The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice: Ecuador’s Sarayaku see an existential threat & Chevron’s Decimation of Indigenous Groups In Ecuador’s Amazon.

The pilot tried for the third time to land the plane. Wind and rain lashed us from all sides. The plane swayed a bit, then banked sharply to the left and dropped. But this time we made it.

There were no runway lights, no radar, no instrument landing system and, to be frank, no real runway – just a long clearing surrounded by thick jungle.

Later the young pilot would tell us the first two attempts get the plane down failed because he could not see the runway.

That was comforting and I was glad he made that admission when we were on terra firma.

After a trip that had started 48 hours earlier in Washington DC, we had arrived in the land of the Sarayaku, deep in the Ecuador’s Amazon region.

“Let’s get out of this tin can, “ cameraman Steve Harper said, his face slowly recovering its normal colour after the plane stuttered to a stop at the far end of the clearing.

The “tin can” he was referring to was the small, single-engined five-seater that had brought us here from the grimy oil town of Coca about two hours away.

There was a small reception committee waiting for us. Chief Jose Gualinga was in full tribal regalia, with his face painted, and other tribal elders were on hand to welcome us to their remote village.

Self-contained life

The Sarayaku [meaning “River of Corn”] are a native people who live in several villages along a stretch of the Bobonaza river in the province of Pastaza in the southern part of the Ecuadorean Amazon.

They number about one to two thousand and lead a frugal, self-contained life. Everything they eat is produced here. Their main sources of income are farming, hunting, fishing and eco-tourism.

For the last 100 years, very little has changed in their way of life. They grow their own food in neaby jungle tracts – mainly yams and corn – and live in simple homes sitting on stilts made with broad wood beams covered with thatch walls and roofs.

Children study the indigenous Kichwa langauge. Women do all the farming and cooking – and almost everything else. A council of elders presides over an assembly of 200 members which meets twice yearly to discuss issues affecting the group. It’s about as carefree as it gets.

But all that is now being threatened. The threat is oil. Lots of it. And, unfortunately for them, it sits right under their ancestral lands.

The Ecudorean government and Big Oil want to exploit these reserves, but the Sarayaku fear that any attempt to drill on their land would – in the words of Chief Gualinga – “destroy their unique way of life”.

So they are mounting a vigorous human-rights campaign to keep the oil companies out.

Al Jazeera producer Tom Szypulski, cameraman Harper and I were there to get their side of the story.

After the welcome formalities, we were shown to our quarters, three neat single-person tents with colourful, folded blankets placed outside the entrance flaps. Not quite sleeping under the stars but pretty close to it. The rain had steadied to a persistent drizzle.

Harper hoisted the camera onto his shoulder and we wandered around the village followed by a small ground of giggling girls and boys. We visited the small school where kids sat squeezed up on on long benches. We stood in the rain and talked with the villagers.

They wanted to know if Gaddafi was still alive and whether Castro was dead. Then we sailed a short way upstream in a very unstable dugout to the main village and made our way over a field of thick, deep mud to the cavernous auditorium where the people’s assembly meets.

PowerPoint presentation

We watched a lengthy PowerPoint presentation powered by a quiet generator about the Sarayaku complete with maps, slides and graphs [Microsoft has quietly slipped in there].

When a break in the clouds brought the sun out, we paddled back, going downstream where a lunch of boiled chicken and corn awaited us.

Later, in the dying embers of an Amazon afternoon, we shot an outdoor interview with Chief Gualinga.

He acknowled his people were poor and and the region was under-developed, but he was adamant that oil was not going to fix that: “One cannot fight poverty by destroying nature. It is not good policy, it is not logical.

“It is not scientific. It is not technical. And it is not democratic. Poverty in Ecuador should be fought in a way in which resources are used wisely … Ecuador is an exporter of petroleum but that does not mean the whole Amazon should be turned into a petro-zone.”

But, as one would expect, the government sees it very differently. It issued a statement through the Ecuador attorney general’s office which said Ecuador believes there should be a balance between the good of society and the good of one particular group.

It said it respects and would protect the interests of any indigenous community, but would not allow any group to impose its will on the entire nation. So, here in the idyllic surrounds of the Amazon jungle, the battle lines are drawn.

