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Drilling Towards Disaster: Ecuador’s Aggressive Amazonian Oil Push April 11, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Energy, Environment, Latin America, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: Like all so-called leftist governments, with virtually no exceptions (Chile under Allende, and we saw what happened there), as stewards of the capitalist state they supposedly rule, it becomes expedient if not necessary, to move to the right, which means to accommodate the basic needs of capital.  In the case of Correa’s Ecuador, the proposed destruction, ecological and cultural, of the rain-forest, is justified as an anti-poverty endeavor.  In the face of falling oil prices, it is virtually a suicidal move (for the country, if not for the ruling elite).  Exchanging US (IMF/World Bank) debt for Chinese debt will ensure the impoverization of the county in the long run.  This while contributing to global warming and the possible of genocide of the self-imposed isolated indigenous tribes in the Ecuadorian Amazon.


Last week, the Ecuadorian government announced that it had begun constructing the first of a planned 276 wells, ten drilling platforms, and multiple related pipelines and production facilities in the ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) oil field, known as Block 43, which overlaps Yasuní National Park in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. Coupled with the recent signing of two new oil concessions on the southern border of Yasuní and plans to launch another oil lease auction for additional blocks in the country’s southern Amazon in late 2016, the slated drilling frenzy is part of a larger, aggressive move for new oil exploration as the country faces daunting oil-backed loan payments to China, its largest creditor.

Yasuní National Park is widely considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. It has more species per hectare of trees, shrubs, insects, birds, amphibians, and mammals than anywhere else in the world. It was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989, and it is home to the Tagaeri-Taromenane, Ecuador’s last indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation.

The controversial drilling plans were met with protest at the headquarters of state-run Petroamazonas’ Quito office, the company charged with developing the field. Ecuador averaged a spill per week between 2000 and 2010, which doesn’t bode well for drilling in a national park.

Despite touting the new perforation, the government is on the defensive, trying to downplay impact on the park. It points to the fact that the well site, Tiputini C, is technically outside of Yasuní’s limits. But, as the first wildcat well of hundreds planned, the government’s rhetoric is misleading at best.

Correa also boldly claimed that drilling in the adjacent Block 31 concession was not inside the boundary of Yasuní National Park, which was followed by a press conference from Environmental Minister Daniel Ortega who reiterated that claim. But activists are crying foul.

“The government is lying,” said Patricio Chavez, a member of Yasunídos, a national collective dedicated to defend Yasuní National Park. “They have no idea what they’re talking about. We’re not sure whether they make these statements because they honestly don’t know their own country or they’re trying to intentionally confuse people.”

In fact, Block 31 is in the heart of Yasuní National Park, with the two oil fields clearly in the middle of the block. The Ministry of Hydrocarbons’ own map shows a pipeline extending to the Apaika field – in the middle of the block and the heart of the park.

Conveniently for the government, though, both Block 31 and Block 43 are highly militarized and entrance by the public is forbidden. But satellite images and investigative undercover missions into the area not only show oil activity underway but also the construction of illegal roads in violation of the environmental license.

But don’t be fooled. In fact, there are currently eight oil blocks that overlap Yasuní National Park, which calls into question the relevance of its “national park” status with so much drilling either underway or planned.

“The park and its indigenous peoples are under siege,” said Leo Cerda, a Kichwa youth leader and Amazon Watch Field Coordinator. “If this is how a national park is treated, imagine what drilling in an ‘unprotected’ area looks like.”

Expanding drilling activity in the park has left the nomadic Tagaeri-Taromenane virtually surrounded. Recent conflicts between the two clans and their Waorani relatives has led to several killings and other inter-ethnic violence. While there are different theories as to the roots of the confrontations, dwindling territory, scarce resources, noise from oil activity, and encroachment by outsiders are all likely factors. Regardless, so much pressure on the park and its inhabitants is having predictable and tragic consequences.

The drilling plans have been a flashpoint since 2013 when President Rafael Correa pulled the plug on the Yasuní-ITT initiative, a proposal to permanently keep the ITT fields – an estimated 920 million barrels of oil – in the ground in exchange for international contributions equaling half of Ecuador’s forfeited revenue.

The initiative failed to attract funds, in part because Annex I countries were unwilling to contribute to an untested supply-side proposal to keep fossil fuels in the ground instead of more traditional demand-side regulations and carbon offsets. Essentially, northern countries – the most responsible for climate change – were unwilling to cough up cash to protect one of the world’s most important places if they weren’t going to get anything in exchange.

Scientists now agree that we need to keep at least 80 percent of all fossil fuels in the ground to avoid a catastrophic 1.5℃ rise in global temperature, so Ecuador’s proposal was apparently ahead of its time. The world dropped the ball, but the blame for the initiative’s stillbirth is shared.

The Correa administration mismanaged the initiative from the outset. It took several years to establish a trust fund where people and governments could contribute. But more detrimental was the administration’s simultaneous tender of multiple oil blocks in the country’s southern Amazon. Why pay to keep oil in the ground in one place if the host country government merely opens up new areas to compensate for lost revenue? Correa’s have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too politics were not very convincing to potential donors.

Public outrage and protest met Correa’s unilateral decision to scrap the initiative. A six-month national mobilization to force a ballot initiative on drilling plans garnered over 700,000 signatures, far more than the required 400,000. But almost half were nullified by Ecuador National Election Council in a process littered with secrecy and fraud.

“When the Yasuní-ITT initiative was launched, the idea was that leaving the oil in the ground would help address environmental and economic problems on the local, national, and global level,” said Esperanza Martinez, President of Ecuador’s Accion Ecologica and founder of the Oilwatch network. “The abandonment of the initiative has come with an aggressive push on Yasuní – on its borders to the north, south, east, and west. But the decision to drill now comes at a time when the world is talking about breaking free of fossil fuel dependence and agreeing on targets to avoid the rise of global temperature.”

Martinez continued, “It makes no sense to drill now – at great biological and cultural risk – when economically Ecuador is losing money with each barrel extracted. There is no justification that drilling in Yasuní is in the economic interest of the country.”

Indeed, it costs Ecuador $39 to produce a barrel of oil. But current market price for its two types of crude are in the low $30s, so Ecuador is losing money on each barrel being pulled from the ground. And when the aboveground ecosystem is one of the most important in the world and drilling activities threaten the ethnocide of isolated peoples, drilling at a loss is bewildering. Of course, there is no price per barrel that would justify drilling in such an environmentally pristine and culturally sensitive area with the extinction of a people at risk.

A major factor in Ecuador’s drive to expand drilling in Yasuní and beyond, despite the current oil market context of abundant and cheap oil, is the country’s outstanding debt to China. According to a Boston University/Inter-American Dialogue Database, Ecuador has obtained 11 loans, totalling about $15.2 billion, much of which must be paid back with petroleum.

But the move into Yasuní coincides with an equally aggressive push to open new areas south of Yasuní in a large, roadless pristine swath of forest that extends out to the Peruvian border.

Two blocks, 79 and 83, were recently concessioned, and drilling deals were signed with Andes Petroleum, a Chinese state-run firm. Faced with adamant opposition from both the Sápara and Kichwa peoples whose legally-titled territory overlaps these oil blocks, the government has sought to divide the indigenous communities.

Speaking at an Inter-American Human Rights Commission hearing on Monday, Franco Viteri, President of CONFENAIE (Confederation of Amazonian Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador), described efforts of the government to divide the legitimate indigenous organizations with the aim of circumventing resistance to resource extraction and advancing Andes Petroleum’s drilling plans.

“The objective of the government is to create acceptance – or the appearance of acceptance – of resource extraction. That’s what the government wants because we are resisting resource extraction projects like oil and mining throughout the Amazon region.”

Manari Ushigua, President of the Sápara federation, whose territory is almost totally engulfed by Blocks 79 and 83, also addressed the government’s intentions.

“The goal of the Ecuadorian government is to divide us and open our land to oil extraction. We live in peace, with the natural world, with our spirits. But our elders are few. We are on the verge of extinction.”

The government has also announced plans to launch a new oil licensing round in late 2016 which would sell off several other oil blocks in Ecuador’s southern Amazon. However, the last auction, known as the 11th Round, was a widely recognized failure. Offering thirteen blocks, the government only received four bids, two of those from the same company – Andes. Clearly, the Chinese state-run firm wants to make sure that its sole shareholder, the Chinese government, gets paid back for its generous lending to Ecuador. And because the payments are in oil, it explains why Ecuador is forced to expand drilling, even if it’s at a loss. China can then turn around and sell the barrels of oil in the open market for a substantial profit.

Ecuador’s new oil boom is ill-timed. While several years ago the country was the vanguard of what is now a worldwide movement to #keepitintheground, Correa’s “Drill, baby, drill!” policies place its frontier forests and indigenous peoples at great risk. As I’ve written before, Ecuador’s pipe dream of prosperity from perforating wells like ITT have failed to pan out, instead trapping the country in a downward spiral of debt, dependency, and environmental destruction.

However, the movement to #keepitintheground in Ecuador is growing. Ecuador’s 11th Oil Round failed mostly because communities on the ground vowed resistance and indigenous leaders traveled to every oil expo at which the government sought to sell its Amazon oil blocks to the highest bidders – including Quito, Houston, Paris, and Calgary – and let any interested company or investor know that their lands were not for sale. Indigenous peoples across Ecuador’s Amazon have again vowed to keep the companies out and they are asking for our solidarity. Let’s join them!


“To Get the Gold, They Will Have to Kill Every One of Us First” Tribal Leaders Fight Gold-Hungry Investors February 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Mining.
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By Alexander Zaitchik

http://www.alternet.org, February 11, 2013

Ecuadorian officials want to sell gold-laden land to China, but not without a fight from the legendary Shuar tribe.
 Of the thousands of “Avatar” screenings held during the film’s record global release wave, none tethered the animated allegory to reality like a rainy day matinee in Quito, Ecuador.

It was late January 2010 when a non-governmental organization bused Indian chiefs from the Ecuadorean Amazon to a multiplex in the capital. The surprise decampment of the tribal congress triggered a smattering of cheers, but mostly drew stares of apprehension from urban Ecuadoreans who attribute a legendary savagery to their indigenous compatriots, whose violent land disputes in the jungle are as alien as events on “Avatar’s” Pandora.

The chiefs — who watched the film through plastic 3-D glasses perched beneath feathered headdress — saw something else in the film: a reflection. The only fantastical touches they noticed in the sci-fi struggle were the blue beanstalk bodies and the Hollywood gringo savior. “As in the film, the government here has closed the dialogue,” a Shuar chief told a reporter after the screening. “Does this mean that we do something similar to the film? We are ready.”

Three years after “Avatar’s” Quito premiere, declarations of martial readiness are multiplying and gaining volume throughout the tribal territories of Ecuador’s mountainous southeast. The warnings bare sharpest teeth in the Shuar country of the Cordillera del Condor, the rain forest mountain range targeted by President Rafael Correa for the introduction of mega-mining.

In recent years, the quickening arrival of drills and trenchers from China and Canada has provoked a militant resistance that unites the local indigenous and campesino populations. The stakes declared and the violence endured by this battle-scarred coalition is little-known even in Ecuador, where Correa has made muscular use of state security forces in arresting activists and intimidating journalists who threaten his image as an ecologically minded man-of-the-people. This repression has only intensified in the run-up to Correa’s expected reelection on Feb. 17.

My guide to this simmering “Avatar” in the Amazon was a 57-year-old Shuar chief named Domingo Ankuash. Like many elder Shuar, Ankuash does not appear to be blustering when he says he will die defending his ancestral lands in the province of Morona-Santiago, which borders Peru. Early in my month traveling the Condor, he took me deep into the country for which he is prepared to lay down his life. After a steep two hours’ hike from his village, we arrived at a forest clearing of densely packed earth. Through the trees and hanging vines, a 40-foot waterfall replenished a deep rock-strewn lagoon. The cascade is one of thousands in the Condor cordillera, a rolling buffer between the cliffs of the eastern Andes and the continental flatness of the Amazon basin.

“We have been coming to these sacred cascades since before the time of Christ,” said Ankuash, preparing a palm-leaf spread of melon and mango. “The government has given away land that is not theirs to give, and we have a duty to protect it. Where there is industrial mining, the rivers die and we lose our way of life. They want us to give up our traditions, work in the mines, and let them pollute our land. But we will give our lives to defend the land, because the end is the same for us either way.”

Beside the bright melons, Ankuash unfolds a frail map of the Condor to come. The industrial future overlays the natural present in a dense geometric circuitry that blots out the region’s rivers and mountains with a patchwork of oddly patterned boxes, as if some madcap Aguirre had gerrymandered the jungle. Rafael Correa’s PAIS Alliance was elected in 2007 with heavy indigenous support, but the map’s vision is the president’s own. His economic development plan, enshrined in a series of controversial laws and strategic declarations, centers on prying Ecuador’s southern rain forests of their rich placer deposits of base and precious metals, which fleck the Condor’s soils and loams like the stars of the universe. Ecuador, Correa has declared, can no longer be “a beggar sitting atop a sack of gold.”

