The Amazon is 7 million km2. It contains 20% of the water supply on the planet. Eight countries make up the Amazon: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Surinam and Venezuela. Although Ecuador contains only 7% of the Amazon, this portion nevertheless represents 51% of it’s the ecuadorian territory. This exquisite ecosystem is intimately linked with the main economic activit of Ecuador: the exploitation of oil. According to the records of the Ministry of Environment, there are 33 ecological reserves in Ecuador. Each faces different types of exploitation and risk factors, such as hunting, fishing, fires and pollution. Within these potentially harmful scenarios, the indigenous communities try to survive.
The Yasuni National Park
The Yasuni National Park is one of 24 priority protected areas of the world’s wilderness. This is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, unknown to almost all Ecuadorians. Located in the province of Orellana, one of the five provinces of the country, this park is the largest protected area of continental Ecuador. In 1989, the park was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Inside the Yasuní we find extraordinary cultural diversity such as the Huaronai, the Kichwa and other communities. These people have resisted and preserved a rich culture despite the encroachment of settlers, oil industries, etc. into their territory during the last 500 years.
The situation of indigenous
The Huaorani (“people marching in the forest”) were the last Indians to preserve its ancient origins after the Spanish conquest in the fourteenth century. The process of domination of the Huaorani began with the establishment of evangelical missions in the territory through the Summer Institute Evangelical United States. The Institute’s goal was directly linked to oil companies, including peacekeeping and sedentarisation of this group, to allow oil exploration and exploitation. The result was the gradual acculturation of the Huaoranis, a result that was not easy to achieve because of the wild and warlike lifestyle of the Indians. In fact, the Huaoranis became known for the murder of a Spanish bishop, Labaka Alexander, and a nun from Colombia, Inés Arango, in July 1987. Yasuni National Park holds 5 communities of the 36 communities located in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The Huaorani are skilled hunters and warriors. Their economy, social organization and spiritual world are amazing models of the continuous adaptation to the environmental jungle. Historically, the ancestral territory of the Huaorani Nationality was 2 million hectares, but since 1966 this territory hasbeen significantly reduced. In 1990, only 612 560 ha were certified for these Indians.
Their population has suffered a similar fate. Today, the community consists of more than 3000 people. Only a few hundred of them live alone and still in a primitive state. The Huaorani lifestyle has changed dramatically to adapt and live with the oil rigs and tourists.
On the land’s concession documentation, in 1990, it was explicitly stated that “The Huaoranis may not prevent or hinder the exploration and / or exploitation of mines and hydrocarbons” that take place in their territory.
Oil, the “devil’s excrement”
The history of the Yasuni National Park with the oil companies began in 1986 when a service contract was signed with the U.S. firm Conoco to explore and exploit oil in one of its blocks (No. 16). The rights and obligations were transferred to other companies through the years. Today, the Spanish-Argentine Repsol YPF holds the concession for that block. Since 1986, the government has granted the rights to different blocks of the Park to other companies.
Today, about 60% of the Yasuni National Park is under concession to oil companies. Almost all of the Huaorani land is populated by oil rigs, roads and settlers. The cultural impact has been detrimental. The Huaorani territory has been completely cut apart in favor of oil companies. Aboriginal peoples have had to learn how to live next to the logos of companies Petrobras, Petrobell, Andes Petroleum, Repsol YPF and Petroecuador-ITT.
The Texaco case: the world’s worst oil disaster
When Texaco came to this region, it was granted a territory of about 1.5 million acres of pure forest; there were several indigenous communities living there at that time. Today, dozens of communities continue suffering the consequences of pollution which has affected their health, substantially raising the rates of cancer, reproductive problems and birth defects. Several indigenous communities in the area have even had to abandon their traditional homes. Texaco contaminated a wide area of the country, spilling toxic waste and polluted water (waste water from oil extraction process) in estuaries and rivers. Texaco also built permeable and obsolete swimming pools, which still contaminate groundwaters and the atmosphere.
During the time that Texaco operated in Ecuador, the multinational decided (to maximize its profits) to ignore the environmental technical standards of the time. Texaco re-injected the toxic waste generated underground and threw away billions of gallons of contaminated water on the surface.
• Companies that are inside the Yasuni National Park are extracting highly concentrated crude oil; thus leaving a greater impact on the environment in each of the operation’s stages because the material in this state consumes more chemicals and has more waste.
• Another threat related to the above, is the construction of roads within the area. • Destabilization of the ground. • Deforestation and its consequences: erosion, extinction of or loss of biodiversity, noise. • Contamination of water with chemical wastes.
• Air pollution from burning oil and gas.
• Proliferation of household waste from the camps.
• Filtration of toxic contamination of groundwater.
• Changes in lifestyle of indigenous communities: They become sedentary; they change their eating habits generating non-biodegradable waste. Many communities must work for travel agencies to survive.
• Impact on health of communities: in 1999, 80% of the Huaorani were infected with Hepatitis B and C. • Property damage to communities by the death of animals, loss of crops as a result of water pollution.
• Damage to the Huaorani culture.
• Escalation of violence, alcoholism, prostitution, labor problems.
Those who help to preserve the Yasuni and its inhabitants
Fortunately, there are many projects and national and international groups interested in stopping the advancement of “devil’s excrement,” as the Huaoranis call the oil. Some of them are:
• Yasuni-ITT initiative is supported by the government of Ecuador, Hollywood celebrities, the German parliament, the European Union and other International agencies such as the United Nations Programme for Environment (UNEP). The initiative calls itself as “An initiative to change the world” but is having difficulty becoming truly effective.
• The organization “Acción Ecológica” is promoting a campaign to defend the park.
• The Nature Conservancy, the Institute of the “Bien Común” and the Cofan Survival Foundation (FSC), have joined together under the “Indigenous Landscapes Consortium” to help ensure that indigenous groups make informed decisions about managing their wealth.