Tags: amazon watch, chevron, chevron ecuador, chevron oil spill, Ecuador, ecuadorian amazon, environment, lauren mccauley, oil spill, roger hollander, whistleblower
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Roger’s note: who is more likely to face legal consequences: Chevron or the whistleblower? And how does this relate to our capitalist political/economic reality where the distinction between corporate wealth and government becomes smaller by the day?
Videos sent to Amazon Watch described as ‘a true treasure trove of Chevron misdeeds and corporate malfeasance’
In what is being described as “smoking gun evidence” of Chevron’s complete guilt and corruption in the case of an oil spill in the Ecuadorian Amazon, internal videos leaked to an environmental watchdog show company technicians finding and then mocking the extensive oil contamination in areas that the oil giant told courts had been restored.
A Chevron whistleblower reportedly sent “dozens of DVDs” to U.S.-based Amazon Watch with a handwritten note stating: “I hope this is useful for you in your trial against Texaco/Chevron. [signed] A Friend from Chevron.”
The videos were all titled “pre-inspection” with dates and places of the former oil production sites where judicially-supervised inspections were set to take place. The footage was recorded by Chevron during an earlier visit to the site to determine where clean samples could be taken.
According to Amazon Watch’s description of the tapes:
Chevron employees and consultants can be heard joking about clearly visible pollution in soil samples being pulled out of the ground from waste pits that Chevron testified before both U.S. and Ecuadorian courts had been remediated in the mid-1990s.
In a March 2005 video, a Chevron employee, named Rene, taunts a company consultant, named Dave, at well site Shushufindi 21: “… you keep finding oil in places where it shouldn’t have been…. Nice job, Dave. Give you one simple task: Don’t find petroleum.”
“This is smoking gun evidence that shows Chevron hands are dirty—first for contaminating the region, and then for manipulating and hiding critical evidence,” said Paul Paz y Miño, Amazon Watch’s director of outreach.
In February 2011, an Ecuadorian court found the oil giant guilty and ordered Chevron to pay $8 billion in environmental damages, a ruling the company called “illegitimate” and vowed to fight. In 2014, a U.S. federal court judge sided with Chevron and threw out that ruling, arguing that it was obtained through “corrupt means.” On April 20, a federal appellate court in Manhattan will hear oral argument in the appeal of those charges.
“While its technicians were engaging in fraud in the field, Chevron’s management team was launching a campaign to demonize the Ecuadorians and their lawyers as a way to distract attention from the company’s reckless misconduct,” Paz y Miño added.
Chevron never turned over any of the secret videos to the Ecuador court conducting the trial. Nor did the company submit its pre-inspection sampling results to the court.
In a blog post on Wednesday, Amazon Watch Ecuador program coordinator Kevin Koenig explains how, after receiving the tapes, his organization turned them over to the legal team representing the affected Indigenous and farmer communities.
“The videos are a true treasure trove of Chevron misdeeds and corporate malfeasance,” he writes. “And, ironically, Chevron itself proved their authenticity.”
When the plaintiffs’ lawyers tried to use the videos in court to cross-examine a Chevron “scientist”, the company objected.
A letter sent by Chevron’s legal firm Gibson Dunn to counsel for the communities states, “These videos are Chevron’s property, and are confidential documents and/or protected litigation work product. Chevron demands that you provide detailed information about how your firm acquired these videos and your actions with respect to them… In addition to providing this information, Chevron demands that you promptly return the improperly obtained videos and all copies of them by sending them to my attention at the above address.”
Chevron is now free to view them on YouTube.
“These explosive videos confirm what the Ecuadorian Supreme Court has found after reviewing the evidence: that Chevron has lied for years about its pollution problem in Ecuador,” Koenig added.
Chevron has admitted to dumping nearly 16 billion gallons of toxic oil drilling wastewater into rivers and streams relied upon by thousands of people for drinking, bathing, and fishing. The company also abandoned hundreds of unlined, open waste pits filled with crude, sludge, and oil drilling chemicals throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Please vote for YASunidos October 7, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Latin America.
Tags: Ecuador, ecuadorian amazon, environment, indigenous, oil exploitation, oil exploration, roger hollander, yasuni
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Ecuadorian Victims’ Struggle for Justice Against Chevron October 16, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Ecuador, Energy, Environment, Human Rights.
Tags: bianca jagger, chevron, cofan, Ecuador, ecuador oil, ecuadorian amazon, environment, environmental devastation, environmental lawsuit, Huaorani, human rights, kichwa, lewis kaplan, oil spill, oil-contaminated water, roger hollander, secoya, siona, texaco, toxic waste
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And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ecosystemsin the Ecuadorian Amazon have been contaminated with by-products of oil extraction
Tomorrow, October 15, a landmark trial opens in federal court in New York City: Chevron Corp v. Steven Donziger et al., one of the world’s largest oil companies against the attorneys and advocates who represent the 30,000 “Lago Agrio Plaintiffs.” The case is the latest in a long and often tragic saga of the Ecuadorian victims struggle for justice.