To help him grab these shiny metals, Correa has invited foreign mining firms to deforest and drill much of the country’s remaining pristine forests. Not far from where Ankuash and I are sitting, a Chinese joint venture led by the China Railway Corp. is building infrastructure for an open-sky copper mine with the “Lord of the Rings”-sounding name of Mirador. To the north and east of the Chinese concession, the Canadian gold giant Kinross is prepping its 39 lots, including the envy of the industry, Fruta del Norte, believed to be Latin America’s largest deposit of high-grade gold. These projects are merely the first wave; others wait in the wings. Together they threaten more than the Shuar way of life and the sustainable agricultural and tourist economies of Ecuador’s southern provinces. The Condor is a hot spot of singular ecological wealth and a major source of water for the wider Amazon watershed to the east. What happens there is of global consequence.

But there’s no international outcry on the horizon to concern Rafael Correa and his commercial partners abroad. What they face is a local security problem. It is the same security problem known to regional colonial powers dating back to the Inca. As Correa has always known, and as the Chinese are learning, the Condor is ancestral home to 8,000 Shuar, the most storied warrior tribe in the annals of colonialism in the New World.

“The strategy is to unite the Shuar like the fingers of a fist,” Ankuash tells me as I prepare to dive into the icy waters of the lagoon below. “The forest has always given us everything we need, and we are planning to defend it, as our ancestors would, with the strength of the spear. To get the gold, they will have to kill every one of us first.”

*   *   *

Among the tribes of the Amazon, only the Shuar successfully revolted against Inca and Spanish occupation. The Incan emperor Huayana Capac led the first attempted conquest of Shuar territory in 1527, an adventure that ended with his rump army bestowing gifts in retreat. The first European to follow Capac’s footsteps, Hernando de Benavente, ran briskly ahead of Shuar arrows back to Lima, where he complained to the Royal Court of “the most insolent [tribe] that I have seen in all the time that I have traveled in the Indies and engaged in their conquest.” Years of gift-bearing Spanish peace missions eventually won Shuar acceptance of trading posts at Maca and Sevilla del Oro. But these were never tranquil. “The Shuar are a very warlike people [and] are killing Spaniards every day,” observed a visitor to the outposts in 1582. “It is a very rough land, having many rivers and canyons, all of which in general have gold in such quantity that the Spaniards are obliged to forget the danger.” Some Shuar, he noted, worked the mines in exchange for goods, but did so “with much reluctance.”

The most famous case of Shuar “insolence” occurred in 1599, when the Spanish governor of Maca demanded a gold tax from local Indians to fund a celebration of the coronation of Philip III. The night before the tax was due, Shuar armies slaughtered every adult male in the Spanish hamlets and surrounded the governor’s home. They tied the governor to his bed and used a bone to push freshly melted gold down his throat, laughing and demanding to know if he had finally sated his thirst. According to the Jesuit priest and historian Juan de Velasco, the “the horrendous catastrophe” at Maca caused “insolences and destructions” by the “barbaric nations” up and down the Andean spine of New Spain. For the next 250 years, the Spanish mostly stayed away. Occasional attempts by Jesuit missionaries to reestablish contact were met with a welcome basket of skulls pulled from the shrunken heads of gold-hungry Spaniards.

Most people have heard of the Shuar, even if they don’t realize it. They are the storied Amazonian “head shrinking” tribe. Each of a long succession of enemies have learned firsthand of their tzantza ritual, in which the heads of slain invaders are removed at the collarbone, relieved of their skulls, and shrunk by seasoned boiling in a multi-day ceremony. Tzantza is just one of many rituals rooted in a cosmology of animist spirits. Collectively, these spirits are known as Arutam, a shape-shifting pantheistic godhead whose name loosely translates as “soul power.” Atop a bridge leading to Shuar territory in the southern province of Zamora-Chinchipe, I encountered an oversize statue of Arutam in human form wielding a staff astride a giant toucan, redolent of the dragon-like beasts of “Avatar.”

If James Cameron’s fictional Na’vi of “Avatar” reflect the essence and predicament of one real-world tribe, it’s the Shuar. While they do not expect an action-hero savior to fall from the sky, they recognize that avoiding further bloodshed and protecting the Condor ultimately depends on getting the attention of the wider world, and quickly.

“The world needs to know what is happening in Ecuador, because the destruction of the Condor will have effects for the Amazon, and what affects the Amazon affects the planet as a whole,” said Ankuash. “The world must understand the Condor is not an ordinary patch of jungle.”

*   *   *

The biologist Alfredo Luna walks with a limp and a cane, the legacy of a plane crash in the Condor that killed two of his colleagues nearly 20 years ago. The plane was carrying a team assembled by Conservation International to conduct the first and only systematic study of the Condor’s hydrological system and the abundant flora and fauna it supports. The team’s findings catapulted the Condor into the elite ranks of global hot spots as ranked by conservation significance. A synopsis of these findings is the subject of a slideshow Luna gives around the world in an attempt to catalyze the conservation community. “The Condor combines the diversity of the Andes and the Amazon in the middle of cloud forest,” Luna said one evening at an NGO office in Quito, pausing his presentation on the image of a marsupial species recently discovered in the Condor. “There is more diversity of life in one hectare of the Condor than all of North America combined.”

Luna stresses that his slideshow only hints at the majesty of the Condor’s biodiversity. “Researchers have just scratched the surface,” he said. What is known is that the Condor breathes with more than 2,000 vascular plants and flowers, including 40 unique varieties of orchid. It is home to hundreds of endemic species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, dozens of which were new to science when first cataloged by Luna’s team. “Unleashing industrial-scale mining in the region is a catastrophe equal to using the Galapagos Islands as a bombing range,” said the biologist. “Its flora has enormous potential to benefit man. So much of it, we’ve only seen from helicopters. Before we even know what’s there, they’re going to destroy it.”

The Condor’s ecological riches are a consequence of unusual wetness. The mountains of the Condor sit on massive aquifers containing a fair chunk of the continent’s fresh water. This water trickles out of innumerable crevices and pours forth from countless cascades. The streams feed famous rains. The volume of rain produced in the Condor’s water cycle is enormous, says Luna, thanks to a unique commixture of altitudes, endemic soils, and solar and wind patterns. The heavy rainwater feeds dozens of small rivers that wind east into the Rios Zamora and Santiago, which sustain the region’s agricultural economy. These eventually merge with Peru’s Marañón River, a major tributary of the continental Amazonian watershed.

The amount of water pulsing through the Condor, says Luna, makes laughable government and industry claims that large stores of toxic mining waste can be contained in tailing ponds, and that samples of the region’s wildlife can be preserved in greenhouse Arks for future replanting. “The Condor cycle is supported by at least two dozen kinds of fragile soils and vegetation cover,” he said. “This web of microclimates will not survive the violence of major mining. It all begins with the rain and the rivers, and the mining will affect rainfall, drying up and contaminating important hinges in the larger Amazon River system. The fools don’t understand that disturbing one part disturbs the whole.”

*   *   *

Shuar life in the Condor remained largely unchanged until well into the last century. Regular contact with the modern Ecuadorean state began at mid-century, when the government began a settlement program in what it called tierra baldia — “no man’s land.” Thousands of mestizo farmers were moved into the mountains and given plots of land. With them came state schools, paved roads, cattle ranching, artisanal miners and frontier towns. Beginning in the 1960s, a new character began appearing in these frontier towns: the wildcat geologist seeking El Dorado. Drawn by the old myths and encouraged by the new infrastructure, they surveyed the mountains, broke rock, sifted soils and bagged samples. “They always said they were studying the flowers,” remembers an old Shuar woman who served many first-wave geologists at her roadside grill, where she sells fish baked in leaves that sweeten the meat. “They walked around with maps and little axes. They came from many countries.”

The samples they took revived the legend of Condor gold. In the 1990s, the first mining concessions were handed to politically connected firms. The World Bank funded a geological survey of the region that turned up traces of more than 300 minerals. International mining juniors were lining up to find the biggest deposits in 1995 when the country went to war with Peru for the third time in half a century, suspending exploration. The Shuar lived along the disputed border and played an important role in the war, reinvigorating their reputation as the Gurkhas of the Amazon. In multiple Shuar villages, veterans of the war spoke of decapitating Peruvian soldiers they killed in jungle firefights and carrying the heads back home for skinning and shrinking. “The tzantza ceremony protects against us from further invasion and shows that we do not kill lightly,” explained a Shuar veteran named Patricio Taishtiwiram. With a twinkle in his eye, he added, “It also makes us feel like we are winning.”

The foreign mining firms who set up exploratory bases in the Condor after the war probably did not know the tzantza is a living tradition. But they knew enough about the local population to stay low and mask their purpose. “They came in very quiet, always changing names as they grew,” said Tarcisio Juep, a 50-year-old Shuar from a village near the proposed Mirador site. “First it was Gemsa, then Billington, then the Canadian ECSA, and now it’s the Chinese ECSA. They never asked permission. They never explained their plans. Then some years ago they told us they had bought the land, that mining was coming, that they’d give us jobs, that they would be the only jobs. It was a crime in pieces.”

In 2005, Corriente went public with the scale of the Mirador project. The Canadian firm announced it would build an open-pit copper mine dwarfing anything in Ecuador’s history. The mine required hollowing out one of the region’s largest mountains and clear-cutting several others. A massive tailing pond would hold the 200-plus million tons of toxic effluvia generated over the mine’s 18-year lifespan. The site designated for the waste sits half a mile from the Rio Quimi, a tributary of the Rio Zamora, whose waters support the local agricultural economy on their way into the Amazon basin. Roads and bridges are being built for 18-wheel truck traffic to carry hundreds of tons of copper concentrate on a daily nonstop loop between the mine and a port on Ecuador’s Pacific coast. (Such projects receive much of President Correa’s “populist” infrastructure spending.)

Corriente announced its plan coated in absurd assurances that the mine and the waste pool were nothing to fear. The company even claimed that after the mine had closed, the tailing pond could be converted into a “resort lake” for swimming and water sports. Corriente printed up leaflets showing people swimming in the crystal waters of this man-made lake that once contained millions of tons of cancer soup. “They think we are stupid and will believe their children’s stories,” said Ankuash, the Shuar chief. “But even our children can see through them. We know what oil drilling has done in the north of Ecuador. We know what industrial mining does. We are in contact with our indigenous friends in Chile and Peru and have learned from them. We know the companies will come in and take all the minerals, leaving devastation behind. Wherever companies are most active, the communities are weakest. Where people used to help each other, they begin to think only of themselves. Families are not as strong. Correa’s mining policy will be the end of everything. Already the exploratory drills are polluting the water.”

In Tundayme, the community closest to the Mirador site, the old agricultural economy has withered. “The exploratory machines create dirty runoff by drilling huge 7-foot holes,” said Angel Arebelo, a farmer who last year moved to the nearest frontier town to drive a cab. “You can taste it in the rivers of the Quimi Valley. It is just beginning. Eventually everyone here will die from the chemicals.”

“We used to grow our own food, corn and yucca, and sell the rest in Pangui. Now they come here to sell,” said Eva Correa, a young Shuar mother in Tundayme. “Everything is upside down. They took our land away and now we need money, but the company pay is not enough and the work is dangerous. The new model is not working.”

One afternoon, I stopped by ECSA’s two-story mirrored-glass corporate office, which sits at the end of El Pangui’s short and dusty commercial strip. In the lobby, a poster showed Chinese managers and local employees in hard hats working together. Another poster featuring bright green frogs advertised the company’s sponsorship of an environmental-photography contest. I was directed to the office of Ruth Salinas, ECSA’s garrulous light-skinned communications officer. She dismissed the idea that mining would undermine local agricultural and tourism and launched into a rant against the Shuar. “The Indians can’t lecture anyone on the environment!” she huffed. “They hunt, you know? They fish with poison leaves that ruin the rivers. They cut down trees. They only want money from us, but they are not responsible enough to use it. They don’t do anything but grow yucca and drinkchichi beer.”

As I got up to leave, she reached into a box and handed me some ECSA literature. One of the pamphlets had on its cover a pretty indigenous girl in traditional dress, squatting by a stream. Above her it said, “Copper: A New Era for the Nation.”

*   *   *

In October 2006, mestizo and Shuar leaders organized the first action against the introduction of mining in the south: a peaceful march to the Mirador site. The protesters didn’t get far before trucks blocked their path and unloaded dozens of ski-masked men armed with rifles, machetes, sticks, and knives. The organizers of the march were badly beaten. “That was the turning point,” said Ricardo Aucay, a local farmer and leading figure in the local resistance. “The company started the chaos, the mess, the vengeance and the hatred.”

