On May 22, Ecuador's environmental minister Lorena Tapia authorized permits for oil exploration to begin in the sensitive Yasuni National Park, including the development and production of two oil fields, Tiputini and Tambococha, within the park. The area is home to many sensitive animal species, as well as two indigenous communities who reside there in voluntary isolation. Above all, the park is considered one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Oil production could begin as early as 2016.
The culprit behind the oil exploration is Chevron, a corporation with a well-known history of environmental destruction. The decision led to a demonstration against Chevron organized by Amazon Watch on May 21 in multiple countries, including Ecuador. The group christened the day "Anti-Chevron Day." The group called Chevron a "gangster corporation" that has "perpetrated ecocide with impunity."
Uproar immediately followed the announcement that Yasuni National Park was potentially going to be victim to such devastation. "Yasuni is exceptionally rich in species and home to diverse cultures," said Stuart Pimm of Duke University. "Its protection defends nature and peoples. Destroying it would be a particular tragedy."
Amazon Watch's indigenous rights NGO, Adam Zuckerman, added, "In its announcement the Ecuadorian government forgot to mention that it has already divided up 45 percent of Yasuni National Park into seven oil concessions. According to its own records, Ecuador's state oil company averages nearly an oil spill every week, and just one spill in the most biodiverse and culturally sensitive part of the Amazon would be tragic. This is a cold, calculated move that insults our collective intelligence."
Chevron, meanwhile, has done much oil exploration in other parts of the country already, including on the outskirts of Yasuni. Environmental blog Chevron in Ecuador noted, "For over three decades, Chevron chose profit over people in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The cold decision to poison entire communities is compounded daily as Chevron continues its PR campaign to suppress the truth and barrage the media with lies about its actions and responsibility."
Already, due to Chevron's contamination of ground water, soil, rivers, and streams from prior oil accidents, local indigenous communities have suffered an epidemic of cancer, birth defects, and miscarriages. The company has also conducted deliberate dumping of toxic wastewater that has further poisoned local people. And the contamination has rendered entire areas devoid of fish and game, choking the very natural resources that indigenous peoples have always relied upon for their livelihoods.
Indigenous peoples themselves have come out in protest of this. Members of the Waorani community joined a demonstration against the extraction of oil from Yasuni in October 2013.
The Ecuadorian victims of Chevron's tampering filed a class-action lawsuit against the company's predecessor, Texaco (which was purchased by Chevron) back in 1993, and the trial remains ongoing.
In a statement by Amazon Watch, the group remarked, "A victory for these affected communities would send shockwaves through corporate boardrooms all over the world, putting corporations on notice that they can and will be held accountable for environmental abuses, no matter where they are committed. Amazon Watch is working with the affected communities to monitor the trial and keep the ongoing fight for justice in the spotlight." It's time, the group noted, "to put the heat on Chevron to clean up its toxic legacy in Ecuador."
Photo: Members of the Waorani indigenous community take part in a protest against the decision to allow Chevron to conduct oil exploration in Yasuni National Park. AP