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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!

The ad Doritos doesn’t want you to see January 13, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Environment.
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Roger’s note: this is from the SumOfUs Coalition.  I think you will enjoy the video.

It’s time to crash the Super Bowl!

Well, OK, not literally. But we do want to crash Doritos’ marketing campaign called Crash the Super Bowl. Doritos is pitting budding filmmakers against each other to create the most Doritos-y video of them all to air during the biggest sports event in America.

We made our own video, which looks suspiciously like a video that could be in its competition, until — well you’ll just have to watch and find out what happens. And then share it with all your friends.

Doritos has a massive ad budget and will pay millions of dollars to get its winning ad on air during the Super Bowl. But our community is massive too, and together we can drive home our message that Doritos needs to adopt a deforestation-free palm oil policy.

Watch the video and then share it with your friends.

Rainforests across Southeast Asia are being destroyed every day to make way for massive palm oil plantations, where workers, even children, are trapped in modern slavery to cultivate the vegetable oil. The clearing of these rainforests and peatlands are driving many species like the orangutan and Sumatran tiger to the brink of extinction, while simultaneously polluting the Earth’s atmosphere by releasing gigatons of greenhouse gases.

Each year, Doritos’ parent company PepsiCo buys 427,500 tonnes of palm oil. Given how high profile the Doritos Super Bowl campaign is, we’re using this opportunity to let consumers around the world know about PepsiCo’s irresponsible palm oil sourcing policy. There’s never been a better time to spread the message and make friends, family and colleagues aware of PepsiCo’s practices.

Last year, some of the world’s largest palm oil producers and consumers, including Nestle, Mars, Kellogg’s, Unilever, P&G and Ferrero pledged to use only conflict-free, sustainable palm oil, and work towards zero-deforestation policies. We hope that if this video spreads far enough, PepsiCo will soon join them.

Experts believe that if traders and brands like PepsiCo show producers that they’re only interested in conflict-free, sustainable palm oil, rainforest destruction could end quickly.

Let’s make it happen. Crash the Super Bowl.

Watch the video and then share it with your friends.

More information:





“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. 

Indigenous Ecuadorian Village Battles Oil Giant—and Army January 14, 2013

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Published on Monday, January 14, 2013 by Common Dreams

‘We may die fighting to defend the rainforest’

– Beth Brogan, staff writer

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.”

He continued:

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.

Greenpeace Claims Sweet Victory Over Nestle May 17, 2010

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(Roger’s note: Nestle has a long history of anti-social practices.  At one time they were actively promoting the use of their baby formula in third world countries where there was only access to contaminated water for mixing.  More recently, they have been in effect legally stealing ground water in Guelph, Canada.  It is good to see them get their comeuppance for a change.)

Published on Monday, May 17, 2010 by The Age (Australia)by Stuart Washington

Environment group Greenpeace has claimed social media led to its success in a campaign that linked global food giant Nestle’s chocolate bar KitKat to deforestation in Indonesian rainforests and the destruction of orang-utan habitats.

[A Greenpeace activist dressed as an orang-utan protests outside the Nestle head office in Sydney April 22, 2010. The activists were protesting Nestle's use of palm oil from Indonesia in their products, destroying the habitats of orang-utans. (REUTERS/Greenpeace/Dean Sewell/Handout) ]
A Greenpeace activist dressed as an orang-utan protests outside the Nestle head office in Sydney April 22, 2010. The activists were protesting Nestle’s use of palm oil from Indonesia in their products, destroying the habitats of orang-utans. (REUTERS/Greenpeace/Dean Sewell/Handout)

Today in Malaysia, Nestle announced a partnership with not-for-profit organisation The Forest Trust (TFT), promising to adhere to responsible sourcing guidelines for palm oil. 

In a Greenpeace report titled Caught Red-handed, launched on March 17, Greenpeace exposed Nestle’s use of Indonesian logging company Sinar Mas and subsidiaries including Asia Pulp and Paper to obtain palm oil.

Palm oil is used as an ingredient in Nestle chocolate products, including its well known KitKat chocolate bars.

Greenpeace said Sinar Mas was implicated in rainforest destruction and the destruction of orang-utan habitats as it planted plantations for palm oil and pulp.

An accompanying video posted on YouTube went on to record more than 1 million views – in part because Nestle had attempted to have it removed, Stephen Campbell, the head of campaigns for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said today.

“[Social media] played an enormous role,” Mr Campbell said. “Within 24 hours the campaign was global because of the web video.”

By March 31, Nestle had agreed to stop dealing directly with Sinar Mas and its subsidiaries.