I am writing this because I don’t want the real issue to be forgotten. The Ecuadorian communities are fighting for justice for the human rights violations and environmental crimes committed by Texaco between 1971 and 1992 in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon. Since 1993 these Ecuadorian victims have been seeking relief in the largest environmental lawsuit in Latin America to date.
In 2003 I visited the affected communities in the Ecuadorian provinces of Orellana and Succumbios, and I have long supported them in their quest for justice.
Bianca Jagger by an oil pit, Ecuador, 2003I am not writing as an apologist of the legal team, nor am I condoning their behavior — but I feel the need to speak up on behalf of the Ecuadorian victims who may now never get the justice they deserve. It’s critical that Judge Lewis Kaplan, the media, and the public at large don’t lose sight of the real issue.
The original case against Texaco (now Chevron) has been well documented.
Between 1971 and 1992, Texaco embarked upon reckless oil exploration, pumping 1.5 billion barrels of oil from Ecuador. Texaco carved more than 350 oil wells in a rainforest area roughly three times the size of Manhattan and dumped approximately 16.5 billion gallons of oil-contaminated water into unlined pits — one and a half times the amount spilled by the oil tanker Exxon Valdez. When Texaco left Ecuador in 1992, it left behind 916 unlined open toxic waste pits, some just a few feet from the homes of residents. Leeching of highly toxic wastewater byproducts of oil extraction from these pits contaminated the entire groundwater and ecosystem in one of the world’s most valuable rainforests. As there is no running water in the region families, including thousands of children, have no alternative but to drink, bathe, and cook with poisoned water from streams, rivers, lagoons and swamps that have been contaminated by Texaco.
U.S. states have laws requiring that pits have impermeable liners. Louisiana and Texas, two major oil-producing states, passed such laws in the 1930s. Texaco must have been aware of the dire consequences of leaving unlined pits exposed — they made a calculated decision, based on profit. The company saved an estimated $3 per barrel of oil produced by handling its toxic waste in Ecuador in ways that were unthinkable and illegal in the US. The cost to the human population is immeasurable. Ecosystems have been destroyed, diseases have proliferated, crops have been damaged, farm animals killed.
During my visits to the affected communities in 2003, I was appalled at the evidence of the consequences of direct exposure to these toxic waters. The suffering and environmental devastation I witnessed is not a fabrication, or a fiction. There is a toxic legacy left by Texaco for present and future generations.
In May 1995, three years after Texaco left Ecuador, the Republic of Ecuador and Texaco reached a settlement regarding Texaco’s obligations to clean up a percentage of the well sites roughly corresponding to its percentage ownership in the consortium that made money from the drilling. Ecuador’s state-owned oil company, PetroEcuador, was the 62.5 percent majority owner of that consortium from 1976 to 1992, so Texaco was required to clean up only a minority of the well sites. The settlement would later form part of Chevron’s claims that the case had been settled. It did not, however, extinguish the claims of individual third parties, or affect the rights of the communities affected by Texaco’s actions. Certainly the “clean up” undertaken by Texaco was limited and has made no material difference to the lives of the Ecuadorian communities.
Ecosystems contaminated by Texaco’s activities in Ecuador.
The Texaco disaster culminated in the largest environmental lawsuit in Latin America to date; brought by 30,000 plaintiffs from the Ecuadorean Amazon. They filed a billion dollar class action against Texaco in New York. Texaco moved to dismiss the U.S. lawsuit on forum non conveniens grounds. In 2002 the court granted Texaco’s motion, and the case moved to Ecuador on the condition that the company stop using an expiration of the statute of limitations as a defence and that any judgment be enforceable in the U.S. Among the plaintiffs are five indigenous tribes, the Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa and Huaorani.
The Ecuadorian Amazon in the wake of Texaco.
Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001. Unlike the Exxon Valdez and the Deepwater Horizon accidents, where Exxon and BP, respectively, took some responsibility for their negligence, Chevron has successfully managed to move the case outside of the U.S. because it provided them with two options: to rig the judicial system in a foreign country, or to dodge its responsibility by not recognizing the validity of the verdict if it was not in their favor.
In February 2011, Judge Nicolas Zambrano issued a final verdict, ordering Chevron to pay $18.5 billion to the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. But as Chevron has no holdings in Ecuador, the plaintiffs have been unable to collect that judgement.
Chevron has paid more than $400 million to an army of lawyers to help the company avoid payment and spent over $100 million in lobbying firms to influence U.S. lawmakers and government officials to affect Ecuador’s trade with the U.S., and to discredit Ecuador, its government and legal system. Chevron has even been lobbying Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative not to renew Ecuador’s Most Favored Nation status, which expired on July 31, 2013.
