More than 10 million acres of pristine oil-rich Ecuadorian rain forest is up for grabs in what is known as the XI Oil Round.
Watchdog group Amazon Watch, which represents five indigenous nationalities — Achuar, Shuar, Zápara, Shiwiar, and Kichwa — is taking legal action against major oil company Chevron. The group points the finger at the company for toxic contamination of soil, rivers and streams, and groundwater, while local indigenous communities continue to suffer “an epidemic of cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, and other ailments.”
According to Amazon Watch, “Chevron has never carried out a meaningful clean up of the mess it is responsible for, and its infrastructure continues to poison the communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon.”
More than 30,000 Ecuadorians have been pursuing an international campaign and a landmark class action lawsuit in Ecuadorian courts for justice.
The government has begun auctioning off new portions of rain forest land in what is known as the XI Oil Round, prompting panic among an indigenous population concerned about the very survival of its people.
The Confederation Of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon joined with other indigenous organizations to draft an open letter to companies involved in the XL Oil Round, claiming it will impact their “ancestral territories in the Pastaza and Morona Santiago Provinces.”
“In various previous declarations, our constituents have demanded that the XL Round not be carried out due to its violation of our collective rights enshrined in the Ecuadorian Constitution and International Human Rights Treaties,” the letter states. “We demand that the public and private oil companies across the world not participate in the bidding process that systematically violates the rights of seven indigenous nationalities by imposing oil projects in their ancestral territories.”
According to the CIA, there are 6.573 billion gallons of crude oil reserves in Ecuador, ranked 22nd in the world.
Ecuadorians don’t have a lot of trust in oil companies. According to the Campaign for Justice in Ecuador, more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste has been poured into the rain forest, while the indigenous population has seen more birth defects and cancer.
It began in the 1960s, when Chevron, then known as Texaco, moved in to extract the nation’s oil resources. It took the indigenous people by surprise, and brought with it a modern industry never seen before in the region. According to the Campaign for Justice in Ecuador, Texaco created 350 oil wells and 1,000 toxic waste pits, which the company left behind.
This is where the contamination crept in.
“At the height of Texaco’s operations, the company was dumping an estimated 4 million gallons of formation waters per day, a practice outlawed in major U.S. oil producing states like Louisiana, Texas and California decades before the company began operating in Ecuador in 1967,” a Campaign for Justice in Ecuador post reads.
In 1993, a lawsuit was filed against Texaco, with the indigenous plaintiffs claiming the company had left a polluted rain forest behind. In 2011, the Ecuadorians won the lawsuit with a $19 billion payout, but the drama didn’t end there, and Chevron has yet to pay up.
Just this year, Chevron cried foul, claiming the evidence was fraudulent and tampered with, and in turn refusing to pay the settlement.
The case is ongoing, representing another battle against the oil companies as the indigenous population fights to protect another 10 million acres from falling to the same fate.