September 21, 2010
Ecuador Rainforest and Oil Giants: The Battle Continues
Back in 2005, many of Ecuador's indigenous people started fighting to keep the oilmen out of their ancestral homes.
In a recent visit to the Ecuador jungle, I learned that not only is it still a major issue first-hand from people I met from the Shuar tribe among others, but it's becoming harder and harder to keep the giant oil conglomerates at bay.
Over 25,000 square kilometers of the area (referred to as The Oriente) is apparently protected, although increased development and drilling means that you have to move further into the edges of the rainforest to experience untouched prestine forest.
Oil activity has been so prevalent that a town has even been named after Shell, which we drove through on the way to Macas, east of Puyo, a popular kick-off point for Jungle Tours in the south.
On our way into the Jungle to a 'primary rainforest' we were told, we noticed an abundance of telephone lines. I was shocked at how far into the dirt roads and paths they extended. By the time we hit the Shuar village, there were none in sight of course, but you could 'hear' western 'noise' not that far in the distance.
Sadly the noise was of electric saws chopping trees down; we were told it was to build lodges and homes for the indigenous people, not to sell to the outside world. Below is the head of the family in the village where we stayed who returned in the late afternoon with a large cut tree, in this case, it was to be used as firewood for cooking.
Ecuador's income from exports is dominated by oil, sadly, at over 40%. It contributes to the economy so much that the government is giving up parts of the Amazon jungle for oil extraction. Virtually all of the Oriente is apparently now available for oil drilling, including indigenous and protected areas.
As far back as 1999, the government sold exploration rights in two areas, known as Blocks 23 and 24, which are at the heart of Indian reserves - without consulting the tribes involved.
"Oil Remains a Huge
Battle in Ecuador"
This is precisely the area we went to this past August; an area that is dominated by three indigenous peoples: the Achuar, Shuar (we stayed in a village with the Shuars) and the Kichwa. Each has set up political organizations to fight the corporate battle.
The Achuar have legal title to the land but under Ecuador's constitution the state has sole right to anything beneath the soil - in other words all mineral rights.
That said, the threat remains and is only getting worse since the main external pressure comes from Ecuador's foreign debt.
Five years ago, ChevronTexaco was facing a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit there, apparently because of use of outdated technology which contaminated the soil and water systems, causing widespread health problems.
This past week, the plaintiffs suing Chevron Corp. over oil contamination have raised their estimate of damages to a range of $40 billion to $90 billion. According to FoxNews.com, a Chevron spokesman rejected the new estimate Friday as a wildly distorted attempt to discredit the oil company.
The law suit covers operations in Ecuador by Texaco from 1972-1990, when it managed a drilling consortium. They calculated liability for "excess cancer deaths" caused chiefly by groundwater contamination at up to $69.7 billion, while estimating actual soil and groundwater cleanup at between $883 million and $1.9 billion.
Whether it is unnecessary death or unnecessary loss of prestine primary rainforest in the Amazon Jungle, it was very sad but very real to witness ongoing destruction of a unique jungle that can't be replaced.
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