A group of Shuar communities next declared a “mining sweep” of their territory. They gave a Corriente subcontractor until November 1 to vacate the village of Warints, where it had set up a base. When the deadline passed, hundreds of Shuar swept into the camp from the forest side at dawn. They trapped company managers inside while the women and children used long spears of chonta wood to block rescue helicopters from landing. The mining staff was only allowed to leave the following day with their equipment. The Shuar army continued by foot to a site near the main Mirador complex, where they slipped past a military guard and took over the buildings. After a three-day standoff, all of the company’s machines were hauled away on military trucks. The state responded by militarizing the other mining camps. Throughout the area, road protests erupted that blocked mining traffic with burning tires, boulders, and bodies. The protests escalated in response to news that a massive dam and power lines were being built near Macas to provide Mirador with cheap energy. Spreading beyond rural hamlets, a general strike was called throughout the southern provinces.

On November 12, the government of Alfredo Palacio announced a suspension of Corriente’s mining activities and agreed to discuss turning the Condor region into an ecological and tourism reserve. Corriente and its subcontractors simply ignored the decree. On December 1, after the state made clear it was with the company, hundreds of protestors again marched to the Mirador site. While attempting to cut razor wire that had been placed in their path across a narrow bridge, police and private security units attacked. The tear-gas-beclouded battle lasted one hour. Bullets rubber and real ripped through several protestors amid Indian war whoops, chants of “Ecuador!” and old mestizo women crying, “Teach them with your blood, Oh Lord!”

Among the dozens of protestors arrested and beaten was the anti-mining prefect of Zamora-Chinchipe, a Suraguro indian named Salvador Quishpe. Six years later, Quishpe remains in office and organizes with the seven-party alliance contesting Correa in February’s election. “Quito has slowed down payments to the province as punishment for my position on mining,” he told me one afternoon in his home on the outskirts of Zamora. “But money isn’t all. They don’t have enough to pay off the conscience of the entire country. More conflict is coming.”

Those who fought alongside Qichspe echo his conclusion. Vinicio Tibiron was shot through the chest at the bridge protests and expects to be shot at again. “It will be wars throughout the region,” Tibiron told me over a bowl of yucca beer at his remote Shuar village of Ayantaz. “They will send police and military, and we will gather our weapons. Outsiders have always called us savages because they could not conquer us. If they continue, their actions will compel us to show them savagery, to act like the Indians we are.”

Sitting near and observing us is a thick middle-aged woman named Mercedes Samarent, herself a veteran of several violent clashes. “They will be fighting all of us,” she said, holding up a machete. “The men have their weapons, and we have ours.”

*   *   *

Rafael Correa was elected president in the weeks following the bloody bridge protest. Upon taking his oath, his left-wing PAIS Alliance fulfilled a campaign promise and convened an assembly to draft a new constitution, Ecuador’s twentieth. Burning questions of indigenous rights and environmental protection, it seemed, would be addressed democratically before the entire nation.

The constituent assembly gathered in the western town of Montecristi toward the end of Correa’s first year in office and ratified 500 articles. Among them were reforms allowing the president to run for a second term and dissolve Congress. But the bits that made international news, and promised a resolution to the mining conflict in the south, was the surprise enshrining of the Indian concept of sumak kawsay, or “good living in harmony with nature.” Ecuador’s new constitution also formalized the rights of nature itself. It was with nature’s new constitutional rights in mind that the assembly temporarily suspended all mining activity until the passage of a new mining law, which the president promised soon.

Correa, meanwhile, had pivoted away from the indigenous rights rhetoric of his presidential campaign. In televised speeches, he dismissed Indians as backward “donkey-riders” who were blocking access to the country’s “pot of gold.” Fatal road protests from Zamora to Quito flared back up as it became clear that Correa’s forthcoming mining and water bills would ratify and expand industrial mining and water privatization. After running clashes with police in which a Shuar schoolteacher was killed, the government attempted and failed to shut down the Shuar radio station, Arutam.

In January 2009, Correa reactivated hundreds of mining permits and granted foreign companies access to indigenous territory and resources in any projects he deemed “in the national interest.” All of this occurred just before the start of the Mining World Fair in Ontario, where Correa administration officials told the gathered, “In Ecuador, large-scale exploration has begun.”

The primary target for this message was and remains China. Ecuador is a serial defaulter with a radioactive credit rating, and Correa’s entire economic program is dependent on loans from China in return for wide access to its minerals. As in Venezuela and Bolivia, China has become a happy lender of last resort, offering Quito a credit line of up to $10 billion in long-term, low-interest loans collateralized with the stuff in the ground. Where Western development banks once attached strings of political, economic and regulatory reform, the China Development Bank wants the resources. Toward this end, China has become Latin America’s biggest banker with $75 billion loaned since 2005 — which is more than the World Bank, the IDB and the U.S. Export-Import Bank combined. Beijing’s top regional borrowers are Ecuador and Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez has described his nation’s oil as “at the service of China.” As of this writing, Ecuador’s debt to China approaches a quarter of its GDP.

Mirador is just one of a number of recent Chinese strategic investments in Latin American mineral reserves. The firms Zijin, Minmetals and Chinalco have snatched up the largest copper mines in Chile, Peru and Mexico. But Mirador is the prize. The concession is estimated to hold up to 11 billion tons of copper, with a large secondary store of gold. Adding another layer of strategic depth to the holding, the contract includes rights to the waste rock, possibly a signal of Chinese expectations that the site contains uranium and even molybdenum, a coveted rare earth suggestive of Avatar’s unobtainium.  Even before estimates had been made of Mirador’s bounty, Chinese gentlemen are said to have lurked among Zamora’s dirt-floor provincial gold markets, examining bags of rock and sand brought in by small-scale miners in rubber boots, who understood the Chinese had interests beyond their ken.

*   *   *

On the morning of my return north to Quito, I attended an environmentally themed panel discussion in a swank downtown hotel. Vandana Shiva, the globetrotting Indian anti-GMO and water-rights activist, was the star. Shiva had just returned from an official tour of Rafael Correa’s showcase conservation project, Yusani National Park. Flanked by the leaders of Ecuador’s largest indigenous groups, Shiva praised the president for his vision and happily announced her acceptance of a post as “goodwill ambassador” to Yasuni. Her comments were more suited to an international audience than an Ecuadorean one. She seemed taken aback when local activists challenged her on Correa’s mining policy and an emerging corporate police state in the southern provinces. Shiva isn’t alone in praising Correa without knowing much about his policies. John Perkins, author of “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” penned a column for CommonDreams.com gushing about a “new consciousness” in Correa’s Ecuador that “honors the dream of the people of the forests.”

The indigenous groups that supported Correa in 2007 do not share Perkins’ enthusiasm. Nor does the seven-party left-wing alliance campaigning against him. The leading figure of this alliance is Alberto Acosta, Correa’s former minister of mines and the first president of the 2008 constitutional assembly. “There is nothing new in Correa’s development plan for the next century. He has simply replaced Uncle Sam with Uncle Chen,” Acosta told me after a campaign stop in Zamora. “He cites the dependency school theorists, but his idea is the same center-periphery economic model of exporting raw materials. The government is thinking short-term about sustaining its social programs and political position at the expense of long-term sustainable industries. There’s a modern parallel to the Conquistadors, who gave the indigenous mirrors for gold. It’s happening again.”

Those who have organized against Correa’s policies have not fared well. If they’re lucky, they are merely harassed. More than 200 other non-violent activists end up in court and face serious jail time. “Like a dictator, everyone in government repeats his pro-development themes and slogans: Responsible mining, man over nature, Indians versus progress,” said Fernanda Solis, a weary-eyed campaign coordinator for the Quito group Clinica Ambiental. “There is no independent judiciary. The three powers of government are acting with Correa and everyone knows it. Because Correa represents the left, opposing him opens you up to the charge of supporting the U.S., or the old right that bankrupted everyone. He’s betrayed the new constitution and proven himself a neoliberal with redistributive touches. He’s avoided pacts with the U.S. but has sold the country to China.”

Last March, Solis helped organize a 370-mile march from Zamora to Quito under the banner, “For water, for life, for the dignity of the people.” Seven thousand people walked boisterously under enormous flags of indigenous rainbows and Popular Front red. Correa’s government issued the permit request only after he organized a counter-protest to meet the marchers in Quito. In a radio address that described anti-mining Indians as tools of “the old right,” Correa mobilized his supporters against what he warned was an indigenous-led coup attempt.

Amid stacks of reports in her cluttered office, I asked Solis about the upcoming election, as well as the narrowing political route open to the opposition through international forums such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

“Correa will win reelection and nothing will change,” she said. “Like the Mapuches in Chile, it is going to get violent.”

*   *   *

When I last saw Domingo Ankuash, he was celebrating the birth of his latest grandson, whose name is Espada, or sword, but which he defined with a flourish as lanza de Guerra. He was also organizing two summits of anti-mining forces, including a meeting of Shuar and their ancestral enemies, the Achuar, living on both sides of the Peru-Ecuador border. The first summit concluded with a statement citing the 2008 Constitution and urging the world to take notice: “We warn the country and the world that the government intends to militarize the Amazon region to promote the interests of mining and oil companies. The Cordillera del Condor and the rest of our territories are inalienable, indefeasible, and we state our decision to defend them to the end.” Similar declarations continue to emerge like smoke signals from across the Condor. A recent statement of the Yaupi village declares, “We will not take a step backward in defending our territories. Interlopers will be submitted to the punishment of our ancestors. Any such bloodshed will be on the Government’s hands.”

The hour of renewed escalation may be near. Last month, Ecuador’s indigenous organizations filed legal action in Ecuadorean courts; they are currently preparing another suit for international bodies citing conventions on indigenous consultation. Both are seen as acts of desperation, final attempts at a peaceful solution few expect. The state, meanwhile, is already spending China’s money, and developing budgets on the expectation of more to come. Other international mining firms, having been told Ecuador’s south is open for business, are lining up on the door.

The Shuar are not without an alternative plan. They say they can develop the region sustainably with agriculture, small-scale ranching, dairy, and regulated small-scale traditional mining. “Industrial mining is not sustainable,” said Ankuash. “The gold and the copper will be gone in a few years, leaving behind nothing but poisoned earth for our people. We can have an economy here without destroying nature and the culture. We are open to the world. Let the people come here and see the native way — the bears, the monkeys, the trees, the cascades.”

And the visions. Some Shuar villages have taken advantage of growing Western interest in ayahuasca, the potent hallucinogen and healing plant used throughout the Amazon. As we walked back from the waterfall to Domingo’s village, I saw what looked like an apparition: a young blonde woman in a white cotton dress sitting by the river directly under a beam of sunshine. She had traveled from Berlin for a week-long ayahuasca regimen under the guidance of a local Shuar shaman named Miguel Chiriap. She pointed me down a nearby path, at the end of which I found to a large open-air structure of wood and thatch. Sitting on one of a dozen pillows arranged in a circle was a young herbalist from Hull, England, named David. One of several westerners at the retreat, he was paying hundreds of dollars a week to work with Chiriap, he glowed with the kind of serenity earned from drinking ayahuasca 15 consecutive nights. He was surprised and saddened to learn he was sitting in the middle of a soon-to-be exploited mining concession. “It would be a shame to see all this ruined,” he said. “It’s paradise, isn’t it?”

The government continues to exploit the promise of paradise even as it prepares to annihilate the reality. Police cars and tourism posters in Los Encuentros, the company town of Kinross Gold, display scenes of nature above the slogan “Jewel of the Amazon.” When I met with the mayor of El Pangui, a nervous little yes-man from Correa’s ruling alliance, he dutifully muttered industry lies while sitting beneath yellowing tourism posters touting the area’s pristine forests, roaring cascades, dew-kissed orchids, and smiling Indians.

The dissonance between Ecuador’s tourism pitch and the imminent destruction of the south followed me back to Mariscal, Quito’s hostel district. There, a Jumbotron lords above the clubs and cafes day and night, beckoning backpackers south with high-definition images of happy natives and brightly plumed birds of paradise. “This,” declares the a slogan on continuous loop, “is Ecuador.”

I spent much of my last day in Ecuador drinking coffee at a café with a good view of this Jumbotron. After a month in the south, the slick nature montage appeared to me as the billboards in dystopian science fiction, a sunny, high-tech tourism version of “War Is Peace,” or Latin versions of the electronic messages projected into the dark, rainy worlds of “Blade Runner” and “Children of Men.” I was pulled out of this reverie by the appearance on the screen of a giant pixilated toucan. With wings spread wide, the bird reminded me of the Arutam statue above the bridge in Zamora-Chinchipe. As told to me by a Shuar shaman named Julio Tiwiram, the image of Arutam and the toucan comes from a bit of tribal folklore dating to first-contact with the Conquistadors.