Even prior to the 2011 Ecuadoran ruling, the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, representing Chevron, was shifting the case physically, from Ecuador to New York, from pollution and human rights to attorney ethics.
Gibson Dunn won U.S. court orders forcing the makers of the feature documentary CRUDE to turn over 600 hours of raw footage on the Ecuadorean case in 2010. This footage apparently shows an attorney for the Ecuadorian communities, recounting how he has put pressure on Ecuadorian judges. Now Chevron has accused the attorney of fraud and racketeering — of attempting to obtain the settlement for his own personal benefit, and brought the civil lawsuit against the trial lawyers and consultants for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.
Chevron brought three collateral actions against the Ecuador judgment in a New York federal court, all overseen by Judge Lewis Kaplan, who has a puzzling attitude toward the case. The Ecuadorians asked that Judge Kaplan be recused from the case in 2011. In their writ of Mandamus the Ecuadorians expressed their concern at the Judge’s language — referring to them as the “so-called Lago Agrio plaintiffs,” and in one written order, describes them as “a number of indigenous peoples said to reside in the Amazon rainforest.”
On Jan. 26, 2012, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Judge Kaplan previously overstepped his authority when he tried to ban enforcement around the world of the $18.5 billion judgement against Chevron Inc. for environmental damage in Ecuador. But Chevron has retaliated.
Which brings us back to the suit that begins tomorrow, October 15, in a federal district court in New York, once again before Judge Kaplan. In order to avoid a trial by jury Chevron has dropped their claims for damages against the defendants. There is a massive imbalance of power and resources between the two sides. Unlike Chevron, the defense has scant resources — as demonstrated by this motion by Julio Gomez, which asks that the trial schedule reflect the fact that
My firm has no funds to hire an associate, a paralegal or even an assistant to help me through trial given the fact that I have insufficient funds to cover outstanding bills – much less fees going into trial. I have not even been able to contract the two assistants who aided me temporarily with the filing of Defendants’ draft pre-trial submissions in August.
Chevron has also subpoenaed nine years’ worth of email metadata — from September 2003 to 2012 — from 101 email accounts belonging to people with connections to the case. Data requested includes names, time stamps, and detailed location data and login info. Judge Kaplan granted this subpoena in September 2013. According to Mother Jones, this strays dangerously close to violation of First Amendment rights.
The Republic of Ecuador is also seeking leave to intervene to protect the confidentiality of privileged documents which appear to have made their way into Chevron’s suit without explanation.
The case of the Ecuadorians is being lost in a legal labyrinth. Avenues of legal recourse are being closed off, so that the victims have nowhere to turn.
The $18.5 billion judgement in favor of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs should have been historic, a landmark, a precedent for ending impunity for powerful multinational corporations in the developing world and achieving justice. It was a beacon of hope. But after 20 years of long, hard battle, I am beginning to have serious doubts as to whether the victims in Ecuador will ever be compensated.
The Ecuadorian communities were the victims of exploitation by a multinational corporation, Texaco. Their lives, and that of their children, are affected by the toxic waters that leaked into water sources on which they are dependent. This is the real issue, and it is a story that is all too common throughout the developing world. With their legal team on trial, who will pursue justice for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs now?
I appeal to Judge Kaplan, to the media, and to the public at large — please don’t forget what is at stake here. Don’t let this legal imbroglio eclipse the issues which are really at the heart of this case: human rights, justice and environmental protection.
Ecuador to US: We Won’t Be ‘Blackmailed’ over Snowden June 27, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Imperialism, Latin America.
Tags: ., assange, economic blackmail, Ecuador, ecuador asylum, ecuador trade, ecuadorian government, edward snowden, human rights, Latin America, Rafael Correa, robert menendez, roger hollander, trade preferences, whistle blower, wikeleaks
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Published on Thursday, June 27, 2013 by Common Dreams
Vowing not to be bullied, nation cancels trade pact preemptively and offers US human rights training
– Jon Queally, staff writer
30-year-old Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who embarrassed the US government by revealing details of vast Internet and phone surveillance programs, has requested asylum from Ecuador.(Photo: scmp.com)The clear message from the Ecuadorean government on Thursday is that it would not be bullied or ‘blackmailed’ by the US government over the possible asylum of Edward Snowden.
At a government press conference held in Quito, officials said the US was employing international economic “blackmail” in its attempts to obtain NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, but that such threats would not work.
Snowden, who remains inside an airport terminal in Russia, has become a flashpoint between Ecuador and the US after confirmation that the 30 year-old intelligence contractor has sought asylum in the Latin American country.
Ecuador indicated its offer of ‘human rights assistance’ the US could be used to help address its recent problem with torture, illegal executions, and the attacks on the privacy of its citizens.
