Date: Sat, 17 Jul 1999 13:39:46 -0500 (CDT)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: ENVIRONMENT: Ecuadorean Indigenous Group takes on US Oil Giant
/** ips.english: 394.0 **/
** Topic: ENVIRONMENT: Indigenous Group takes on US Oil Giant **
** Written 9:03 PM Jul 15, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
Indigenous Group takes on US Oil Giant
By Danielle Knight, IPS
15 July 1999
QUITO, Ecuador, July 15 (IPS) - Oil companies, pushing ever deeper
into the biologically-rich Amazon rain forests in their hunt for
"black gold" have been confronted by demands from an indigenous
group for a code of conduct to continue their operations.
The 300 strong Secoya community wants to negotiate an agreement
with the California-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. before it can
continue exploring for oil in Secoya territory in north-east
"In the past, Occidental confused and divided us by not
dealing with the Secoyas as a whole but only with the leaders of
certain villages by giving them gifts," Humberto Piaguaje, the
president of the Secoya Indigenous Organisation of Ecuador, known
as OISE, told IPS.
"Now we want the company to negotiate only with OISE with the
full approval of the assembly of the Secoya people," he said.
In 1985, California-based Occidental Petroleum signed an
agreement with the government of Ecuador giving the company the
right to extract oil for 20 years from an area of more than
200,000 hectares known as Block 15.
This region includes part of the protected Limoncocha Reserve
and the traditional indigenous territory of the Secoya, Siona and
Quichua groups. Using Occidental's own estimates of the existing
reserves, the entire production of Block 15 would supply the total
oil consumption in the United States for about 13 days.
In 1992 the company developed five oil fields near the town of
Limoncocha and constructed a 30 kilometer pipeline to connect to
the country's Transecuadorian pipeline that goes to the coastal
refineries for foreign export.
Later Occidental began negotiating with individual Secoya
communities to allow them to explore for oil. In exchange for
chain saws, medicine chests and rain-coats, one community signed
an agreement that allowed the company the right to conduct
"petroleum activities" in the all indigenous territories of
Other Secoya and Siona communities located in Block 15,
however, were outraged and immediately called on Occidental to
cancel the agreement. The company eventually did retract the
contract but made it clear that they intended to continue to push
for access to Secoya lands.
Under the new code of conduct, OISE wants to make clear who
will be the exact representatives on each side with the complete
agreement of all the Secoya people. As currently written, the
draft agreement would prohibit the company giving gifts to
"We are a small people and we are tired of arguing with
Occidental," says Piaguaje. "We are worried that oil exploration
will completely change our culture and that the animals and fish
will leave if exploration starts in our territory."
Human rights organisations in Ecuador are closely watching the
negotiations and hope it will set a precedent for other indigenous
communities fighting against oil exploration on their territory.
"This is the first time in Ecuador that such negotiations are
taking place on an agreement that will regulate the dialogue
between an indigenous group and an oil company," said Paulina
Garzon, coordinator of the Quito-based Center for Economic and
When asked about the current negotiations, Occidental spokesman
Lawrence Meriage told IPS that the code of conduct was a matter
between the indigenous people and the company.
He pointed to the efforts the company had made to reduce the
number of roads, drilling pads and structures built in Block 15 in
order to minimize the impact on the environment.
"We basically have set the standard for stringent
environmental behavior in Latin America," Meriage said and added
that the company was replanting native tree species in areas
disturbed by Occidental.
Piaguaaje said, however, past experiences with pollution and
health problems that followed the operations of another US oil
company, Texaco, weakened his faith in Occidental's promises.
"From our experience with Texaco, there is no more trust,"
says Piaguaje. "We don't feel in harmony with nature like we did
before oil was discovered here," said Piaguaje.
Several members of the Secoya people are plaintiffs in a class-
action suit against Texaco currently in New York, which accused
the company of deliberately dumping billions of gallons of toxic
waste water into the environment without treatment or monitoring.
In addition to the contamination caused by oil exploration,
environmentalists warn that because of the expanding petroleum
frontier, Ecuador has one of the highest rates of deforestation
in South America.
Between 140,000 and 340,000 hectares of rain forest were being
cut each year in Ecuador, according to the Nature Foundation,
Ecuador's largest environmental group which is affiliated with the
World Wildlife Fund.
If the current rate of deforestation continued,
environmentalists with the California-based Rainforest Action
Network estimated that Ecuador's rain forests would be decimated
within 15 years. (END/IPS/dk/99)
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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