Beginning on Tuesday, November 22nd, and continuing for several days, the Mapuche community of Gelay Ko has been occupying a compressor plant of the Apache Corporation — a U.S. company based in Houston, Texas — claiming that their operations are taking place on Indigenous lands and are polluting the local water supply. The protests are occurring in the Neuquén province of Argentina and did result in at least temporary loss of services to some local communities. Although there have been no reports of violence as of yet, there is a strong police presence in the region now and both the protestors and company employees have alleged threatening behavior.
According to the lonko (leader) of the Gelay Ko community, Cristina Lincopán, and declarations put forth by the community, the Apache Corporation is operating on traditional Mapuche territory and is drilling without consultation. They have demanded that the corporation to stop these actions. In doing so, the Community also alleges that Apache is contaminating the local water supply. The Community has sought an end to the drilling without consultation and wants the creation of an entity that will oversee and report on the pollution produced by Apache.
According to Lincopán, it is the provincial government who is “lacking the commitment to resolve these issues.” The Community has expressed a desire for dialogue, but according to Gelay Ko’s werken (spokesperson), Martín Maliqueo, the provincial government continues to grants concessions without the support or consideration of the local community. And according to community member Norma Lincopán, the pollution from these concessions is increasingly visible in both the water and the pastures where the animals graze.
Various media accounts of the protests suggest different levels of demonstration. There have been allegations that power lines were cut and nails were spread on the road by at least one news source. Others, however, suggest that the Mapuche protestors have blocked the entrance to the plant, which resulted in a temporary work stoppage and an inability to continue drilling a new hole. There have also been allegations that the protestors damaged vehicles, but the Community has explicitly denied these claims, stating they have been made to make the protestors “appear like a bunch of delinquents.”
It is clear, however, that police were sent to the area to prevent any violence from occurring. The provincial government also sent in mediators to “restore good relations” between the parties, although no reports have been made on whether this tactic has been successful or not. The presence of police has brought its own set of allegations from the Community who indicate that they have been threatened and that shots have even been fired into the air to intimidate those assembled.
According to a spokesperson from Apache, the protests had resulted in the plant operating at 70% of capacity. Services were interrupted for some smaller communities, but had been restored although the company warns of the possibility of further problems depending on how the protesters proceed.
The Apache Corporation is a U.S. company that is headquartered in Houston, Texas. They have been operating in Argentina since 2001, with plants in Rio Negro, Tierra del Fuego Mendoza, and Neuquén. They also have interests in three major Argentinian oil fields: la Neuquén, la Austral, and la Cuyana. According to the Apache website, the company reported record production last quarter with earnings approaching US$ 1 billion. Additionally, although their mission statement does not mention Indigenous peoples specifically, they do state, “We derive benefit from the Earth and take our environmental responsibility seriously.”
The protests come just days before the U.N. Special Rapporteur, James Anaya, visits Argentina for the first time. Anaya is scheduled to be in Argentina from November 27th through December 7th, and will be in the province where the protests are taking place — Neuquén — during his visit.