Exposed: Chevron's Cover-up of Gross Environmental Abuses in Ecuador
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CS: How many plaintiffs were there in that suit?
EC: There were 15 of us as students in Boston, but there are 30,000 of us that are affected.
CS: How are you working together with some of the other indigenous groups that have been affected? Has that process transformed the Cofan's relationships with neighboring groups?
EC: The affected groups come from two provinces, Sucumbios and Orellano. In Sucumbios, it's the Cofan, Secoyas, and Siona. In Orellano, there are Huaorani, Quichua, and some Hispanic settlers. We have cooperation; we have a committee of the affected groups. We meet monthly to maintain that committee. The Secoya and the Cofan have offices in Lago Agrio. The Quicha and the Huarorani have offices in Coca. Anytime there's a problem, we get together to figure it out. We're organizing more and more because we're think we're getting close to getting a judgment, maybe this year.
CS: Did there used to be any kind of rivalry among the people that are working together now?
EC: Well, before we didn't have much cooperation with other nationalities. That's because every group had it's own language, and we couldn't talk to each other at all. But now that we speak Spanish, all the nationalities can talk to each other.
We did have some cooperation with the Siona and Secoya; sometimes the shaman wanted to learn things from each other, so our shaman would learn to speak Siona and Secoya. But we were all enemies with the Huarorani because they were assassins. They lived by the Coca River and they would come to the Aguarico to kill people to take their handicrafts.
CS: What would it mean to you to win the lawsuit?
EC: Well, for us, it would mean breathing clean air, drinking clean water and closing up all those open pits. That's our request. We have to reduce the pollution. We know we won't be able to get rid of all of it, we have to make it somewhat better so it doesn't continue to hurt our kids.
CS: Other than the cleanup, do you and the other plaintiffs have any plans for the money?
EC: The remediation is important too, because we've lost a lot of things -- medicines, and our culture. We also need to be able to get back some of our territory, because now, because of the company, we've had our area reduced. Before, it was the wide-open Amazon, but then when Texaco arrived and built a highway; settlement came, and we were invaded by workers. Now we're trying to work with the settlers that have big farms so we can have more territory, because our community is also growing and right now there's nowhere for us to go.
Now we don't even have traditional houses; most people don't wear our own clothing -- we dress like mestizos. So we want to have traditional houses and have education to learn our own language because now we mostly speak Spanish. So that's our idea: If we win the lawsuit, we'll use the money to buy back land so we can recover our culture.
CS: Do you worry that some people in the community will be tempted to take the money for their own purposes, instead of investing in your traditional culture?
EC: No, not at all, because now everybody knows that we need to recover our culture. We don't want to live in the cities.