On Wednesday, led by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the US threatened to deny Ecuador preferential trade status if it accepted Snowden’s application for political asylum after he leaked a trove of classified documents that revealed details about the NSA’s vast surveillance programs in the US and abroad.
“Our government will not reward countries for bad behavior,” Menendez said in a statement from Washington. “If Snowden is granted asylum in Ecuador, I will lead the effort to prevent the renewal of Ecuador’s duty-free access under GSP and will also make sure there is no chance for renewal of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. Trade preferences are a privilege granted to nations, not a right.”
But on Thursday, Ecuador nullified the US threats—and made it clear it would not be intimidated by the global superpower—by proactively cancelling the trade agreement.
“Ecuador unilaterally and irrevocably renounces these preferential customs tariff rights,” government spokesman Fernando Alvarado said at the news conference.
“Ecuador will not accept pressures or threats from anyone, and it does not traffic in its values or allow them to be subjugated to mercantile interests,” he said.
Alvarado, who called threats from the US over trade arrangements a form of “blackmail,” said Ecuador’s government would not only willingly accept the loss of approximately $23 million in trade benefits, but in addition would offer a gift, in the form of an aid package of the same amount, that would be directed to provide human rights training in the United States.
According to reports, Ecuador indicated the money could be used to help the US address its recent problem with torture, illegal executions, and the attacks on the privacy of its citizens.
As Agence France-Presse reports, the trade agreement between Ecuador goes back decades:
The United States is Ecuador’s main trade partner, buying 40 percent of the Andean nation’s exports, or the equivalent of $9 billion per year.
The preferential trade program was set to expire on July 31 unless the US Congress renewed it. The arrangement, which dates back to the early 1990s, originally benefited four Andean nations and Ecuador was the last country still participating in it.
And Reuters adds:
Never shy of taking on the West, the pugnacious Correa last year granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to help him avoid extradition from Great Britain to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sexual assault accusations.
The 50-year-old U.S.-trained economist won a landslide re-election in February on generous state spending to improve infrastructure and health services, and his Alianza Pais party holds a majority in the legislature.
Ecuadorean officials said Washington was unfairly using the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which provides customs benefits in exchange for efforts to fight the drug trade, as a political weapon.
The program was set to expire at the end of this month.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
ECUADORIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS: APOTHEOSIS? February 14, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
Tags: Alberto Acosta, alianza pais, CONAIE, Ecuador, Ecuador Election, ecuador mining, gerard coffey, guillermo lasso, Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa, roger hollander, unidad plurinacional
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“To Get the Gold, They Will Have to Kill Every One of Us First” Tribal Leaders Fight Gold-Hungry Investors February 11, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Mining.
Tags: Alberto Acosta, alexander zaitchik, amazon, canadian mining, Ecuador, ecuador constitution, Ecuador history, ecuador indigenous, ecuador indigenous protest, ecuador mining, ecuador rainforest, gold mining, indigenous, indigenous peoples, indigenous rights, Rafael Correa, rainforest, roger hollander
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http://www.alternet.org, February 11, 2013
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.
Indigenous Ecuadorian Village Battles Oil Giant—and Army January 14, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations.
Tags: amazon watch, Ecuador, ecuador indigenous, ecuador oil, Ecuador petroleum, environment, fossil fuels, petroamazonas, petroecuador, rainforest, roger hollander
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‘We may die fighting to defend the rainforest’
An indigenous community in the Ecuadorian rainforest says they “will die fighting to protect the rainforest” after they say they were swindled by an oil company into signing away rights to 70,000 hectares of one of the most biodiverse areas in the world.
An Amazonian species of dragonflies with iridescent wings is among the species found in Yasuni national park in Ecuador, the most biodiverse region on Earth, under siege by the state-backed Petroamazonas oil company. (Photograph: Kelly Swing/Estacion Tiputini Colegio de Ciencias Biológicas y Ambientales/Universidad San Francisco de Quito)
But the state-backed oil company, PetroAmazonas—backed by the Ecuadorean army—plans to begin prospecting the Kichwa village on the Napo River on Tuesday, The Guardian reports.
PetroAmazonas, one of the biggest oil companies in South America, originally offered the village a new school, university places for village children and better healthcare, but dropped those provisions before the chief of the village signed away the rights to the land for $40 per hectare.
But the community secretary, Klider Gualinga, said 80 percent of the village opposes the deal, which he says has not yet been finalized. He told The Guardian, “People think it is dishonest and the oil company is treating them like dogs. … They’re very upset and worried. We have decided to fight to the end. Each landholder will defend their territory. We will help each other and stand shoulder to shoulder to prevent anyone from passing.”
“If there is a physical fight, it is certain to end tragically,” Shaman Patricio Jipa said. “We may die fighting to defend the rainforest.”