Arutam, who lives in the rivers, the trees, the fish and the flowers, would also like to recline, Zeus-like, on a golden throne high above the mountaintop mists. One day, foreigners “with beards and large eyes” came into the area seeking food. But what they really coveted was Arutam’s golden throne. After eating their fill, the strangers searched for Arutam’s treasure. To thwart them, the spirit hid the throne deep inside the mountains. He told the Shuar to stay vigilant, that the strangers must be kept out, by force if necessary. The bearded men could not be trusted, he said. They would take everything and leave them nothing with which to live. He warned them that though he hid the gold, they would one day return. Arutam then mounted a giant toucan, looked in the direction of the Condor’s highest peak, and flew away.

Alexander Zaitchik is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. 

Blood in the Amazon: Brazilian Activists Murdered as Deforestation Increases June 1, 2011

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Roger’s note: this article demonstrates the inadequacy of electing self-proclaimed left wing governments.  Once in power, Brazil’s Lula, and now his successor Dilma Rousseff come under tremendous pressures to advance “economic growth.”  Unfortunately such pressures a rarely resisted since counter pressures do not compare in strength to the massive media and corporate campaigns to promote such growth.  In the end, these governments, despite their campaign promises, end up with the same Neo-Liberal economic strategies as their right wing predecessors.  This is not to say that the election of such “leftist” governments in Latin America (Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Nicaragua, etc.) is insignificant.  It represents popular pressures from below to resist the reach of the US imperial tendrils.  But the election of such governments is not enough, it is only a first step toward a genuine liberation from the imperialist and capitalist destruction of the social and natural environments.  In  the case of the article below, we are talking about the Amazon Rainforest, the very lungs of the world.


Published on Wednesday, June 1, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

  by  Benjamin Dangl

Early in the morning on May 24, in the northern Brazilian Amazon, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva got onto a motorcycle near the nature reserve they had worked on for over two decades. As the couple rode past the jungle they dedicated their lives to protecting, gunmen hiding near a bridge opened fire, killing them both.

Brazilian law enforcement officials said that the killing appeared to be the work of hired gunmen, due to the fact that an ear was cut off each of the victims. This is often done to prove to whoever paid for the killings that the job was carried out.

The murder took place the same day the Brazilian Congress passed a change to the forestry code that would allow agribusinesses and ranchers to clear even more land in the Amazon jungle. Deforestation rose 27 percent from August 2010 to April 2011 largely due to soybean plantations. The levels will likely rise if the changes to the forestry code are passed by the Senate.

Ribeiro knew he was in danger of being killed for his struggle against loggers, ranchers and large scale farmers who were deforesting the Amazon. In fact, just six months earlier, in November 2010 at an environmental conference in Manaus, Brazil, he told the audience “I could be here today talking to you and in one month you will get the news that I disappeared. I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment. … As long as I have the strength to walk I will denounce all of those who damage the forest.”

The life and death of Ribeiro has been rightly compared to that of Chico Mendes, a Brazilian rubber tapper, union leader and environmentalist who fought against logging and ranching, winning international attention for his successful campaigns against deforestation. In 1988, Mendes was murdered by gunmen hired by ranchers.

Just two weeks before he was killed, Mendes also spoke hauntingly about the likelihood that he would be murdered for his activism. “I don’t want flowers, because I know you are going to pull them up from the forest. The only thing I want is that my death helps to stop the murderers’ impunity…”

Yet since the murder of Mendes, impunity in the Brazilian countryside has become the norm. In the past 20 years, over 1,150 rural activists have been killed in conflicts related to land. Of these murders, less than 100 cases have gone to court, only 80 of the killers have been convicted, and just 15 of the people who hired the gunmen were found guilty, according to Catholic Land Pastoral, a group monitoring land conflicts. Impunity reigns in rural areas due to the corruption of judicial officials and police, and the wealth and power of the ranchers, farmers and loggers who are often the ones who order the killings.

The recent murder of Ribeiro and Santo combined with the danger posed by changes to the forestry code are devastating indications of the direction Brazil is heading in the Amazon. For some, the expansion of logging, ranching and soybean operations into the Amazon are inevitable steps toward economic progress. But for others, a different kind of progress is necessary if the planet is to survive. As Chico Mendes explained just days before his death in 1988, he wanted to “demonstrate that progress without destruction is possible.”



Benjamin Dangl

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America and is the author of the new book, Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press). For more information, visit DancingwithDynamite.com. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com

Chernobyl in the Amazon February 4, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
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Dear friends,

Oil giant Chevron faces losing a historic lawsuit on its dumping of toxic waste in the Amazon — let’s help the people of the rainforest win in the court of public opinion and before the law, by pressing Chevron’s new CEO to clean up this mess and stop Chevron’s dirty lobbying:

Sign The Petition!


The final judgment is imminent after a long legal battle between oil giant Chevron and brave indigenous peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon, who are seeking redress for the multinational’s dumping of billions of gallons of toxic waste in the rainforest.

If Chevron is forced to pay billions in damages, it’ll be a big step forward in bringing the world’s polluters to account. Staring defeat in the face, the oil giant has launched an aggressive last-ditch lobbying campaign to derail the lawsuit.

But Chevron’s newly-appointed CEO, John Watson, knows his corporation’s brand is under fire and is growing anxious about the risks of a public shaming campaign — so let’s turn up the heat! Sign the petition calling on Watson and Chevron to clean up their mess in Ecuador, and it will be delivered to them, their shareholders and the US media — click below to take action now:


Over the years, civic action like this has helped to transform the policies of some of the world’s biggest corporations. But most oil and gas multinationals spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on lobbying and PR to reshape climate and energy policies and deny their environmental and human rights duties — and Chevron is one of the biggest offenders.

From 1964 to 1990, Chevron-owned Texaco deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste from their oil fields in Ecuador’s Amazon — then pulled out without properly cleaning up the pollution they caused. Facing imminent defeat in the courts, Chevron has turned to legal machinations, powerful public relations firms and lobbyists to intimidate its critics into silence and avoid responsibility for the massive environmental and human disaster it has triggered.

Chevron has repeatedly vowed to refuse to pay for a clean up even if ordered to by the court, saying “We will fight this until hell freezes over. And then we’ll fight it out on the ice.” Its latest strategy: pushing the US government to bully Ecuador into burying the case.

We cannot sit back and watch Chevron make a mockery of justice like this — let´s build a critical mass of support and help the rainforest inhabitants win this round, in the court of public opinion and before the law. Click here to sign the petition and help deliver a deafening message personally to Chevron´s new chief executive John Watson:


Citizens in Ecuador and around the world are joining efforts to stand up to one of the biggest and dirtiest corporations in the world. If we win, it’ll be another big step toward a future of corporate accountability, human rights and environmental protection. Let’s add our voices and spread the word today!

With hope and determination,

Luis, Paula, Benjamin, Pascal, Paul, Alice, Ricken, Graziela and the whole Avaaz team

PS – This campaign is part of a larger effort by Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network and other environmental and human rights allies worldwide.


ChevronToxico, the website of Amazon Watch’s Clean Up Ecuador Campaign, includes new video of affected Ecuadorians urging Chevron´s CEO to clean up oil pollution:

Wall Street Journal, “Chevron Plaintiffs Ask U.S. Court for Action”:

Politico, “Chevron’s lobbying campaign backfires”:

The Huffington Post, “Chevron and cultural genocide in Ecuador”,

Los Angeles Times, “Oil, Ecuador and its people”:

“CRUDE. The Real Price of Oil””, Joe Berlinger´s award-winning documentary film that chronicles the epic battle to hold oil giant Chevron accountable for its systematic contamination of the Ecuadorian – official website:


Want to support Avaaz? We’re entirely funded by donations and receive no money from governments or corporations. Our dedicated online team ensures even the smallest contributions go a long way — donate here.

ABOUT AVAAZ Avaaz.org is an independent, not-for-profit global campaigning organization that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people inform global decision-making. (Avaaz means “voice” in many languages.) Avaaz receives no money from governments or corporations, and is staffed by a global team based in Ottawa, London, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Buenos Aires, and Geneva. Click here to learn more about our largest campaigns. Don’t forget to check out our Facebook and Myspace and Bebo pages! You can also follow Avaaz on Twitter!

Massacre in the Amazon: The US/Peru Free Trade Agreement Sparks a Battle Over Land and Resources June 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Peru.
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Published on Thursday, June 18, 2009 by the America’s Program

by Raúl Zibechi

On June 5, World Environment Day, Amazon Indians were massacred by the government of Alan Garcia in the latest chapter of a long war to take over common lands-a war unleashed by the signing of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Peru and the United States.

Three MI-17 helicopters took off from the base of the National Police in El Milagro at six in the morning of Friday, June 5. They flew over Devil’s Curve, the part of the highway that joins the jungle with the northern coast, which had been occupied for the past 10 days by some 5,000 Awajún and Wampi indigenous peoples. The copters launched tear gas on the crowd (other versions say that they also shot machine guns), while simultaneously a group of agents attacked the road block by ground, firing AKM rifles. A hundred people were wounded by gunshot and between 20-25 were killed.

The population of the nearby city of Bagua, some thousand kilometers northeast of Lima near the border with Ecuador, came out into the streets to support the indigenous people’s demonstration, setting fire to state institutions and local office of the official party APRA (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana). Several police officers were attacked and killed in the counter-attack, and other indigenous protestors were killed by police. At the same time, a group of 38 police who were guarding an oil station in the Amazon were taken hostage. Some were killed by their captors, while some 1,000 Indians threatened to set fire to Station Number 6 of the northern Peruvian oil pipeline.

The versions are contradictory. The government claimed days after the events that there are 11 indigenous dead and 23 police. The indigenous organizations reported 50 dead among their ranks and up to 400 disappeared. According to witnesses, the military burned bodies and threw them into the river to hide the massacre, and also took prisoners among the wounded in the hospitals. In any case, what is certain is that the government sent the armed forces to evict a peaceful protest that had been going on for 57 days in the jungle regions of five departments: Amazonas, Cusco, Loreto, San Martin, and Ucayali.

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH), part of the Organization of American States, condemned the violent acts on June 8 and reminded the Peruvian government of its obligation to clear up the facts and to compensate for the consequences and called on both sides to promote a process of dialogue.1 On June 9, the National Coordination of Human Rights announced that it found a series of irregularities and possible human rights violations in the Bagua area. It denounced the government’s refusal to divulge what police are in charge of the investigation of the events, and expressed concern for the situation of 25 detained at the El Milagro base and the 99 arrested since a curfew was imposed in Bagua.2

President Garcia accused the Indians of being “terrorists” and spoke of an “international conspiracy,” in which, according to government ministers, Bolivia and Venezuela are involved because as oil- and gas-producing countries they want to keep Peru from exploiting these resources and becoming a competitor.3 Just a few weeks ago, Peru granted asylum to the anti-Chavez leader, Venezuelan Manuel Rosas, accused of corruption, and three former Bolivian ministers from the government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lazada prosecuted for the death of nearly 700 persons during the “gas war” of October 2003.

On Tuesday, June 9, the minister of Women and Social Development, Carmen Vildoso, resigned in protest of the way the government handled the situation. According to Prime Minister Yehude Simon, her resignation was due to her disapproval of a publicity spot emitted by the government in which, with the background of photos of dead police and indigenous people throwing spears and arrows, it presented the natives as “savages,” “fierce assassins,” and “extremists” that follow “international orders” to “stop Peru’s development” and keep the country from taking advantage of its oil.” The spot claims there was no repression but rather “a savage assassination of humble policemen.”4

The leader of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP, by its Spanish initials), that groups some 300,000 indigenous persons and 1,350 communities, Albert Pizango, was considered a “delinquent” by the Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas and ordered captured. Pizango sought asylum in the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima. The parliamentary group of the official party accused the left, the leader of the Nationalist Party of Peru Ollanta Humala, and the media in the Amazon region of “having induced acts of violence so that the natives would attack the police,” and threatened to accuse them of terrorism.

History of the Conflict

The conflict began on April 9, when Amazon peoples mobilized to block the highways and gas and oil pipelines to protest the implementation of a series of decrees passed to implement the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. But the situation got worse on June 4, when the APRA stopped Congress from debating repeal of some laws questioned by the indigenous peoples that had already been declared unconstitutional by a Constitutions Commission.

