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Indigenous leader confronts Chevron

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Emergildo Criollo traveled to California recently from his indigenous village in Ecuador to the home of Chevron’s new CEO John Watson and then to a meeting with state lawmakers, demanding that the oil giant Chevron “… take responsibility for their actions and clean up our rivers and forests – our homes.”

Criollo, a leader of the Cofan people from the Oriente region of Ecuador, grew up in one of the areas where Chevron (then Texaco) was drilling and has been the subject of a massive lawsuit. He came to Chevron’s base of operations to say that the contamination killed two of his sons, along with many other Ecuadorians, and caused his wife to contract uterine cancer.

“I want to say to our indigenous brothers in the U.S. that we, the indigenous people of Ecuador need support to get Chevron to clean up the Amazon,” Criollo said. “We need your support to push this new CEO to take action.

“The contamination still exists. The rainforest is sacred, and part of it is our pharmacy which has been destroyed.”

The March visit coincides with another round of legal actions taken on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadorians, many of them indigenous, who are suing Chevron, accusing the company of dumping billions of gallons of wastewater from oil operations into the rainforest and abandoning nearly 1,000 open, unlined pits containing crude oil and toxic waste. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit assert that the contamination has caused tens of thousands of cases of cancer, miscarriages, birth defects and other illnesses.

Recent press reports are predicting that a decision in the case, now in an Ecuadorian court, could come as early as this summer and that Chevron could be ordered to pay as much as $27 billion to the plaintiffs.

Emergildo Criollo, (center) a leader of the Cofan people from the Oriente region of Ecuador, walked up Happy Valley Road in Lafayette, Calif. on his way to deliver a petition signed by 325,000 people to Chevron CEO John Watson.

“It is time for Chevron to listen to Emergildo, the 30,000 Ecuadorians who are suffering and dying because of Chevron’s policies, and the 325,000 plus people from around the globe who believe that energy shouldn’t cost lives,” said Maria Ramos, Change Chevron Campaign director at Rainforest Action Network, who accompanied Criollo on the visit to the Watson home in Lafayette, Calif.

As part of his effort to publicize the issue, Criollo and a group of U.S.-based activists went first to the home of Watson March 2, and then to company headquarters later in the afternoon and on to Sacramento the following day. Criollo’s hosts included Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network and Avaaz.org.

Watson did not answer when the group pressed the buzzer to his gated home, according to Han Shan, coordinator of Amazon Watch’s Cleanup Ecuador campaign. Shan noted that Criollo did read his message into Watson’s speaker at the gate, and then left a copy of a petition signed by 325,000 people from around the world, asking Chevron to clean up the affected area.

The event March 3 however, entitled “From Ecuador to California: California’s largest corporation, one of the world’s worst oil related disasters, and what California’s legislators can do” was more successful according to Brianna Cayo Cotter of RAN.

The reception with senators, Assembly members, and their staff included Democratic California Sens. Fran Pavley and Loni Hancocki, as well as Assemblyman Manny Perez, Assemblyman Paul Fong, Assemblyman Ira Ruskin and Assemblyman Jared Huffman.

“These key leaders from both the environmental and Latino caucuses not only listened to Emergildo’s story, but spoke of their desire to support the people of Ecuador who are suffering and dying because of Chevron’s operations,” Cayo Cotter said in a press release.

Huffman spoke of the need “to remedy a very serious environmental and human tragedy.”

Cayo Cotter wrote that Criollo “… told the lawmakers about how he was only 6 years old when Chevron (then Texaco) began oil drilling in his community. He spoke of how his family was forced to relocate because of the contamination. About how he had to part centimeters of oil off of the river to drink the water. About how he has lost two sons and nursed a wife through uterine cancer because of the contamination. His family drank, bathed, and fished in water that was poisoned by oil dumping.”

At the end of his presentation Criollo asked all of the Assembly members and senators for their help and invited them to visit his home and “see for themselves the devastation Chevron’s behavior has caused.”

Hancock, from the Contra Costa district where Chevron is headquartered, said she “would like to come and visit. This is an international issue and an issue here as well.”

Other lawmakers expressed interest in supporting the cleanup effort, according to Cayo Cotter.

Soon after the Sacramento reception Criollo returned to Ecuador, where, he noted that his people were also receiving help from small local indigenous organizations.

Indian Country Today
Rick Kearns
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

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