It makes me feel sad and angry. Sad because we are indigenous people and not fully prepared to fight a government. And angry because we grew up to be warriors and have a spirit to defend ourselves. I wish we could use this force to fight in a new way, but our mental strength is not sufficient in this modern world.
There is huge concern the oil company will move quickly to clear the land. When that happened elsewhere, they used armed troops, beatings and abductions to remove those who stood in their way.
Jipa and his wife, Mari Muench, a British businesswoman, are fighting the plan.
Scientists say a single hectare in this part of the Amazon contains a wider variety of life than all of North America. The Amazon rainforest and other tropical forests are also among the earth’s best defenses against climate change, absorbing some 20 percent of carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels.
“Protecting the Amazon basin, which contains the largest tropical rainforest on the planet, is critical to our planet’s climate stability,” according to Amazon Watch.
Tags: assange, assange extradition, Bolivia, Ecuador, Evo Morales, genocide, glenn greenwald, indigenous, james carville, roger hollander, Sánchez de Lozada, War Crimes
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Obama justice officials have all but granted asylum to Sánchez de Lozada – a puppet who payrolled key Democratic advisers
In October 2003, the intensely pro-US president of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, sent his security forces to suppress growing popular protests against the government’s energy and globalization policies. Using high-powered rifles and machine guns, his military forces killed 67 men, women and children, and injured 400 more, almost all of whom were poor and from the nation’s indigenous Aymara communities. Dozens of protesters had been killed by government forces in the prior months when troops were sent to suppress them.
Thousands of Bolivian Indians rallying in La Paz to demand the resignation of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, 16 October 2003. The sign reads, ‘Goni, Zorro, murderers of the people’, in reference to the president and his defense minister. Photograph: Reuters/Carlos Barria
The resulting outrage over what became known as “the Gas Wars” drove Sanchez de Lozada from office and then into exile in the United States, where he was welcomed by his close allies in the Bush administration. He has lived under a shield of asylum in the US ever since.
The Bolivians, however, have never stopped attempting to bring their former leader to justice for what they insist are his genocide and crimes against humanity: namely, ordering the killing of indigenous peaceful protesters in cold blood (as Time Magazine put it: “according to witnesses, the military fired indiscriminately and without warning in El Alto neighborhoods”). In 2007, Bolivian prosecutors formally charged him with genocide for the October 2003 incident, charges which were approved by the nation’s supreme court.
Bolivia then demanded his extradition from the US for him to stand trial. That demand, ironically, was made pursuant to an extradition treaty signed by Sánchez de Lozada himself with the US. Civil lawsuits have also been filed against him in the US on behalf of the surviving victims.
The view that Sánchez de Lozada must be extradited from the US to stand trial is a political consensus in Bolivia, shared by the government and the main opposition party alike. But on Friday night, the Bolivian government revealed that it had just been notified by the Obama administration that the US government has refused Bolivia’s extradition request:
“‘Yesterday (Thursday), a document arrived from the United States, rejecting the extradition of people who have done a lot of damage to Bolivia,’ leftist [President Evo] Morales, an outspoken critic of US foreign policy in Latin America, said in a speech.
“Calling the United States a ‘paradise of impunity’ and a ‘refuge for criminals,’ Morales said Washington turned down the extradition request on the grounds that a civilian leader cannot be tried for crimes committed by the military …
“Sanchez de Lozada’s extradition was also demanded by opposition leaders in Bolivia and they criticized the US decision.
“Rogelio Mayta, a lawyer representing victims of the 2003 violence, said ‘the US protection’ of Sanchez de Lozada was not surprising.
“‘It’s yet another display of the US government’s double moral standard,’ he said.”
Because he has yet to be tried, I have no opinion on whether Sánchez de Lozada is guilty of the crimes with which he has been formally charged (Bolivian courts have convicted several other military officers on genocide charges in connection with these shootings). But the refusal of the Obama administration to allow him to stand trial for what are obviously very serious criminal allegations is completely consistent with American conceptions of justice and is worth examining for that reason.
Let’s begin with two vital facts about the former Bolivian leader.
First, Sánchez de Lozada was exactly the type of America-revering-and-obeying leader the US has always wanted for other nations, especially smaller ones with important energy resources. When he was driven into exile in October 2003, the New York Times described him as “Washington’s most stalwart ally in South America”.
The former leader – a multimillionaire mining executive who, having been educated in the US, spoke Spanish with a heavy American accent – was a loyal partner in America’s drug war in the region. More importantly, the former leader himself was a vehement proponent and relentless crusader for free trade and free market policies favored by the US: policies that the nation’s indigenous poor long believed (with substantial basis) resulted in their impoverishment while enriching Bolivia’s small Europeanized elite.
It was Sánchez de Lozada’s forced exile that ultimately led to the 2006 election and 2009 landslide re-election of Morales, a figure the New York Times in October 2003 described as one “regarded by Washington as its main enemy”. Morales has been as vehement an opponent of globalization and free trade as Sánchez de Lozada was a proponent, and has constantly opposed US interference in his region and elsewhere (in 2011, Morales called for the revocation of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize as a result of the intervention in Libya).
