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Amazonia: the struggle of Ecuador’s native peoples against deadly “mecheros” and oil dumping

Pablo Fajardo, a lawyer who has been assisting victims of environmental crimes committed in Ecuadorean Amazonia by Chevron Texaco multinational oil company for 26 years, is currently in Italy. SIR met him during an event in Rome

Water polluted by 68 billion litres of toxic oil waste dumped into 880 poisonous, black and slimy waste pools, which one can actually walk on. The “mecheros” (furnaces that burn up gases released during oil extraction) cause upstream flaring with temperatures up to 100 degrees Celsius, destroying the surrounding natural environment. Indigenous peoples are on the verge of extinction because the vital link with nature has been broken. A land of forests and rivers in the Ecuadorian Amazonia has been devastated for 26 years as a result of oil extraction by oil multinational Chevron Texaco. The long history and the judicial vicissitudes are known and debated. In 2001 an Ecuadorian ruling sentenced the oil company to compensate the victims with 9.5 billion dollars. An arbitration court in The Hague ordered Quito’s authorities to compensate the American corporation for violations of an investment agreement signed in the 1990s with the United States and subsequently Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno asked the courts of Argentina and Canada to prevent the judgement condemning Chevron in Ecuador from being enforced abroad. Now the indigenous organizations, defended by the lawyer Pablo Fajardo, are attempting complex negotiations at the UN in Geneva, requesting a binding legal instrument that will restore justice to the victims of natural disasters caused by these corporations. “In the first meeting EU officials left the room – reported Fajardo -.  They said that there is no need for a treaty and that the basic principles of international law are sufficient. But the rights of the natural environment, of the peasants and of peoples are not binding for the States, as opposed to economic and commercial rights. So the question is: in our world, what matters the most: money or human life?”.

26 years of court proceedings, and yet no justice. “In the last 26 years of trials against Chevron – said Fajardo at a meeting in Rome at Dire news agency premises – we realized that access to justice is denied when the victims are indigenous peoples, women and peasants. There is no international court of justice where multinationals can be prosecuted. Companies must rightly continue to make money, but they should do so in full respect of local communities.” Coordinating bodies representing 18 indigenous peoples of 15 nationalities and 10,000 local communities in Ecuador also sent

a letter to the International Monetary Fund on 21 October demanding respect for the rights, dignity and sovereignty of peoples. 

The Cofan people, from 15,000 to 1,200. The Cofan people, represented by William Lucitante, coordinator of the organization of victims Union de afectados por Chevron Texaco (Udapt), dramatically declined from 15,000 to about 1,200 people. “They did not leave, they died – he specified -. The imposition of different forms of life, the exploitation of the natural environment coupled by pollution have forced us to change. We can no longer treat ourselves with our traditional medicines, the water is polluted.” “The world must know what is happening in Ecuador”, he said. “The lawsuit that we won was a step forward, but it’s not enough. That’s why we decided to extend the fight on a global scale. Everybody needs to know the position of the indigenous peoples and understand why we are struggling.” “Today, communities support themselves, we just amplify their voices,” said Gianni Del Bufalo, chairman of Volunteers in the world- Focsiv, during the meeting in Rome.

The consequences of gases burnt in the ”mecheros”. The University of Padua has conducted a research project in the provinces of Orellana and Sucumbios, the most affected by Chevron Texaco, to verify the impact of fires – gas flaring or “mecheros” in Spanish. It is estimated that over 7,000 million cubic metres of gas was flared between 2012 and 2018, with a 15% increase and 34 new plants opened. Every year, 140 billion cubic meters of gas is flared. In an area that extends over 5 kilometres with 120 schools and 158 local communities, “people are forced to breathe these gases,” said Salvatore Pappalardo from the University of Padua. The research is investigating this phenomenon with satellite images and the direct involvement of local population:

“The heat island can reach 100 degrees Celsius causing thermal anomalies to the soil, altering local productivity, causing acid rains with a negative impact on human health.” 

Ecuador, “they want to undermine the indigenous movement.” The decisions of the Ecuadorian government and the protests of the past few days were on the sidelines of the meeting in Rome. In the aftermath of the agreement reached by the government and CONAIE – the confederation representing the indigenous peoples -“a media defamation campaign was launched in Ecuador – said Fajardo, responding to journalists -. On October 14 criminal complaints were filed by the government against the indigenous leaders, on October 15 the government replaced all military commanders because the previous ones refused to comply with the order to open fire against the population.” “They want to undermine the indigenous, social movement to prevent them from taking action again in the future – he said -. I’m afraid that the government is planning fiercer repression measures.” Riccardo Noury, spokesperson for Amnesty international, remarked: “Unfortunately, today we are dealing with a known pattern. Unpopular government measures, protests and repression. Then, after a couple of weeks of a state of emergency, a reconciliation message arrives. People are ready to take to the streets worldwide.”

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