This article deals with the ethnicization of environmental struggles in the face of Peruvian extractive policies. Although is it well known that these kinds of mobilizations lay claim to an “indigenous” identity, that claim is rarely seen as being constrained by the government and the dominant categories of ethnicity it produces. Furthermore, ethnicization processes should not hide the internal divisions within mobilized groups. The ethnography of the area surrounding the oldest oil field in Peruvian Amazonia provides an insight into the ambivalent influence of the racialization of public policy on mobilization processes. This article first places the development of the oil industry in the context of the region’s history, which is characterized both by extractive policies and by the racialization of part of its population—who thus face “environmental racism” in that, as a minorized group, they are particularly exposed to the toxicity of the oil industry. The article then looks at the construction of a unified ethnic social image within mobilizations and at the life trajectories of the leaders who appropriate the “indigenous” category for protest purposes. Finally, it examines the plurality of social affiliations and the ethnicization of differences at the village level; this process leads to the emergence of spokespersons who compete with protest leaders for the right to represent local populations faced with extractive policies.
Special report: Racialization and public policyBy Doris Buu-Sao