So, this extradition refusal is, in one sense, a classic and common case of the US exploiting pretenses of law and justice to protect its own leaders and those of its key allies from the rule of law, even when faced with allegations of the most egregious wrongdoing. If the Obama DOJ so aggressively shielded accused Bush war criminals from all forms of accountability, it is hardly surprising that it does the same for loyal US puppets. That a government that defies US dictates is thwarted and angered in the process is just an added bonus. That, too, is par for the course.
But there’s another important aspect of this case that distinguishes it from the standard immunity Washington gifts to itself and its friends. When he ran for president in 2002, Sánchez de Lozada was deeply unpopular among the vast majority of Bolivians as a result of his prior four-year term as president in the 1990s. To find a way to win despite this, he hired the consulting firm owned and operated by three of Washington’s most well-connected Democratic party operatives: James Carville, Stan Greenberg and Bob Shrum. He asked them to import the tactics of American politics into Bolivia to ensure his election victory.
As detailed by a 2006 New York Times review of a film about the Democratic operatives’ involvement in Bolivia’s election, their strategy was two-fold: first, destroy the reputations of his two opponents so as to depress the enthusiasm of Bolivia’s poor for either of them; and then mobilize Sánchez de Lozada’s base of elites to ensure he wins by a tiny margin. That strategy worked, as he was elected with a paltry 22.5% of the popular vote. From the Times review:
“‘[The film] asks a more probing question: whether Mr Carville and company, in selling a pro-globalization, pro-American candidate, can export American-style campaigning and values to a country so fundamentally different from the United States …
“‘It’s a very explosive film in Bolivia because it shows close up a very deliberate strategy,’ said Jim Shultz, an American political analyst in Bolivia who recently saw the film with a group of friends. ‘The film is especially explosive because it’s about a candidate – so identified with the United States and so hated by so many Bolivians – being put into office by the political manipulations of US consultants.’
“Mauro Quispe, 33, a cabdriver in La Paz, said he saw slices of the film on the television news, and it raised his ire. ‘I was stunned,’ he said. ‘He was being advised by the Americans, and everything they said was in English.'”
There’s no evidence, at least of which I’m aware, that any of these Democratic operatives intervened on behalf of their former client in his extradition pleas to the Obama administration, but it rather obviously did not hurt. At the very least, shielding a former leader deposed by his own people from standing trial for allegedly gunning down unarmed civilians takes on an even uglier image when that former leader had recently had leading US Democratic operatives on his payroll.
Then, there are the very revealing parallels between this case and the recent decision by Ecuador to grant asylum to Julian Assange, until his fears of political persecution from being extradited to Sweden are resolved. Remember all those voices who were so deeply outraged at Ecuador’s decision? Given that he faces criminal charges in Sweden, they proclaimed, protecting Assange with asylum constitutes a violent assault on the rule of law.
Do you think any of the people who attacked Ecuador on that ground will raise a peep of protest at what the US did here in shielding this former leader from facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity back in his own country? In contrast to Ecuador – which is fervently seeking an agreement to allow Assange to go to Sweden to face those allegations while simultaneously protecting his political rights – the US has done nothing, and is doing nothing, to ensure that Sánchez de Lozada will ever have to face trial. To the contrary, until Saturday, the US has steadfastly refused even to acknowledge Bolivia’s extradition request, even though the crimes for which they want to try him are plainly within the scope of the two nations’ extradition treaty.
Then there’s the amazing fact that Democrats, who understandably scorn Mitt Romney for piling up massive personal wealth while he advocates policies harmful to the poor, continue in general to revere these types of Clintonites who, arguably to a lesser extent, have done the same. Indeed, Democrats spent all last week wildly praising Bill Clinton, who has made close to $100m in speaking fees alone by traveling the globe, speaking to hedge funds, and advocating globalization and free trade.
In this case, one finds both the prevailing rules and the prevailing orthodoxies of American justice. High-level leaders in the US government and those who serve their interests are exempt from the rule of law (even when accused of heinous acts of terrorism); only leaders who run afoul of US dictates should be held accountable.
Even in the civil case against him, an appellate court ultimately ruled that he was immune from damages or civil lawsuits, overturning a lower court ruling that there were sufficient allegations of genocide and war crimes against him to allow the suit to proceed. As usual, US federal courts are the leaders in ensuring that the most politically well-connected are shielded from the consequences of their acts.
Relatedly, we find the prevailing sentiment that asylum is something that is only to be granted by the US and its western allies against unfriendly governments. The notion that one may need asylum from the US or the west – or that small Latin American countries unfavorable to the US can grant it rather than have it granted against them – is offensive and perverse to all good and decent western citizens, who know that political persecution is something that happens only far away from them.