Faced with what they see as an existential threat, the Sarayaku have taken their case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which sits in Costa Rica. The court has heard testimony from both sides in this dispute and is expected to issue a ruling later this year. An entire people’s future will depend on it.

We rose the next morning with the roosters and after a light breakfast – more corn – we made our way through the thick wet grass to the clearing, where the same single-engine plane that we’d arrived in was waiting to take us back.

Source: Aljazeera

Video Exposes Chevron’s Decimation of Indigenous Groups In Ecuador’s Amazon, Says Amazon Defense Coalition


NEW YORK, Feb. 16, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — A Sordid Tale of Crime and Cover-up By Major U.S. Oil Company

In the Ecuadorian rainforest, far from the eyes of the U.S. news media, sits one of the world’s most devastating environmental disasters — one that has killed numerous people and likely will kill thousands more in the coming years from cancer and other oil-related diseases if not properly remediated.

The cruel impact of this disaster has been largely ignored by Chevron, the company that now faces an $18 billion court judgment for causing it. Instead of remediating his company’s contamination, Chevron CEO John Watson has squandered hundreds of millions of dollars of shareholder money on 39 different U.S. law firms in an increasingly futile attempt to evade responsibility for the consequences of this man-made catastrophe.

But the sordid tale of Chevron’s environmental disaster in Ecuador will be hidden no more.

Representatives of the rainforest communities that won the judgment have posted a video on their web site that reveals in graphic and shocking detail how Chevron intentionally contaminated the rainforest which, according to Amazon Defense Coalition spokesperson Karen Hinton, caused death and destruction to thousands of people. From 1964 to 1990, the oil giant (operating under the Texaco brand) admitted that it deliberately dumped 16-18 billion gallons of toxic waste water into rivers and streams relied on by local inhabitants for their drinking water.

The waste water included benzene, a known human carcinogen, as well as other toxic chemicals and heavy metals, according to evidence before the Ecuador court.

The video, “Chevron’s Amazon Chernobyl,” also shows how the oil giant in the 1970s and 1980s gouged over 900 unlined waste pits from Ecuador’s jungle floor to store the oil and toxic water left after drilling. Today, the contents of these enormous pits continue to flow via Chevron’s pipes into the soils and streams of the forest, poisoning residents and their food supply. See here and here for a photo of one of the pits.

The video also reveals how Chevron defrauded Ecuador’s court system during an eight-year trial by using bogus laboratory tests to undercount toxins in the soil.

“This video shows in devastating detail that that what Chevron did in Ecuador continues to cause tremendous harm and suffering to thousands of people,” said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorian communities.

“These people are invisible to Chevron CEO John Watson as he continues to play games with the law, bringing harm both to his company’s shareholders and to the foreign policy interests of the United States in Latin America,” said Hinton.

Despite multiple legal setbacks in the courts of Ecuador and the U.S., Chevron and its primary outside counsel Gibson Dunn & Crutcher continue to employ abusive and largely ineffective litigation tactics to evade complying with the law. See here and here.

Meanwhile, the indigenous people of the rainforest are forced to drink water out of poisoned streams. The video shows a little girl using a stick to twirl a gob of oily waste like a ribbon of taffy. In other shots, water glistens with the sickly greens and blues of oil as people swim and wash.

Chevron, the local residents say on the video, told them the oil contained “vitamins and minerals” and was good for them.

In several compelling scenes, the video demonstrates how Chevron ignored pollution standards, manipulated evidence, caused harm to human health, tried to entrap a judge in a bribery scheme, and ultimately proved the legal claims of the rainforest communities with its own evidence.

“This powerful film needs to be seen so the world can fully understand the depths of Chevron’s depravity when it comes to environmental protection,” said Hinton. “Governments the world over can watch this video to better understand the enormous risks to their citizens of doing business with Chevron.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal

SELVA Vida Sin Fronteras acknowledges Kevin Schafer’s important contribution towards protecting the highly endangered Amazon pink fresh water dolphin. Title photographs of our “The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice” were taken by Mr. Schafer. 



~ by FSVSF Admin on 29 February, 2012.

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