The FTA with the United States was negotiated beginning in May of 2004 under the government of Alejandro Toledo (2000-2005). The treaty was slated to replace the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act signed in 2002 and in effect until December of 2006. The FTA eliminated obstacles to trade and facilitated access to goods and services and investment flows. Modeled on the North American free Trade Agreement, it also includes a broad range of issues linked to intellectual property, public contracting and services, and dispute resolution.5

The U.S-Peru FTA was signed on Dec. 8, 2005 in Washington by then-Presidents George W. Bush and Alan Garcia. In June of 2006 it was ratified by Peru and in December of 2007 by the U.S. Congress. On Feb 1, 2009, the agreement went into effect after Bush and Garcia signed it on January 16 of that year.

The signing of the FTA caused huge mobilizations in 2005, especially among peasant farmers who were the most harmed by the elimination of tariffs and trade protections. Although the government said it would provide compensation to producers, these never arrived. On February 18, 2008 they staged a National Agrarian Stoppage with road blocks throughout the country that led to four dead from police repression and the imposition of a state of emergency in eight provinces.

On October 28, 2007, Alan Garcia published a long article in the daily paper El Comercio of Lima under the title “The Syndrome of the Orchard Dog.” Garcia described nature as a resource, and maintained that to refuse to exploit it was foolish, ignoring the debate over the conservation of the Amazon region. “The old anti-capitalist communist of the 19th century disguised himself as a protectionist in the 20th century, and donned the label of an environmentalist in the 21st century.”

In his opinion, those who oppose the intensive exploitation of the Amazon region are like an orchard dog, that “doesn’t eat or let anyone else eat.”

“There are millions of hectares that the communities and associations have not cultivated or will cultivate, as well as hundreds of mineral deposits that cannot be worked and millions of hectares of sea that cannot be used for aquaculture and production. The rivers that run down both sides of the mountain range are a fortune that pours into the ocean without producing electric energy,” Garcia states in the article.

“The first resource is the Amazon,” he maintains. There are 63 million hectares that he proposes be parceled out into large properties of “5,000, 10,000, or 20,000 hectares, since in less land there is no formal investment long term and high technology.”

On the land, he notes that one should not “deliver small lots of land to poor families that do not have a penny to invest,” and that “this same land sold in large lots will attract technology.” He cares little that these lands are the collective property of the communities, since in his opinion they are just “idle lands because the owner does not have the training or the resources economic, that’s why their property is feigned.”

The Free Trade Agreement and the Legislative Decrees

Based on this logic of converting everything into merchandise, the government asked Congress for faculties to legislate issues relative to the implementation of the FTA through Legislative Decrees (LD). On December 19, 2007, Congress gave full faculties to the government to legislate for six months by decree issues related to the FTA, through Law 29157. Mandated by these powers, the executive drafted 99 laws that are at the root of the current conflict.

An independent judicial report distributed by Oxfam America concludes that the executive branch took advantage of the powers granted it by Congress “to issue a large number of norms with no or very little effective links to the FTA, distorting and alienating the terms of the delegation of powers approved by Congress.”6

Consequently, the report establishes that “such decrees can be qualified as unconstitutional for reasons of form,” and that therefore “merits their derogation” by Congress or the Constitutional Tribunal. It also notes that through the 99 LDs “a substantial reform of the organizational and jurisdictional framework of various government entities has been attempted, as well as the regulatory framework applicable to economic activities of special relevance,” without strict relation to the FTA.7

The most controversial of the degrees are numbers 1015 and 1073, declared unconstitutional by the Oxfam report. Theses decrees modify the number of votes required to sell communal lands (just three votes could place community land up for sale). Number 1015 was repealed by Congress in August of 2008. Decree 1064 (legal Framework for Use of Agrarian Lands), abolishes the requirement of the previous agreement to undertake projects and is also considered unconstitutional.

LD 1083 (Promotion of Efficient Use and Conservation of Hydraulic Resources) favors the privatization of water to large consumers such as mining companies. LD 1081, 1079, and 1020 deregulate diverse aspects of legislation in areas of mining, timber, and hydrocarbon exploitation. But it is LD 1090 (Forestry and Woodland Fauna Law) that is at the crux of the debate. It leaves out of the forestry framework 45 million hectares, that is, 64% of the forests of Peru, including their biodiversity in flora and fauna, making it possible to sell them to transnational corporations.

On April 9, the 1,350 communities that make up the AIDESEP agreed to start demonstrating within their communities. Prime Minister Simon called the April 18 indigenous demands “capricious.” On May 5, the bishops of eight Catholic dioceses demanded that President Alan Garcia repeal the decrees because they consider them “a threat to the Amazon.” On May 10, the government decreed a State of Emergency in five regions of the country where road blocks and blockages of ports and oil pipelines were taking place.

On May 19, the Constitution Commission of parliament declared LD 1090 unconstitutional. The report of the Commission8 concludes that the decree “does not respect the limitations that are established in Articles 101 and 104 of the Political Constitution, in terms of areas that cannot be legislated.” It also notes that “it goes against Article 66 of the constitution, by regulating in the area of natural resources, that is exclusively reserved for the organic law.”

In short, legislators agreed that the executive branch does not have the faculties to legislate by decree in certain areas according to the constitution, and that must be done in Congress. The decision of the Commission must still be debated in Congress, but on May 22 the minister of justice, Rosario Fernandez, denounced Alberto Pizango, leader of the AIDESEP, for sedition and conspiracy. On May 26, Awaj’un and Wampis took over the Belaunde Terry highway on Devil’s Curve and some 1,200 indigenous people surrounded Station 6.

On May 26, there was a huge demonstration in Lima in support of the Amazon struggle. On May 28, community landholders from the Cusco jungle took over a second valve of the gas pipeline of Kamisea. On June 1, industrialists and exporters demanded that the government “apply the law” to free the highways and pipelines in the Amazon. On June 2, the president of the Permanent Forum of the United Nations on Indigenous Questions asked the Peruvian government to “immediately suspend the state of siege against indigenous communities and organizations and “avoid any action, such as military intervention, that could increase the conflict.”9

On June 4, the APRA majority of parliament decided to suspend the debate on the unconstitutionality of LD 1090. The People’s Defender presented a grievance of unconstitutionality against LD 1064. On June 5, 639 agents of Special Operatives and staff of the armed forces attacked the indigenous on Devil’s Curve with dozens of dead, and hundreds of wounded and disappeared.

The Amazon protest has not died down since the massacre-nearly all the 56 Amazon indigenous peoples reaffirmed that they would continue the road blocks until the government repeals the Legislative Decrees that the violate Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization and their rights over their territories. According to their testimonies, the situation is explosive. Alan Garcia has a history of violent repression. Under his first presidency in 1986, the armed forces forcefully put down a coordinated prison riot that left over a hundred prisoners shot dead. In this context, the Peruvian government could very well increase the violence unleashed on the indigenous movement.

Hugo Blanco, a well-known Peruvian movement activist and editor of the monthly Lucha Indígena, takes a long look in a recent editorial: “After 500 years of silencing, the Amazon peoples receive the support of the peoples of Peru and the world. It could be the greatest achievement of this campaign has been to make these nationalities visible, weaving links between diverse sectors of the country, as divided as those who dominate. By defending the Amazon we are defending the life of all of humanity; and by not ceding to the deceit of the government, they are rewriting history, recuperating for all the sense of the word dignity.”

End Notes

  1. Servindi, June 9, 2009.
  2. Idem.
  3. La Jornada, June 7, 2009 base on reports from Reuters, AFP, and DPA.
  4. Página 12, June 10, 2009.
  5. Peru Gets its Free Trade Agreement with the United States, http://americas.irc-online.org/am/4726.
  6. Francisco Eguiguren, ob. cit. p. 96.
  7. Idem p. 97.
  8. “Informe sobre DL 1090. Comisión de Constitución y Reglamento,” May 19, 2009 at www.servindi.org.
  9. Chronology taken from Lucha Indígena No. 35 and Ana Maria Vidal ob. cit.

Translated for the Americas Program by Laura Carlsen.

© 2009 Center for International Policy (CIP)

Raúl Zibechi is an international analyst for Brecha of Montevideo, Uruguay, lecturer and researcher on social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and adviser to several social groups. He writes the monthly “Zibechi Report” for the Americas Program (www.americasprogram.org).

The Amazon is Dying June 8, 2009

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Published on Monday, June 8, 2009 by The Guardian/UK

The Brazilian government is legalising deforestation and western superbrands are benefiting from it. This needs to stop now

by John Sauven

Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, writing in the Guardian in March, offered us these words of hope: “No country has a larger stake in reversing the impact of global warming than Brazil. That is why it is at the forefront of efforts to come up with solutions that preserve our common future.” Lula’s words are fine. But we are still waiting for real action.

For the last 10 years, Greenpeace has been working in the Amazon alongside communities to protect the rainforest. Last week, Greenpeace released a report which was the result of a three-year investigation into the role of the cattle industry in driving illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The report, Slaughtering the Amazon, reveals the devastating impacts cattle ranching is having on the climate, biodiversity and local communities.

Cattle ranching is the biggest cause of deforestation, not only in the Amazon, but worldwide. The report reveals that the Brazilian government is a silent partner in these crimes by providing loans to and holding shares in the three biggest players – Bertin, JBS and Marfrig – that are driving expansion into the Amazon rainforest.

Greenpeace is now about to enter into negotiations with many of the companies that have either found their supply chain and products contaminated with Amazon leather and beef or who are buying from companies implicated in Amazon deforestation – big brands such as Adidas, Clarks, Nike, Timberland and most of the major UK supermarkets. Meanwhile, back in Brazil, the federal prosecutor in Para state has announced legal action against farms and slaughterhouses that have acted outside of the law. It has sent warning letters to Brazilian companies buying and profiting from the destruction. Bertin and JBS are in the firing line – companies part-owned by the Brazilian government.

While this is a positive step, it’s clear that we can’t bring about real change and win an end to Amazon destruction for cattle without real action from the government and from big corporations in Europe and the US, who are providing the markets.

Another, worrying example of the widening chasm between rhetoric and reality is a new bill that has just passed through the Brazilian senate. If Lula gives his consent, it will legalise claims to at least 67m hectares of Amazonian land – an area the size of Norway and Germany put together – that is currently held illegally. A second bill, before the Brazilian congress, proposes to more than double the percentage of Amazon rainforest that can be cleared legally within a property. If passed, the effect of both these bills will be to legalise increased deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

Lula’s decision to fund the cattle ranching industry with public money makes no sense when its expansion threatens the very deforestation reduction targets that Lula champions. The laws now waiting for his approval will represent a free ride for illegal loggers and cattle ranchers. It is clear that Brazil now faces a choice about what sort of world leader it wants to be – part of the problem or part of the solution.

Protecting Brazil’s rainforest is a critical part of the battle to tackle climate change and must be part of a global deal to protect forests at the climate change talks in Copenhagen at the end of the year. But while world leaders are making speeches, we are losing vast tracts of rainforest. We must also tackle the dirty industries that are driving deforestation if we are to protect the Amazon and the climate for future generations.

© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited

John Sauven is director of Greenpeace

Why You Can’t Buy a New Car Online February 13, 2009

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By Stephanie Mencimer, MotherJones.com. Posted February 13, 2009.

Blame two Republican presidents and the influential car-dealer lobby who worked hard to ensure that this will never happen.

Americans can buy virtually anything over the Internet these days — sex, booze, houses — everything, that is, but a new car. If you want to buy a new Ford Fusion, you have to go down to your local dealership and haggle with the car salesmen, an unpleasant and daunting task. The process usually subjects consumers to hours in the dealership hotbox and can add hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to the price of the car. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could cut out the middleman and just order your Prius straight from Toyota?

But you can’t. And there’s one reason why: the car-dealer lobby, which has worked hard to ensure that this will never happen. Since the late 1990s, car dealers have used their considerable political clout to pass or better enforce state franchise laws that in many cases make it a criminal offense for an auto manufacturer to sell a new car to anyone but a state-licensed car dealer. The laws governing who can sell new cars are among the most anti-competitive of any domestic industry. By creating local monopolies for dealerships and prohibiting online sales for new cars, they constitute a major restraint on interstate commerce; in 2001, the Consumer Federation of America estimated [pdf] that the laws added at least $1,500 to the price of every new car.

These parochial state laws also make the distribution system for new cars incredibly inefficient and expensive, one factor in the financial problems facing the Big Three in Detroit. Online sales would help companies like GM and Chrysler align production to sales better by allowing more people to buy their cars built-to-order from the factory, rather than having Detroit send out truckloads of vehicles to sit around on dealer lots for months in the hopes that a rebate offer will finally entice someone to buy them.

Now that the federal government is bailing out GM and Chrysler to the tune of $13.4 billion, and Congress is demanding major changes in the way they’re run, consumer advocates think the time is ripe for Congress to clear the way for online sales as part of its effort to move Detroit out of the Stone Age. You’d think they would find a sympathetic ear among deregulatory Republicans who take great umbrage over any state interference with the free market, but you’d be wrong. Most free-market Republicans have no interest in taking on the car dealers, who are among their strongest local supporters. Since 1990, American car dealers have given more than $66 million to federal candidates, with more than three-quarters going to Republicans.