The protection of this accused former leader will likely generate little controversy in the US because it was the by-product of the actions of both the Bush and Obama administrations, and because it comports so fully with how American justice functions. The only surprising thing would have been if there had been a different outcome.
Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.
Tags: achuar, amazonia, Ecuador, ecuador amazonia, ecuador constitution, ecuador mining, ecudor oil, environment, indigenous, John Perkins, pachamama, Rafael Correa, roger hollander, shuar
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Roger’s note: the author of this article, John Perkins, is a converted “economic hit man,” as he accounts in his book of that title, which I recommend for its insight into the methods used by the US and other first world powers to create debt and maintain political and economic control over poor third world countries. In this worthy article, however, he goes a bit overboard in eulogizing Ecuador’s valiant president Rafael Correa. There is much good to be said about the way Correa governs, although in my opinion, despite his claim to be socialist, he has not yet attacked the heart of Ecuadorian capitalism, nor has he fomented “revolution from below.” Perkins does not mention in the article the substantial opposition to Correa’s mining policies from a large segment of the indigenous and environmental communities, nor his characterization of the latter activists as “terrorists.” Most unfortunate, and it has engendered a small but vociferous left opposition to his government.
Published on Saturday, August 25, 2012 by Common Dreams
I had not forgotten the rain forests or the incredible plants and animals that live here. Or the people – the Achuar and Shuar. They are with me every day – as I jog, walk and meditate in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, near my Washington home. Yet being here again, sleeping in an Achuar home, palm-leaf thatching above my head, rising to the sounds of the jungle, and listening to the wisdom of the shamans has re-awakened in me a new sense of both urgency and hope.
These people, these plants and animals live on the frontier. Physically, it is not unlike the frontiers of history. But it is also a frontier never before experienced by human beings. It is the frontier of an awakening consciousness.
Andes mountain lake.
This small country that lies at the center of the earth, right on the Equator, is a microcosm for our entire planet. It is both blessed and cursed with an abundance of resources. Judged by modern economics, the most important of these is oil. When I first came here as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1968, oil was touted as the savior that would catapult Ecuador out of poverty and into the type of society we all thought we were creating for ourselves back then – a socially just and environmentally sustainable one (the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission was established in 1965 and the first Earth Day was in 1970! ). Instead oil has resulted in immeasurable ecological damage, social disruption, political intrigue (including assassinations and coups), overwhelming debt, and an economy that is radically skewed to favor the rich.
Sound familiar? Unfortunately that is the story of modern “development” – what I defined in Hoodwinked as a new economic agenda that emerged in the 1970s and has oppressed us ever since. Predatory capitalism. As expressed by the economist Milton Friedman, its sole goal is to maximize corporate profits, regardless of the social and environmental costs. It is a form of insanity that has created a world where less than 5% of us (who live in the U.S.) consume almost 30% of the planet’s resources while half the world is on the verge of starving, or actually dying of starvation. Worse still: of that 5% about .0000035% control more assets than 50% of the rest. It is a total failure, not a model that can be replicated in China, India, Africa, or Latin America.
But there is another story. It is a story that is unfolding in Ecuador. The story of changing consciousness. The indigenous people here tell us that “the world is as you dream it” and that our dream of extreme material wealth has become a nightmare. It’s time to recognize that oil is not the most valuable resource. Our forests, our rivers, lakes, and oceans, our air, our plants and animals – the gifts of nature – are the true resources that sustain our lives and our souls. It is time to dream a new dream. And to take actions that materialize this new dream.
Ecuador’s courageous president, Rafael Correa, honors the dream of the people of the forests. He was the driving force behind the first constitution in history to assure inalienable rights for nature. He renegotiated contracts with Big Oil to guarantee that his people would gain a reasonable share of oil profits. He is determined to transform his country into a model that can be replicated, one that will gift our grandchildren with a sustainable, just, and peaceful world.
As I and other members of The Pachamama Alliance sat in council with Achuar leaders and shamans we heard time and again that although Rafael Correa is president of their country and a man who holds a Ph.D in economics from the University of Illinois, he is also a person who walks a tightrope. Having been an economic hit man I know exactly what they mean. The pressure exerted by the corporatocracy on our leaders – whether in Quito or Washington D.C. – is daunting. President Zalaya of Hondurous was overthrown in a coup in 2009 because he took a stand against the exploitation of human and natural resources by Dole, Chiquita, Russell Athletics, and other multinationals. President Correa himself survived an attempted coup in 2010. President Obama watched the head of the IMF (and candidate for president of France) brought down by the accusation of a NYC hotel chambermaid. Chiefs of State are vulnerable today, not just to bullets and plane crashes; the threat of character assassination by rumor and innuendo is a potent reality.
