: a journal of integrative science for resilience and sustainability, 23(3). doi:10.5751/ES-10098-230307