Oil Sparks in the Amazon
Local Conflicts, Indigenous Populations, and Natural Resources

Patricia I. Vásquez

A groundbreaking study of resource conflicts and indigenous peoples


“Patricia I. Vásquez’s groundbreaking book does a superb job illuminating oil-related local conflicts in Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. Vásquez’s scrupulous and extensive research yielded invaluable insights that will be of great use to scholars and decision makers in both the public and private sectors. Her study is highly nuanced and admirably sensitive to the many complexities behind one of today’s most vexing challenges in much of Latin America.”
—Michael Shifter, President, Inter-American Dialogue

“Patricia Vásquez deploys her vast knowledge of the oil and gas industry to explore the potent mix of grievances and structural constraints that give rise to conflicts between investors and local communities over a host of environmental, social, cultural, and economic issues. Just as important, Vásquez identifies short- and long-term strategies for preventing or mitigating conflict in the hydrocarbons sector. This is an indispensable and pathbreaking book.”
—Cynthia J. Arnson, Director, Latin American Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars


For decades, studies of oil-related conflicts have focused on the effects of natural resource mismanagement, resulting in great economic booms and busts or violence as rebels fight ruling governments over their regions’ hydrocarbon resources. In Oil Sparks in the Amazon, Patricia I. Vásquez writes that while oil busts and civil wars are common, the tension over oil in the Amazon has played out differently, in a way inextricable from the region itself.

Oil disputes in the Amazon primarily involve local indigenous populations. These groups’ social and cultural identities differ from the rest of the population, and the diverse disputes over land, displacement, water contamination, jobs, and wealth distribution reflect those differences. Vásquez spent fifteen years traveling to the oil-producing regions of Latin America, conducting hundreds of interviews with the stakeholders in local conflicts. She analyzes fifty-five social and environmental clashes related to oil and gas extraction in the Andean countries (Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia). She also examines what triggers local hydrocarbons disputes and offers policy recommendations to resolve or prevent them.

Vásquez argues that each case should be analyzed with attention to its specific sociopolitical and economic context. She shows how the key to preventing disputes that lead to local conflicts is to address structural flaws (such as poor governance and inadequate legal systems) and nonstructural flaws (such as stakeholders’ attitudes and behavior) at the outset. Doing this will require more than strong political commitments to ensure the equitable distribution of oil and gas revenues. It will require attention to the local values and culture as well.

Studies in Security and International Affairs

Page count: 200 pp.
1 photo, 1 map, 5 tables, 13 charts
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Patricia I. Vásquez is an independent energy expert and former Jennings Randolph senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and an advisor on energy and sustainable development issues. Previously, she was the head of the Latin America Department at Energy Intelligence.