The Achuar, like indigenous people around the world, told us that we – you and I, not our leaders – must be the agents of change. We must stand behind the Correas and Obamas. We must support them. And we must act. If we want change, we must dream a new dream and then we must take actions every day to manifest it and to inspire our leaders to do the right thing.
I sat in a dugout canoe on the Capahuari River near the border between Ecuador and Peru. Thousands of miles of rain forest stretched out around me. I was truly on the frontier. I thought about the determination of Daniel Boone and other frontier people to conquer the wilderness and create a safer, more comfortable life for their offspring. And about how that dream became a nightmare addiction to the extreme materialism that now pushes us to the brink of disaster.
Suddenly a pair of pink dolphins surfaced. They frolicked in the water near the canoe. I thought about how these saltwater mammals had adjusted to the fresh waters of this river that is a very long way from the ocean. And then I thought about the new frontier. The frontier of our awakening consciousness.
As I watched those dolphins I had no doubt that we will succeed. We will dream a new dream and come together to manifest it. It will take energy, perseverance, and discipline. And it will take a bit of dolphin-style frolicking.
This amazing jungle, the most biologically diverse place on our planet, the indigenous people who live here, the plants and animals and the courageous president of Ecuador are crafting the new story. And it is also being crafted by so many – the Occupy Movement, Arab Spring, other Latin American and African leaders who are standing strong to defend their lands and cultures, the bloggers, the millions of postings on Face Book, Twitter, YouTube, and the multifarious evolving voices of social networking.
The fact that you are reading this newsletter means that you are part of the awaking.
Welcome to the frontier.
To learn more about what you can do: www.pachamama.org.
John Perkins is the author of New York Times bestseller Confessions of an Economic Hitman and, most recently, Hoodwinked: An Economic Hitman Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded—and What We Need to Do to Remake Them.
The Banana That Roared August 21, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Britain, Ecuador, Humor, Political Commentary.
Tags: britain, david cameron, Ecuador, Humor, humour, julian assange, parody, political humor, political satire, raphael correa, roger hollander, satire, wikileaks
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Roger Hollander, August 21, 2012
Ecuadorian military leaders confer in preparation for awaited British invasion, photo Ferlinghetty Images.
Citing unacceptable threats to its revered sovereignty, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa Delgado today officially declared war on Great Britain. With unprecedented multi-partisan support from the Ecuadorian legislative assembly (37 of its 39 parties in support, with only the venerable Whigs – Pelacones in Spanish – voting in the negative, and the ultra right NSC – Neither Social Nor Christian – abstaining).
The news was taken with somewhat as a surprise at 10 Downing, with Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron insisting to reporters in a crowded news conference that the Ecuadorians have no sense of humour, than anyone could tell their threat to storm the Embassy was merely a joke. Ecuadorian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ricardo Patiño, in response muttered something about “mad dogs and Englishmen,” but when pressed by reporters he admitted he had no idea what it meant. He added, that he had also once heard something about, “no sex please, we’re British,” but again conceded that he had not the slightest notion how it related to their bellicose imperialistic history.
Nevertheless, Ecuador’s declaration of war left the British government no alternative but to gear up for another conflict with a Latin American upstart nation. “We once ruled the seas,” boasted Britain’s Supreme Admiral, Horatio Starboard, “but we still have one of the world’s finest Navies – second only to the US, China, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia. Our problem is with the size of the country. Ecuador is a small country. I repeat, a small country, a very small country. We are still trying to locate it on our radar and expect success at any moment.”
Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s longest serving Monarch since Queen Victoria (Reina Puritana in Spanish), who recently celebrated sixty years on the throne (no pun intended), which the British refer to as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, aptly named for the Royal Family’s Fort Knox sized repository of that precious gem), has called upon the government to re-instate former Prime Ministress Margaret Thatcher (Trabajdora en Pajas in Spanish) to lead the proud nation once again to victory against an ungrateful colony and upstart super power. “Ecuador is just another one of those bad vines (Mal Vinas in Spanish), and Maggie will know how to handle them,” the Queen stated before nodding off.
Meanwhile, Wikileaks founder and leader, Julian Assange, remains holed up the Ecuador’s London Embassy, where he reports having had no difficulty releasing or taking leaks. “I am learning a lot about this wonderful nation,” enthused Assange, “who would have ever thought there were so many different and wonderful ways to prepare rice and beans. They even do it with lentejas (lentils in English)!”
Assange’s enemies were quick to jump on this latest statement by Assange, asserting that it confirmed their allegations of his commitment to Marxist-Lentilism.”
Assange’s attorney, celebrated Spanish jurist Baltazar Garzón, famous for his prosecution of Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet, points out that the British had no qualms about releasing mass murderer Pinochet but seem to be intent upon persecuting Assange for allegedly having had intercourse without using a condom. “No sex please, we’re British,” he added with a wry smile