For decades, Republican governors have been some of the dealers’ biggest champions and have signed much of the legislation creating their bulwark against real competition. California legislator Mark Leno discovered just how entrenched these roadblocks are in 2005, when he introduced legislation to let consumers buy hybrid and other low-emission vehicles directly from manufacturers online. The bill came in response to evidence that local dealerships were price-gouging consumers seeking hybrids, which were then in short supply. Environmentalists believed the savings consumers were likely to get by purchasing online would spur more sales for the cleaner cars and encourage automakers to produce more of them.

The bill would have allowed people to order their Priuses online and have the manufacturer deliver them to their doors — or, alternately, they could pick them up at Costco or the local dealership. The bill would have even allowed people to buy the cars on eBay or Amazon. Leno’s office estimated that the bill would have little impact on the dealerships, because hybrids accounted for less than 1 percent of all new car sales. But he underestimated the power of the dealers, who were the reason legislation was needed in the first place.

Back in 1973, then-California governor Ronald Reagan signed a law that effectively prohibited any new car dealerships from opening within a 10-mile radius of another existing dealership selling the same make of car. The law was a gift to one of Reagan’s “kitchen cabinet” members, Holmes P. Tuttle, and decades later would have made it difficult for hybrid manufacturers to create pickup facilities (which required dealer licenses) for cars ordered online.

Tuttle had famously sold a car to Reagan when he was an out-of-work actor. Tuttle went on to create one of the nation’s largest car dealerships and helped fund Reagan’s first run for governor. Reagan repaid him by signing the dealer franchise law. “A statutorily created monopoly was signed into law by Reagan to help his friend Mr. Tuttle,” says Leno. He says Tuttle had been pushing for a law that prohibited the establishment of any new dealership without the majority support of the dealerships in that part of the state. Instead, he got the 10-mile exclusionary zone. Leno notes that the law was vigorously opposed by California state senator George Moscone, who was later assassinated, along with Harvey Milk, when he was mayor of San Francisco. Moscone labeled the bill “the turkey of the year,” and issued a prescient statement observing that the bill would “freeze, for all time, the ability of new car dealers to make money without worrying about competition…How in the name of free enterprise could the governor even consider signing a bill that shuts off any future competition?”

Moscone’s objections fell on deaf ears. Today, Tuttle’s son Robert, who still owns the family auto chain, is the outgoiong US ambassador to the UK, an indication of just how strong the political clout of the car dealers — and the Tuttle clan — remains. Needless to say, Leno’s bill to amend the franchise law never even made it out of a Democrat-controlled policy committee.

His experience isn’t unusual. In the late 1990s and early 2000, the auto manufacturers themselves, sensing the potential of the Internet, attempted to challenge state franchise laws that restricted their ability to sell over the Internet. They got clobbered, and in no small part because of Republican governors, who, like Reagan, counted local car dealers as political supporters.

In 1999, as governor of Texas, George W. Bush signed what was then the nation’s toughest law in the country banning new car sales online. Egged on by local car dealerships, state regulators invoked the law to help shut down Ford’s fledgling attempt to sell used cars online. Ford had started letting people buy used cars on its website; local dealerships delivered them. But Texas regulators cracked down, threatening Ford with $10,000 daily fines for allegedly violating a state law banning manufacturers from selling their products directly to the public. Ford tried to fight back in court, arguing that the state franchise law was a restraint on interstate commerce, but the court was no more sympathetic than the governor. The federal judge hearing the case wrote that if Ford were allowed to sell cars online, “all state regulatory schemes would be nullified” as they “fall before the mighty altar of the Internet.” Texas regulators, never known for regulating much of anything, also forced GM to abandon its foray into e-commerce. The automaker had bought a handful of dealerships in the state to use as distributors for cars bought online, but regulators refused to give GM a dealer license. GM gave up and sold off the dealerships.

Texas inspired car dealers in other states to seek similar protections from competition. Arizona, for instance, passed a law that not only blocked manufacturers from selling cars online but also restricted manufacturers from offering other services online, such as financing. Other states followed suit, as car dealers feared predictions that only half of them would survive the next seven years thanks to competition from the Internet. Since then, the manufacturers have largely given up the fight.

“We have a very good relationship with our dealerships,” says Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 11 manufacturers, including the Big Three. “The dealers are the faces of the manufacturer.” Territo says that after their experience trying to change state laws in the 1990s, the manufacturers have no interest in picking a battle with the dealerships over online sales, which he considers unworkable anyway.

“What about sales tax?” he demands, suggesting that if people start buying cars over the Web, local governments would be deprived of revenue that supports their communities. He says that in California, fully 25 percent of state tax revenue comes from vehicle sales. Even if people could buy new cars online, he says, the nature of the sales means that the “dealer would still need to be part of the equation,” either because they would need to service the cars or arrange delivery of them.

Territo says that the lack of Internet sales is the least of the problems for the automakers right now, when the credit markets have made it virtually impossible for many consumers to buy new cars. “It doesn’t matter whether you buy it on the Internet or on a street corner — if you can’t get credit, you’re not going to be able to buy that car,” he says.

Territo’s argument mirrors that of the car dealers. Jack Fitzgerald, the owner of a chain of dealerships in Maryland who’s known as an honest broker among consumer advocates, calls online new car sales “a pipe dream.” From his perspective, the state franchise laws that prevent manufacturers from selling their own products “are what little protection dealers have against the abuses of the manufacturers,” which have a long history of beating up on both their own employees and their dealerships, which the companies force to assume much of the risk of the sales business, he says.

Fitzgerald suspects that if the manufacturers could sell new cars directly over the Internet, consumers would actually pay more for them than they do now. Right now, he says, dealerships actually pay about $2,500 more for a car from the manufacturer than they sell it for. Dealerships make their money elsewhere — on repairs and servicing, financing, and other products. Fitzgerald says that the manufacturers haven’t sold cars directly to the public in 75 years, since the days when you could buy a car at Sears. Those sales didn’t work out, he insists, because someone still has to service the car, and that’s usually the dealership.

Jack Gillis, the Consumer Federation’s executive director, says allowing online new car sales wouldn’t necessarily remove dealerships from the equation. It would just introduce more competition into the marketplace and reduce some of the inefficiencies in the distribution system. If Ford or GM could sell cars through Amazon or eBay, for instance, the dealerships could still handle the deliveries and warranty work. Indeed, Fitzgerald concedes that under such an arrangement, he might actually make more money than he does now.

“It’s unfortunate that the car companies have capitulated to the desires of the dealers,” says Gillis, noting that allowing online buying might actually stimulate sales. “The loser there, first and foremost, is the consumer, but ironically, so is the industry,” he says. “People would flock to the Internet.”

Ecuador: Mining Protests Marginalized, But Growing January 23, 2009

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Written by Jennifer Moore    www.upsidedownworld.org
Wednesday, 21 January 2009

ImageOn Tuesday, nation-wide protests over large scale metal mining called by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) demonstrated growing, broad-based participation. Roughly 12,000 people from indigenous, environmentalist, human rights, campesino and rural water organizations participated in diverse actions across eleven provinces of the small Andean nation.

Taking place only a few days after the popular President Rafael Correa celebrated two years into his first mandate, government and media reactions aimed to diminish the day’s significance. The press and government insisted that protests were poorly attended trying to infer that national consensus has been reached over a new mining law.

Ecuador has been an oil producer for over forty years. Although large scale metal exploration has been ongoing since the early 90s, no project has yet reached production. Mining activities are currently suspended until the new law is passed.

Attempts to minimize conflicts aim to clear the path for largely Canadian transnational corporations to bring gold and copper finds into production. Future mining revenues are promoted as the next source of state revenue for recently expanded social programs.

ImageThousands protest in the central highlands

Particularly strong participation took place in the central highlands where around 9,000 indigenous people shut down transportation along the Panamerican Highway in the provinces of Cotopaxi and Tungurahua.

In Cotopaxi, men and women of all ages maintained blockades in high spirits animated by jokes and even laughter as they faced police and angry bus drivers. These demonstrations passed without serious incident.

While Cotapaxi is not the focal point of major mineral exploration, indigenous people in the area showed solidarity with communities in other parts of the highlands and the Amazon affected by large-scale metal mining. Defence of their right to water, enshrined in Ecuador’s newly approved constitution, unites them.

Nancy, a young woman from the community of San Juan, emphasized the importance of access to clean water for indigenous communities. “In San Juan, we already have poor access to water. Without water, what can we do?”

ImagePresident of the CONAIE Marlon Santi pointed out that the “majority of mining concessions are on indigenous and campesino lands.” He also challenged President Correa’s program of “change,” saying that “the people who grow potatoes, who grow maize, who live in the Amazon and the mangroves, we are where change is coming from.”

Santi added that today’s mobilizations shows that the opposition to mining is not relegated to “four nobodies,” as Correa has charged.

Protesters violent and subversive

However, while government declarations and media coverage downplayed the day of action, they also portrayed activists as subversive and police as victims.

The President and the Minister of Government Fernando Bustamante were quoted by various national press saying that the indigenous confederation is trying to destabilize Correa whose popularity hovers around 70%. These unfounded allegations are based on the fact that the national indigenous movement has played an important role in the overthrow of two past governments, most recently in 2001.

The CONAIE emphatically denies that this was part of their objectives. Rather, the day of action was carried out in the spirit of building alliances between urban and rural organizations, as well as indigenous and non-indigenous communities. Demands focused on the need for greater democracy and respect for the collective rights of communities.

ImageBut media coverage emphasized injuries and arrests, emphasizing injuries sustained by eleven police in isolated confrontations with protesters. Police forces were more than doubled Tuesday and came into conflict with activists during efforts to reopen highway transportation north of the capital and in the Province of Imbabura.

“At the end of the day, we are always painted as the bad guys,” says Janeth Cuji, Director of Communication for the CONAIE. The CONAIE reported ten arrests as well as two hospitalized with injuries. They added that several buses of activists were held back from attending demonstrations taking place in Quito and denounced heavy police presence saying that “repression and detentions aim to silence voices in defence of life.”

Various Ecuadorian human rights and urban-based organizations also denounced the detentions. They expressed their solidarity with demands for debate over the country’s dependence on extractive industries considering the social and environmental costs of large scale metal mining.

A long term struggle

Tuesday’s mobilization is also seen as just one more step in lengthy struggles by communities already affected by large scale mining.

These groups, many of which have been struggling against mining at the local level for years, first coalesced in a national movement shortly following Correa’s inauguration in 2007. Their key aim was that Correa declare Ecuador free of large scale metal mining. Most recently, ongoing efforts have taken place in protest of the new mining law which they say privileges transnational companies.

Within the last two weeks in the South of Ecuador, three days of road blockades were sustained in the Province of Azuay followed by a six day hunger strike in the provincial capital of Cuenca with participation from the highlands and the Southern Amazon. Demands focused on dialogue with the government and reiterated opposition to gold and copper mining in headwaters in high wetlands (paramos) and Amazonian rainforests. As a result of these earlier actions, two activists remain imprisoned and many others face charges.

Yet despite further anticipated repression this week, around 2,000 people from across the province joined a peaceful march Tuesday. A wider range of organizations and communities participated than has been seen for about a year and a half. The demonstration concluded with a pampamesa, or a mass communal lunch, in the city’s central park.

Nidia Soliz from the Peoples’ Health Movement of Cuenca outlines some persistent concerns with the new law.

She observes that it gives top priority to mining activities by declaring them a public utility in all phases of development, guaranteeing access to infrastructure, water, and energy for companies which could come in conflict with needs of local communities and lead to expropriation of their land. She concludes, “The bill pertains to an economic objective of the government, as well as the greater interests of multinational organizations and transnational mining companies, regardless of possible impacts on remarkable biodiversity and headwaters, as well as community health and well being.”

Despite growing dissent, the government says community needs will be met and that the new mining law is ready for final approval this week. But hopes that those involved will simply accept that decisions around mining are already made is wishful thinking. Instead, it appears that a broader movement based upon the defence of water, nature and collective rights now enshrined in the country’s constitution is emerging to continue the struggle for more profound changes in Ecuador.

Daniel Denvir contributed reporting from Cotapaxi. Photos are by Daniel Denvir, Klever Calle and Carlos Zorrilla.

Ask the Ecuadorian Government to Protect Human Rights During Upcoming Anti-Mining Demonstration January 23, 2009

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Written by The Ecuador Solidarity Network   

Monday, 19 January 2009
ImageThe Ecuador Solidarity Network, an organization based in Canada and the United States, is joining human rights and indigenous peoples organizations in calling on President Rafael Correa to respect human rights during nation wide protests against large-scale mining that will begin on Monday January 19th. The protests will spread from the Amazon and reach Quito, Ecuador’s capital, on January 20th.  