Today’s announcement and the involvement of TFT marks a further step, in that it commits Nestle to no longer source Sinar Mas products indirectly through third-party suppliers.

Nestle said it would “focus on the systematic identification and exclusion of companies owning or managing high risk plantations or farms linked to deforestation”.

Mr Campbell said Nestle had shown a misunderstanding of the role of social media.

“It’s no longer about broadcasting, it’s about interaction,” he said.

Copyright © 2010 Fairfax Digital

Chernobyl in the Amazon February 4, 2010

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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!

US-Peru FTA Sparks Indigenous Massacre June 12, 2009

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Thursday 11 June 2009

by: Tom Loudon, t r u t h o u t | Report, www.truthout.org

During the last week, deep in the Peruvian Amazon, confrontations between nonviolent indigenous protesters and police have left up to 100 people dead. The vast majority of the casualties are civilians, who have been conducting peaceful demonstrations in defense of the Amazon rain forest.

    For almost two months, as many as 30,000 indigenous people have been blocking road and river traffic, demanding the repeal of presidential decrees issued last year to facilitate implementation of the US-Peru FTA. According to the indigenous leaders, several of these decrees directly threaten indigenous territories and rights. After having attempted several times to negotiate with the government the repeal of the most egregious of the decrees, and faced with a permanent influx of extraction equipment into the region, the people decided it was imperative to “put their bodies in front of the machines” in order to prevent this equipment from entering their territory.

    On Friday, June 5, the government decided the protests needed to end and launched an aggressive assault against the people protesting on the road outside of Bagua. The dislocation was conducted from helicopters and the ground, with police and army using automatic weapons and heavy equipment against people armed with only rocks and spears. As videos, photos and testimonies from the region slowly emerge, it is clear that this was designed to inflict as many civilian casualties as possible, and deter those in other regions from continuing protests. Pictures circulating on the Internet depict snipers in uniform firing at protesters from the streets, tanks and from on top of buildings. On Saturday, in Lima, Peru’s capital, a large spontaneous demonstration in support of the Amazonian indigenous was broken up by police.

    In the wake of what appears to be a massacre perpetrated by the police, the government of President Alan Garcia is mounting a massive propaganda campaign, claiming that indigenous protesters attacked the police, and accusing them of being terrorists. Human rights lawyers have accused Peru’s government of a cover-up, and have been impeded from getting in to investigate more fully. The Bishop’s Vicariate for the Environment for Jaen, Nicanor Alvarado, said “The main problem is that injured and deceased civilians are being transferred to the “El Milagro” military base … so, it’s possible that a group of injured and deceased people are disappeared later on.”

    Credible accusations are emerging that the police are systematically disappearing civilian bodies by burning or throwing then in rivers. Right now, people in the region are preparing lists of those missing to document the large number of civilians disappeared. Amnesty International has issued a warning expressing concern for the scores of demonstrators who were detained last weekend.

    The head of Peru’s Justice Ministry issued a warrant for the arrest of Alberto Pizango on sedition charges. Pizango is president of AIDESEP, the main indigenous organization involved in the protests. Pizango has taken refuge in the Nicaraguan Embassy and it appears that Nicaragua will grant him asylum. Arrest warrants have been issued for several other leaders as well.

    The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues issued an urgent call to the government of Peru, demanding that the violence against the indigenous people cease, that medical attention be made available to the wounded and that the Peruvian government abide by its international obligations regarding the protection of all human rights, especially the people’s right to life and security.

    The tragic violence currently unleashed in the Peruvian Amazon is directly linked to the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the US and Peru. On Sunday, interviewed at one of the many roadblocks set up by the demonstrators, indigenous leader and protester Luis Huansi stated, “We will not give up until they reverse the laws that damage us. They want to take away our lands and forests and make our traditions disappear.”

    Indigenous leaders promise that the protests will not end with this latest violence from the government. There have already been calls for international tribunals to investigate and, if their findings so indicate, to hold the government responsible for this massacre.

    On June 8, Minister Carmen Vildoso, the Women’s Issues and Social Development minister, announced her resignation in protest of the government’s response. There is building pressure for the resignation of Cabinet Chief Yehude Simon and Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas. Although President Garcia has stated that he will not backpedal, international pressure is growing for the actions of the police and military to be brought to light.

    A national strike has been called in Peru for June 11 by the newly formed “National Front for Life and Sovereignty,” which includes a broad spectrum of Peruvian national organizations. Protests in solidarity have happened in many parts of the world, and people will be watching closely for how the Peruvian government responds to the strike.

