20. Black Gold Conquistadors Invade Ecuador

Sources: National Catholic Reporter, 115 E. Armour Boulevard, Kansas City, MO 64111, Date: May 1, 1992, Title: "Oil Companies Invade Ecuador for `Black Gold",' Author: Leslie Wirpsa; Urgent Action Bulletin Survival International, 310 Edgeware Road, London W2 IDY, England, Date: July 1992, Title: "Dallas Oil Company to Invade Waorani Land," Authors: Survival International Jonathon Mazower and Charlotte Sankey

SSU Censored Researcher: Pete Anderson

SYNOPSIS: "Five hundred years ago, the Spanish came with mirrors, Bibles and swords, dominated with bloody force and the fear of God," writes Leslie Wirpsa, Latin American Affairs reporter for the National Catholic Reporter. But today, Wirpsa continues, "in their relentless search for black gold, the oil companies are bringing [to Ecuador] sweets, tacky dresses, sports shorts and T-shirts, along with their monstrous machines. And, like the Spanish, the oil companies continue to disrupt the culture, communal economies and social fabric of the indigenous communities. In addition, they are ravaging Ecuador's Amazon ecosystem, one of the most biologically diverse in the world. "In terms of exploitation, there are indexes and then there are indexes," says Bishop Gonzalo Lopez Maranon, Carmelite bishop for Ecuador's eastern Amazon forest. "It seems to me the exploitation by the multinational companies is incomparably more oppressive, more exploitative, more destructive than the system used 500 years ago.

Texaco Petroleum Co. drilled the first oil well in Amazon territory in 1969. Today, oil drilling occurs in 10 percent of Ecuador's 32 million acres of the Upper Amazon Basin. Texaco sold its drill sites to Petroecuador, an Ecuadorian company, in 1991. The destruction left behind by Texaco, and now continued by Petroecuador, was so great that the Amsterdam-based International Water Tribunal morally condemned the two companies for spoiling Amazon water systems.

In her book Amazon Crude, environmental writer Judith Kimerling, working for the Natural Resources Defense Council, documented the damage done to Ecuador's Amazon by the oil company. She revealed that 16.8 million gallons of oil have been poured into the fragile environment over the past 18 years as a result of pipeline cracks and spills. And about 4.3 million gallons of "toxic production wastes" are flushed into the region's Lagoons, rivers, streams and groundwater tables each day.

Carlos Luzuriaga, former sub-secretary for Petroecuador's Environmental Division, estimated that 50 percent of the water systems in the eastern oil-producing area are contaminated. Carlos Esquetini, former Ecuadoran deputy secretary of energy, said that "Texaco has been in this country for 20 years. Texaco was our professor. They taught us how to produce and pollute. They never taught us how to clean up the mess."

Responding to criticism, Petroecuador recently promised to clean up the poisonous pools of waste materials located by its oil wells. But "Primer Piano," a popular Ecuadorian news documentary program, revealed the company merely covered the sites with dirt; the toxic muck continues to seep into the soil, contaminating Amazon groundwater aquifers. Shortly after denouncing the dirty practices of the oil companies, "Primer Plano" was taken off the air.

And the invasion of the black gold conquistadors continues. The July 1992 Urgent Action Bulletin, issued by Survival International, the worldwide movement to support tribal people, warned that the Maxus Energy Corporation, a Texas-based oil company, was starting construction of a road and an oil pipeline into the land of the Waorani, the most vulnerable of the Indian peoples in Ecuador.

The United States continues to import half of the 300,000 barrels of crude pumped from the Ecuadorian Amazon each day.

COMMENTS: Survival International authors Jonathon Mazower and Charlotte Sankey report that the Ecuadorian invasion by oil companies received no coverage in the mainstream media: "The media see the very real, life-threatening problems faced by indigenous peoples daily as completely marginal -- and, even if worthy of attention, not the substance of stories to sell the papers. This in 1992, the year of the Columbus anniversary, when indigenous peoples were at least a little higher up the news agenda than its usual rock bottom!

"The public should be informed of the consequences of the overriding belief in growth as the mainstay of progress.
When U.S. companies reach further and further into ever more remote corners of the earth for their oil supply, with no regard for the people, the Western public needs to be told the real story behind the oil they use in their homes and cars. The general public can then see a clear link between their daily lives and human rights abuses and feel empowered by using their influence as consumers.

"The oil company, Maxus [cited in the article] will clearly be happy for as long as it can continue its operations unhindered by negative publicity."

The authors point out that this article, while focusing on Ecuador, is part of a long-standing and ongoing campaign by Survival International to publicize the plight of indigenous people, the most marginal of all peoples: " [The article] is a tool in our letter-writing campaign, where thousands of our members worldwide read the piece, and then follow the instructions as to how to write to the Ecuadorian president (for example). This is a very effective way of campaigning: a) as South American governments seem to be becoming more concerned about their international image; and b) politicians often see one letter from a member of the public to represent the views of several hundred other people who do not write.

"The extreme vulnerability of the Waorani people is made clear in the text. Any extra publicity Project Censored can give them is very much welcomed."

PLEASE NOTE. For more information about Survival International and its letter writing campaign, please write Urgent Action Bulletin, Survival International, at the above address.