Anti-mining protests earlier this month were met with police violence in the Southern provinces of Azuay, Loja, Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago. A number of activists were beaten and detained, and one leader was critically injured after being shot in the head.  

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and a number of farmer and environmental organizations are protesting the recent approval of a mining law by Congress, opening the country to large-scale metal mining. Canadian mining companies would benefit from many of the concessions.

The CONAIE and other organizations contend that the new law will allow large-scale mining in protected areas and contaminate critical community water supplies. The CONAIE is also protesting government plans to drill for oil in the Yasuni National Park, the rainforest home of two indigenous communities in voluntary isolation.

Following recent statements from the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH) and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the Ecuador Solidarity Network calls on activists around the world to support the human rights of protesters demonstrating against large-scale metal mining in Ecuador.

The CONAIE emphasizes that the demonstrations will be peaceful and calls on President Correa to not use police or military forces against protesters.  

E-mail President Rafael Correa and President of Congress Fernando Cordero and ask that the government take preventative action to ensure that protesters’ human rights are respected.

We also denounce any attempt by right-wing organizations in the U.S. or Canada to opportunistically use the upcoming mobilizations to attack President Correa for motives that have nothing to do with indigenous rights or environmental protection.  

Please send emails to:

 Presidencia de la República, Presidente
Rafael Correa: Rafael.CorreaDelgado@presidencia.gov.ec  and presidencia@presidencia.gov.ec 

Presidencia Legislativa, Presidente de la Comision Legislativa y de Fiscalizacion, Fernando Cordero Cueva: presidencia@asambleaconstituyente.gov.ec 

Please send a carbon copy of the messages to ecuadorsolidarity@gmail.com

Media Contacts:

Ecuador: Jennifer Moore, Ecuador Solidarity Network  (593) 8-877-8928 / jenmoore0901@gmail.com

Canada: Jamie Kneen, Mining Watch  (613) 761-2273

Texaco Toxic Past Haunts Chevron as Judgment Looms (Update1) December 31, 2008

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texaco-pollution-ecuador1An oil well is seen amongst the rainfall in Ecuador, on Sept. 2008. Photographer: Claudio Perez/Bloomberg Markets via Bloomberg News

Michael Smith and Karen Gullo

www.bloomberg.com, December 30, 2008 

Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) — Bolivar Cevallos walks around the farm where his family once lived amid the oil fields of Ecuador’s Amazon rain forest. His boots sink ankle deep in tar. Everywhere he steps, oily muck seeps from the ground.

A gasolinelike smell hangs in the sweltering jungle air. The mess is a remnant of oil drilling in a 120-mile-long swath of the tropical jungle in northeastern Ecuador where Texaco Inc. and Ecuador’s state-run oil company, PetroEcuador, have pumped billions of barrels of crude from the ground during the past 40 years.

Cevallos, 51, whose face is tanned and creased from a life working in the tropical sun, plunges a shovel into a ditch. Grease oozes out and drains into a river his family used for drinking and bathing for more than 25 years.

About 230,000 people live in Ecuador’s northeastern rain forest side by side with oil wells and pools of drilling waste. Cevallos is no longer one of them.

Four years ago, a doctor diagnosed his daughter, Diana, with histiocytosis X, a rare blood disease that caused tumors that punched holes in her skull.

“The doctor told us to get out because the pollution would make her sicker, maybe kill her,” says Cevallos, who used to tend patches of cacao on his farm and now works as a laborer on a construction site for $6 a day. His daughter, now 5, is thin and still ailing.

As he speaks, a dog claws at trash around the family’s abandoned, windowless, one-bedroom, cement-walled home.

‘I Was Already Poor’

“I was already poor, and now I was going to get poorer,” he says.

The ruined land around Cevallos’s home is part of one of the worst environmental and human health disasters in the Amazon basin, which stretches across nine countries and, at 1.9 billion acres (800 million hectares), is about the size of Australia.

And depending on how an Ecuadorean judge rules in a lawsuit over the pollution, it may become the costliest corporate ecological catastrophe in world history.

If the judge follows the recommendation of a court- appointed panel of experts, he could order Chevron Corp., which now owns Texaco, to pay as much as $27 billion in damages.

The case, which has languished for 15 years in U.S. and Ecuadorean courts, highlights the growing human and environmental toll of the global quest for oil.

“If they have to pay out, who takes the big hit? Ultimately, the shareholders,” says Pat Doherty, director of corporate responsibility at the Office of the New York City Comptroller, which controls 6.5 million Chevron shares in public pension funds.

‘Bad Shape’

Doherty says Chevron should settle. Otherwise, if the company loses, he expects it will file appeals in Ecuador and the U.S. for years to come, leaving stockholders in limbo.

“They’re really in bad shape on this,” he says. “A settlement would make sense. The trees that last the longest are the ones that bend.”

Ecuador, which reported annual per capita income of $3,400 in 2007 and defaulted on its bonds in December for the second time in a decade, is one of two Latin American members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and depends on oil revenue to fund a third of the national budget.

Both sides in the Amazon case agree that for a quarter of a century, until 1990, Texaco discharged 16 billion gallons of wastewater that’s a byproduct of drilling.

In 1993, 76 people who lived near the wells — including members of the indigenous Cofan and Quichua Indian tribes and people who came to the Amazon from other parts of Ecuador for jobs — sued White Plains, New York-based Texaco in New York federal court.

Chevron Blames PetroEcuador

They claimed the pollution had ruined their livelihood as farmers and fishermen and made them and their families sick.

Chevron says Texaco had completely cleaned up its mess by 1998. PetroEcuador, which took over Texaco’s operations in 1990 — and not Texaco — is to blame for today’s pollution, Chevron says.

From 1990 until 2007, government-owned PetroEcuador released wastewater into the environment, says Fausto Mej a, a spokesman for PetroEcuador. He says the company has spent the past 16 years cleaning up, decreasing its dumping each year. It stopped releasing waste entirely by 2008, he says.

The case will be decided in an old concrete building in the Amazonian oil town of Lago Agrio, 37 miles (60 kilometers) north of Cevallos’s former home. With a shoe store, a T-shirt shop and a beauty salon on the street level, the building, which has no elevator, also houses a provincial courthouse.

141,000 Documents

On the fourth floor, Judge Juan Nunez oversees the lawsuit, weighing evidence and pondering whether Chevron should pay billions in damages. Nunez, 55, who wears a tan, open-necked, short-sleeved shirt, is president of the Nueva Loja Superior Court, the highest judicial body in Ecuador’s northeastern Sucumb os province.

He reviews soil tests, expert reports and requests for inspections of contaminated sites. A dark cherry desk in his office is covered with files in pink folders bound with string. The case has become a pincushion for legal and technical disputes, accumulating more than 141,000 documents.

Nunez will decide the case without a jury, as is customary in Ecuador’s legal system. In civil cases, judges gather evidence from witnesses, documents and experts before reaching a decision. A statue of Lady Justice sits on a dusty coffee table near an old sofa in Nunez’s otherwise Spartan office.

Nunez says his task is to decide what damage has been done and who is responsible. If he rules against Chevron, he’ll determine the dollar amount of the judgment. He talks about the gravity of the case. “There are people who are dying or have died,” he says.

1,401 Deaths

In November, a team of engineers, doctors and biologists submitted a court-ordered report concluding that Texaco’s pollution had caused 2,091 cases of cancer among residents and led to 1,401 deaths from 1985 to 1998.

The panel had previously concluded that Texaco polluted streams and drinking water in a 1,920-square-mile (4,972- square-kilometer) area and caused economic and social damage to people who live near the wells.

Chevron should pay as much as $27 billion in cleanup costs and compensation for families of the sick and the dead, the court-ordered study says. Nunez, a former Ecuadorean Air Force officer, says that by March, most of the evidence will be submitted, and he’ll reach a decision on the case later in 2009.

Silvia Garrigo, Chevron’s lead in-house attorney in the case, has made dozens of trips to Ecuador’s Amazon region in the past five years from her office at the company’s suburban, San Ramon, California, campus, 40 miles east of San Francisco.

Wrongly Accused

She says residents have wrongly accused Texaco of contaminating the environment and that there’s no credible evidence linking diseases to Texaco’s work.

“They have been told so many times that it’s Texaco, so everything that goes wrong in their lives, if their cow dies, it’s Texaco,” Garrigo, 47, says. “If their wife has diabetes, it’s Texaco.”

Health problems among residents of the Amazon are linked to poor sanitation and poverty, and residents of the oil region are pawns of activists and greedy attorneys, Garrigo says.

“You have people that are very needy,” she says. “They will lie. ‘My baby will have medical care, my son will get a job, if I testify.’”

If the judge follows the report’s recommendations, it could be the biggest industrial environmental judgment ever, surpassing Chevron’s 2007 profit by 50 percent. Chevron says it would appeal an adverse outcome, which could stave off paying anything for years.

Exxon Valdez

Nunez’s ruling has the potential to dwarf the $470 million in damages paid by Union Carbide Corp. over a chemical leak in Bhopal, India, that killed 3,800 people in 1984. And it could exceed the cost for the biggest oil spill ever in U.S. waters, Exxon Mobil Corp.’s nearly $4 billion in compensation and fines for the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Alaska in 1989.

Exxon settled both civil and criminal charges to end the litigation.

In 1995, Texaco agreed with Ecuador’s Energy and Mines Ministry and PetroEcuador to clean up some of the waste dumping. Three years later, the agency approved the $40 million repair effort by Texaco. It released the company from responsibility for pollution that remained, according to a letter to the U.S. court from Ecuador’s ambassador in Washington.

Five years later, government auditors reported they had discovered pits oozing with oil and said the cleanup had been botched.

“Texaco has caused irreversible damage,” says the report by the General Controller of the State, a government agency that audits public contracts. “The environmental remediation and repair agreement goes against the country’s interest,” says the report, which was approved on April 9, 2003.

A Sham

Garrigo, Chevron’s lawyer, says the controller’s audit is a sham. It’s part of an Ecuadorean government campaign to concoct a case against the company and help the jungle residents and their lawyers reap billions of dollars of damages, she says.

“We have independent scientific analysis that refutes those findings,” Garrigo says.

Doctors at Ecuador’s top cancer hospital say oil pollution has taken a heavy toll on public health in the Amazon.

“There are enough cancer cases in the Amazon to show there is a trend, and the trend is rising,” says Rena Munoz, the doctor in charge of clinical oncology at Sociedad de Lucha Contra el Cancer, the Quito cancer hospital known as SOLCA that has treated people from the area.

Regardless of who’s to blame, oil pollution is a part of daily life in northeastern Ecuador. San Carlos is a town of 2,800 residents living in run-down wooden houses in the heart of the former Texaco oil fields.

‘We Drank This Water’

Trucks and bulldozers driven by government workers putting in the town’s first paved streets leave giant tread marks in the mud. A crude-oil processing plant run by PetroEcuador has machinery that roars like jet engines. Smokestacks spew flames and black, sooty clouds into the air.

Texaco built dozens of oil wells near San Carlos, and one is next to the Cevallos family’s abandoned home.

“We drank this water because we had to; there’s no other water,” says Cevallos, dressed in rubber boots and jeans caked with mud, sweating on the banks of the stream. “No one ever told us it was bad, so we just drank it for years. Before, we didn’t know. Now, we do.”

Cevallos says the waste pit by his old home, which is overgrown with weeds and is the size of a tennis court, has been there since he moved to the farm with an uncle in the mid-1970s. Workers contracted by Texaco used bulldozers to cover the pits with dirt, he says.

1.2 Million Oil Barrels

The well produced 144,321 barrels of wastewater and 1.2 million barrels of crude in the 18 years Texaco managed it, according to company documents in court records.

When Cevallos’s daughter, Diana, became ill in 2004, she was bathed in water from the polluted stream in her parents’ efforts to lower her fever.

Maria Barba, a doctor at Baca Ortiz Children’s Hospital in Quito, diagnosed the girl with histiocytosis X. Barba says she’s used cancer treatments to fight the disease as it flooded Diana’s body with white blood cells that attacked her bones and organs with tumors.

Barba sits at her desk at Baca Ortiz, where she runs the oncology and hematology department, reviewing Diana’s records. She says she can’t prove how Diana got the illness. Poor nutrition and sanitation, she says, make people sick in the impoverished Amazon, but pollution from oil drilling waste is a factor.

“It could be the water,” Barba says.

The Cevallos family isn’t named in the lawsuit.

No Scientific Evidence

Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson says there’s no scientific evidence linking Diana’s disease to crude oil.