    For more news and information on what is happening in Peru, visit: http://art-us.org/ or http://peruanista.blogspot.com/.

Tom Loudon is co-director of the Quixote Center in Washington, DC.

Chevron’s Amazon Disaster Lands at Sundance January 18, 2009

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Kevin Koenig: 415-726-4607
Mitch Anderson: 415-342-4783

Joe Berlinger’s “Crude” Shows David v. Goliath Legal Battle to Hold Oil Giant Accountable for Destroying Rainforest

Trudie Styler and Sting Join Indigenous Leaders at Opening Jan. 18

San Francisco, CA (January 15, 2008) – A new documentary by the acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (director of BROTHER’S KEEPER, PARADISE LOST, and METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER), which portrays the epic 15-year legal battle between indigenous tribes and oil giant Chevron over massive oil contamination in Ecuador’s Amazon, will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 18th.

The film, titled Crude, was produced and directed by Berlinger and shot by Berlinger, producer/second unit director Michael Bonfiglio, and a film crew of Ecuadorians during the time the case was on trial in Ecuador’s Amazon region at the request of Chevron. It documents the travails of a team of young lawyers and activists, including Pablo Fajardo (CNN Hero Award winner) and Luis Yanza (Goldman Environmental Award), as they take on one of the world’s largest oil companies over what experts believe is the worst oil-related contamination on earth.

A co-production of Entendre Films, Neflix, Radical Media, and Third Eye Motion Picture Company, Crude has been invited to a number of international film festivals and will be released theatrically later this year. Alyse Spiegel is the editor, Juan Diego Perez is the director of photography, and Pocho Alvarez is the cinematographer. Perez and Alvarez are from Ecuador.

The trial documented by Berlinger is nearing an end, with Chevron facing a potential $27 billion damages claim that would be enforceable in the United States, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs. The amount of damages was determined by an independent, court-appointed expert who relied primarily on Chevron’s own scientific data to draw his conclusions. If the court accepts the damages assessment, Chevron could be hit with the largest judgment ever in an environmental lawsuit.

Trudie Styler and Sting, who are shown in the film helping to provide clean water to the Amazon residents through the Rainforest Foundation and UNICEF, will attend the premiere along with several Ecuadorians. Also attending will be leaders from Amazon Watch, an American environmental organization that works with the affected Amazon communities.

Selected as one of the 16 finalists at Sundance out of 879 submissions in the documentary category, Crude is described by the Sundance Committee as the “inside story of the ‘Amazon Chernobyl’ case in the rainforest of Ecuador”. The Committee says Crude “makes a concerted effort to show the case from all sides: from the scientists and lawyers employed by Chevron, to Ecuadoran judges, to celebrity activists and humanitarian organizers, to the role of the media, to the dramatic intervention of Rafael Correa himself, the first Ecuadoran president to sympathize with the indigenous perspective.”

The lawsuit, initially filed in the U.S. in 1993, charges that Texaco deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of waste water into Amazon waterways and abandoned more than 900 unlined waste pits filled with oil sludge. Five indigenous groups in the area – the Cofan, Secoya, Siona, Huaronai, and Kichwa — say the contamination left by Texaco has decimated their traditional lifestyles and caused an outbreak of cancer and other health problems never before seen in the rainforest.

Chevron, which bought Texaco in 2001 and assumed defense of the case, now says Petroecuador, Ecuador’s state-owned oil company that took over Texaco’s fields, is responsible for the damage. Those claims have been rejected by the plaintiffs and the court-appointed expert, and two Chevron lawyers are under indictment in Ecuador for lying about a purported clean-up designed to secure a legal release from Ecuador’s government.

Chevron’s contamination also has captured the attention of the U.S. Congress and President-elect Barack Obama. Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), the House Co-Chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, spent time touring the area in November with his congressional staff. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and then-Senator Obama asked the Bush Administration in 2005 to reject efforts by Chevron to undermine the case via a lobbying campaign in Washington.
Shortly after his recent trip to tour the disaster, Congressman McGovern wrote President-Elect Obama, requesting that relevant federal agencies provide technical assistance and other resources to bolster efforts by the government of Ecuador to clean up the contamination.

About Amazon Watch

Amazon Watch’s mission is to work with indigenous and environmental organizations in the Amazon Basin to defend the environment and advance indigenous peoples’ rights in the face of large-scale industrial development-oil and gas pipelines, power lines, roads, and other mega-projects.

Amazon Watch
Kevin Koenig, 415-726-4607
Karen Hinton, 703-798-3109

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

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
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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