Exposed: Chevron's Cover-up of Gross Environmental Abuses in Ecuador
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EC: Well, actually, right now as a leader, we're changing -- before, the leader was a shaman; he was more powerful. We had to respect the word of the shaman, because he led the community and he cured the sick. So we always obeyed him. That's not the case anymore, because we don't even have a shaman anymore. Now we're more in the customs of mestizos, and we've selected president of the community, vice-president, secretary... Our customs are mixing with the Hispanic culture.
CS: You are making a distinction between 'before' and now. Did the shift to becoming more Hispanic happen before the oil was found in your community or after? Is it related to the oil?
EC: Yes, that very much came with the oil workers. I had a personal experience with that. When I was a little boy [in 1964], Texaco arrived in the Amazon. Until then, we hadn't really changed that much as a culture. When the company arrived, my dad and I went in to one of the work sites. I was wearing traditional clothing -- a tunic -- and the Texaco workers lifted up my tunic to see if I was a boy or a girl because they said they couldn't tell. So what I understood was that the company saw me as a girl. So, then, with the other kids, I would explain that if you don't wear pants, the company won't know if you're a boy or a girl. After that, the young people would buy Hispanic clothes and we started wearing them. Everything changed when the company arrived.
CS: When did you first learn that your water was polluted?
EC: In 1964, it started. That was the year they made the first well at Lago Agrio. But we didn't know that petroleum was a contaminant. It was with the help of the Summer Institute of Linguistics [a missionary group] that we found out that it was a carcinogen and that it would cause different kinds of illnesses. Two of my children died from drinking contaminated water. Since then, we don't drink any water from the Aguarico River, because it's completely contaminated with oil, so we don't even bathe in it. We have to look for a spring or catch rainwater. We've gotten exactly three things from the company: pollution, sickness and death; that's it.
CS: No money or jobs?
EC: Absolutely not. At that time, we didn't get any jobs because we didn't speak any Spanish at all.
CS: You said you had two children die from pollution. What other effects has the pollution had on your life?
EC: Well, yes, my two children died. My oldest son, when his mother was pregnant, she drank the water from the Aguarico. After he was born, he just never developed. He was six months old, but he was like a tiny baby. I took him to the Voz Andes Hospital in Quito, but they couldn't find any solution either, and he died there, in the hospital, in 1974.
My other son was already three years old. And one day, I took him to the river. At three, our kids can already bathe in the river. So I took him to the river, and the river was contaminated with oil. The boy, while he bathed, swallowed some water. When we got back to the house, he started to vomit. He threw up and threw up, frequently, and eventually he threw up blood. And the next day he died. At that time, there was no hospital or clinic or anything nearby, because Lago Agrio was just developing, and there was no place to take him. Missionaries lived in Limoncocha, but unless there was an airplane, there was no way to get to Limoncocha -- and he died in less than 24 hours.