In Joya de los Sachas, a town about 5 miles north of San Carlos, three boys stand on a 29-inch-wide (74-centimeter- wide) oil pipeline running down the median on the main street. They’re selling candy in the midday sun as trucks, scooters and buses speed by.

On a rutted dirt road near the pipeline in Sachas, Cevallos sits in the front room of his brother’s three-room house. His family sought refuge there four years earlier after fleeing their polluted farm to help Diana heal. To pay the medical bills, he’s had to sell two small houses he was fixing up.

Cevallos has been able to take Diana to clinics and hospitals in Ecuador’s public health system, which charges patients for medicine only. He’s had to pay for drugs and treatments, including $210 for injections every three weeks.

Next to Texaco’s old Sushufindi 38 well, farmer Manuel Salinas, 72, steps out of his family’s wooden shack and walks 50 feet, through a garbage-strewn patch of coffee trees. A pool of thick oil 50 yards (45 meters) long bakes in the sun.

Chickens in Quagmire

Salinas says the oily pool has been there since he moved to the farm in the early 1970s. He started to worry that the water wasn’t safe years ago, when his chickens would slip into the quagmire and die a slow death.

Havoc Laboratory in Quito, which analyzed soil samples for residents, found oil contamination about 20,000 percent above safe levels. Chevron spokesman Robertson says company tests found that drinking water near the pit isn’t polluted.

Both Texaco and PetroEcuador have been cited by government inspectors for repeated spills since oil production began in the 1960s. In 1994, PetroEcuador began reinjecting wastewater from drilling into the oil formations deep below the ground, PetroEcuador’s Mejia says.

Reinjection is a common practice in the U.S. For decades, Texaco put the waste into unlined pits, treated it and then discharged it into rivers and streams, a practice that was legal in Ecuador at the time, Chevron says on its Web site.

Outlawed in U.S.

As Texaco was dumping waste in Ecuador, environmental regulators in U.S. states were outlawing open-air pools.

Texas banned unlined waste pits that leaked into groundwater as far back as 1969, says Steve Seni, former assistant director of environmental studies at the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil industry.

A few miles from San Carlos, Ines Suquisupa stands by a grave in a jungle clearing with a photograph of her daughter Ana Patino. Ana, a shy girl who got good grades in school, agonized with leukemia for weeks in the wooden shack in which she was reared near an oil well outside San Carlos.

Doctors at Eugenio Espejo Hospital in Quito referred her to the Red Cross Hospital in Quito. There, Juan Sghirla, a hematologist, concluded her leukemia was so advanced that there was little he could do. That day, on June 20, 2005, Ana died. She was 18 years old.

“It was so fast that before we knew it, she was dead,” says Suquisupa, standing by her unpainted wooden home, which has uncovered openings for windows and no running water.

Shallow Water Well

Ana probably came down with the deadly disease because of the oil pollution around her home, Sghirla says. Ana, whose family settled the farm before she was born, grew up about 100 yards from an oil well and drank from a shallow water well that lay underneath rusty crude-oil pipelines.

A team from the general controller’s office that took soil tests at a well near Ana’s home found hydrocarbon contamination 5,716 times normal levels, the 2003 audit says.

Once, when neighbors tried to dig a water well a few feet away, they struck a layer of tar, says Suquisupa, 50, who makes a living tending a patch of cacao and coffee on her farm. Ana’s family isn’t among those who sued Chevron.

Chevron spokesman Robertson says soil and water tests found no chemicals known to cause leukemia.

There had been no oil production in Ecuador’s Amazon before 1964. That year, Texaco entered the region when the government gave the company the right to explore a strip of jungle in two provinces, Orellana and Sucumbios, near the Colombian border. On March 29, 1967, the search bore its first fruits.

A well called Lago Agrio, which is Spanish for Sour Lake, gushed thick, black crude. Sour Lake is also the name of a Texas town where Texaco made one of its first oil strikes, in 1903.

‘Country’s Salvation’

Jorge Viteri, an engineer who worked for one of Texaco’s contracted exploration crews, recalls dancing by the well that day as the crude rained down.

“We thought it would be our country’s salvation, bringing us out of poverty,” says Viteri, 82, who wrote a book, Oil, “Spears and Blood” (Palabra Editores, 2008), about the quest for oil in Ecuador.

Four decades later, 35 percent of Ecuadoreans live below the government’s poverty line, earning less than $720 a year. In rural areas like the northeast Amazon, the poverty ranking is nearly 60 percent, according to Ecuador’s National Institute of Statistics and Census.

Starting in 1964 and throughout Texaco’s 26-year presence in the Amazon, Texaco crews cleared roads, built bridges and river ports and hired more than 3,000 laborers. Workers also dug hundreds of pits near wells and processing stations to hold the water containing salt and chemicals that comes up with oil during drilling, court records show.

Little Threat

Chevron’s Robertson says the chemicals pose little or no threat to health. Ecuador’s Amazon gets an average of 120 inches of rain a year, and Texaco’s pits sometimes overflowed, polluting streams, according to the 2003 general controller’s audit.

The roads Texaco built helped open up a strip of the Amazon that had been inaccessible to vehicles and inhabited by small groups of Amazonian Siona-Secoya, Cofan and Quichua Indians.

A wave of poor Ecuadoreans, mainly from the southern Andean city of Loja, flocked to the area, encouraged by government settlement programs. These so-called colonists built wooden shacks on stilts and cut down the jungle next to wells and waste pits to start farms.

Nunez remembers flying over the region when he was in the air force during those years. Dark areas showed where the lush jungle had been slashed away.

“You ask yourself what happened and what caused this?” Nunez says. “You don’t have to be a technical expert to know something has happened.” He says the memories won’t influence his decision in the case.

Military Rulers

By the early 1970s, Ecuador’s military rulers began pressuring for a direct stake in the oil riches, says Alberto Acosta, a historian and former Ecuadorean energy minister.

PetroEcuador bought the majority stake of the oil venture in 1977, leaving Texaco to work the wells. The state-owned company needed Texaco then because it lacked experience in oil drilling. Texaco ran the fields until June 1990, when PetroEcuador took over. Texaco kept a 37.5 percent stake in the oil fields until 1992, when PetroEcuador bought all of it.

As management was changing hands, Miguel San Sebastian, a physician based in Spain, began to wonder how the oil pollution was affecting the health of people living in Ecuador’s Amazon. San Sebastian had worked as a traveling doctor treating Indians and colonists in the jungle where Texaco operated.

“You could see it everywhere, the spills in rivers and pits,” says San Sebastian, 42, who’s now a professor of epidemiology at Umea University in Umea, Sweden. “We started to sense that it had to have an impact on people’s health.”

Lawyers Notice

Texaco’s oil drilling in Ecuador also began to attract the attention of American lawyers. Amherst, Massachusetts, attorney Cristobal Bonifaz, a former research engineer at DuPont Co., grew interested in oil pollution in the Ecuadorean Amazon when his son showed him a report by an environmental group.

Ecuadorean-born Bonifaz, whose grandfather, Neptali Bonifaz, was elected president of Ecuador in 1931, traveled to the region to take a look. “I saw lakes of oil,” he says.

Bonifaz contacted Harold Kohn, a Philadelphia antitrust attorney who pioneered the use of class-action, or group, lawsuits. Kohn’s son Joseph, a partner at Kohn Swift & Graf P.C. in Philadelphia, teamed up with Bonifaz.

Steven Donziger, a former journalist and Washington public defender who went to Harvard Law School with Bonifaz’s son, John, joined the case.

On Nov. 3, 1993, Bonifaz, Donziger and Kohn walked into a federal courthouse in downtown Manhattan with members of Ecuadorean Indian tribes in traditional dress and filed the lawsuit against Texaco.

Jurisdiction Battle

Lawyers for both sides fought over whether the suit should be in a U.S. court. Texaco sought dismissal, saying the U.S. courts were the wrong forum because the land and the people affected were in Ecuador.

The plaintiffs said the case should stay in the U.S. because Texaco was a U.S. company.

In the midst of the legal wrangling in New York, Texaco signed an agreement on May 4, 1995, with Ecuador’s energy ministry and PetroEcuador to clean up a portion of the oil fields. In return, Texaco would be absolved from any liability for environmental damage.

Texaco said it would clean up about a third of the waste pits because it had held a 37.5 percent interest in the oil fields for the last six years of its partnership with PetroEcuador. The state-owned company would take care of the rest.

Back in New York, U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff threw the case out in 1996, saying disputes that occurred in Ecuador shouldn’t be decided in U.S. courts. He also said the case had been improperly filed because it didn’t name PetroEcuador as a defendant.

Decision Reversed

The Amazon residents appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan. The court reversed the decision and sent the case back to Rakoff, saying it should be decided in Ecuador.

Texaco then learned that Ecuadorean government environmental officials questioned the company’s cleanup.

In September 1996, the energy ministry’s environmental department issued a report saying Texaco had failed to identify more than 200 additional waste pits and hadn’t come up with a plan for treating about 50,000 barrels of crude-oil waste, according to memos cited in the 2003 controller’s audit.

In 2001, inspectors from the government controller’s office found oil seeping out of 41 Texaco waste pits and said 59 pits had been left uncovered. Texaco’s cleanup didn’t comply with Ecuador’s environmental regulations, and the government erred in certifying the cleanup as complete, the audit concluded.

$45.8 Billion Acquisition

Back in the U.S., as Texaco was facing the cleanup controversy in Ecuador, Chevron, then the second-largest U.S. oil company, acquired No. 3 Texaco in October 2001 for $45.8 billion. Chevron saw acquiring Texaco as a way to cut costs and have more capital to compete with rivals in the search for new oil reserves.

In 2003, the Ecuadoreans filed their case in Superior Court in Nueva Loja, also known as Lago Agrio, 20 miles south of the Colombian border. The suit was led by U.S. and Ecuadorean lawyers. Pablo Fajardo, a community activist and former oil worker who earned a law degree in 2004, joined the lawyers.

Bonifaz, the lawyer who started the suit in 1992, left the case. In a different case in San Francisco, a federal judge fined Bonifaz $45,000 in 2007 for filing untrue claims that three Ecuadorean families had cancer cases linked to Texaco pollution.

Bonifaz says he had relied on information from Ecuadorean lawyers not connected to the Chevron case.

Under Ecuadorean environmental rules, lawsuits over pollution are handled by chief judges, who rotate every two years.

Evaluating Pollution Data

In 2007, Judge Germn Yanez, the case’s third judge, appointed Richard Cabrera, a geological engineer in Quito with 20 years of experience, to evaluate the pollution data, assess the effects of contamination on people and the environment and recommend a cleanup plan.

Cabrera had specialized in environmental studies for mining and oil companies in Ecuador, and he put together a team of scientists, doctors and biologists.

In April 2008, Cabrera’s team concluded that Texaco’s mishandling of waste until 1990 was the main cause of the pollution. It proposed a cleanup of 916 pits and underground aquifers. The report pegged total damages at $16 billion.

The team reviewed studies by San Sebastian, the Spanish doctor, and a group of government health workers. It found that cancer rates were above those of areas of Ecuador without oil operations. Its revised report, which used studies by the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. court cases to gauge costs, increased the damage estimate to $27 billion.

Not Supported By Evidence

Chevron says the expert panel’s findings aren’t supported by the evidence. The company hired doctors, epidemiologists and other experts who refute the report.

The Chevron case is the most important environmental litigation on the planet, says Mike Brune, executive director of the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network, which lobbies companies to improve their practices.

“When the verdict comes in, it will force environmental ethics to go global,” he says.

Nunez says the case will have international significance.

“The Amazon gives the breath of life to humanity,” Nunez says. “That’s why this is the trial of the world.”

Cevallos says Texaco’s legacy has made his world crumble. His daughter, Diana, is a lively girl with a broad smile who likes to do homework while sitting with her mother, Sandra Gutierrez. She’s spent much of the past year taking 18-hour round trips by bus with her mother to the hospital in Quito every three weeks, for chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Across the old Texaco fields in Ecuador’s Amazon, after 40 years of oil production, thousands are ill and hundreds have died. Most have no way out.

“People are getting sick all around here,” says Cevallos, standing by his abandoned house. “But what can you do? When you’re poor, there’s nowhere else to go.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael Smith in Santiago at Mssmith@bloomberg.netKaren Gullo in San Francisco federal court at kgullo@bloomberg.net. Stephan Kueffner in Quito at skueffner@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: December 30, 2008 12:47 EST


Diana Yazmin Cevallos, left, studies her homework with her mother Sandra Gutierrez at their home in San Carlos, Ecuador, on Sept. 12, 2008. Diana has a rare blood disease, histiocytosis X, that causes tumors. Photographer: Claudio Perez/Bloomberg Markets via Bloomberg News