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Oil Company Gets Drilling Rights From Amazon Tribe With Little More Than Soccer Balls, Whistle

by Kintto Lucas

Other oil companies have signed similar agreements
(IPS) QUITO -- Huaorani communities in Ecuador accepted footballs, plates, a few kilos of food, medicine and a radio in exchange for allowing the Italian company Agip Oil to explore for crude in their territory.

According to the local environmental group Accion Ecologica, the deal amounts to nothing but "a mockery of the collective rights" of the Native people.

The Huaorani communities authorized Agip Oil to build an oil platform and a pipeline to extract crude in the northeastern province of Pastaza, according to a contract signed in March 2001, to which IPS had access.

In exchange, the company promised to provide each of the six Huaorani communities with 50 kgs of rice and sugar, two buckets of fat, a bag of salt, a referee's whistle and two footballs, 15 plates, 15 cups and a cabinet containing $200 worth of medicine, in a one-time consignment.

The oil company also agreed to provide a course to train community health promoters, and promised each community a radio, a battery, a solar panel and $3,500 to build a small school, according to the contract signed by the Organization of the Huaorani Nationality of the Ecuadorean Amazon, the six communities, and Agip Oil.

The head of Accion Ecologica, Ivonne Ramos, complained that the government did nothing to intervene when oil companies signed such contracts, which she said were not only an affront to the dignity of Native peoples in the Amazon jungle, but further undermined their chances of survival.

"This is just one example," said Ramos. "Other oil companies have signed similar agreements, which are backed by the state through the Ministry of Energy and Mines' National Office of Environmental Planning."

The agreement reached by the Huaorani communities and Agip Oil stands in sharp contrast to the stance taken by Native people, peasant farmers and municipal authorities in the northeastern provinces of Sucumbios and Orellana, who have been staging protests and occupying oil industry infrastructure to demand compensation for the environmental damages that will be caused by the Heavy Crude Pipeline (OCP) project.

The provinces are demanding that the government of Gustavo Noboa press the OCP Limited consortium to shell out $10 million for social works in the area where the pipeline is to go in.

Local residents threw up roadblocks on Feb. 25, and occupied oil wells, the airport of Coca (the capital of Orellana), and the offices of the TAME airline in Nueva Loja (the capital of Sucumbios).

Due to the protests and the freeze in activity in 10 oil fields and a refinery, the extraction of crude was cut by 19 percent, and the normal deliveries of 230,000 barrels a day were reduced by 38,000 barrels.

The government declared a state of emergency in Sucumbios on Feb. 22 and in Orellana on Feb. 23. One person died and nine were injured in clashes with the army and the police.

The state of emergency was declared when the protests were just starting, under the pretext that the border needed to be protected in the wake of the collapse of peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

But on Feb. 25, Noboa admitted that the state of emergency was declared in response to the protests.

on Huaorani people
Ecuador's Huaorani people number around 2,700, and live on a territory of 670,000 hectares, between the Napo and Curaray rivers. Their livelihood depends on hunting, fishing, and shifting cultivation or slash-and-burn agriculture, according to the Quito-based Intercultural University of Indigenous Nations and Peoples.

The document signed by the Huaorani communities states that Agip Oil "holds a contract with the Ecuadorean state to explore and exploit hydrocarbons in Bloc 10" -- an area located in the province of Pastaza, within the "recognized limits of the territory" of the Huaorani Indians.

"In accordance with what is established by the constitution of the republic and the environmental regulations for hydrocarbon operations in Ecuador," Agip Oil consulted the Huaorani communities on "the possible impacts of the project," says the contract.

But Miguel Lluco, the national coordinator of the Native Pachakutik-New Country Movement of Plurinational Unity, said the agreement between the Italian firm and the Huaorani communities violated the Ecuadorean constitution and International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169.

Convention 169, which stipulates that Native and tribal peoples must be consulted regarding any measure that affects them, and that they must take part in any decisions on the exploitation of resources within their territories, was ratified by Ecuador after it was pushed through Congress by Lluco, who served as a member of parliament from 1996 to 1998.

"According to the contract, Agip consulted the communities after the government granted it permission to explore and drill, while it was supposed to do so before" the license was issued, said Lluco.

Ecuadorean law does not direct companies to ask Native communities about the possible impacts of projects, but to have recourse to independent environmental impact studies that assess the risks and damages, propose mechanisms to remedy the impacts, and commit the companies to doing so.

"After presenting and explaining the report in a way that the communities can understand, the company must ask them if they agree to the exploration and drilling. If this does not occur, what we're talking about is a kind of swindle," the indigenous activist argued.

The contract states that the Huaorani "recognized and accepted" their responsibility for any omission in the execution of the accord, as well as for accidents, harm to third parties, and environmental damages.

It also indicates that the company "will be free of any responsibility related to the activities arising from this accord."

Lluco said the contract clearly shows that the oil company is taking advantage of legal loopholes to avoid being held accountable.

"That way, the polluters of the Amazon jungle transfer the responsibility to those affected by the pollution. It sounds like a joke, but it isn't. It is very sad," said the Native leader.

The contract leaves open the possibility of new agreements being reached by the company and the indigenous group, stating that if commercially exploitable hydrocarbon reserves are found in Pastaza, Agip Oil and the Huaorani will renew their dialogue "to seek forms of mutual support and cooperation."

President Noboa, meanwhile, accused the protesters in Orellana and Sucumbios of engaging in "blackmail" by demanding social works and compensation from the oil companies.

"One thing is what was agreed on" with the consortium that has started to clear land to build the OCP pipeline, "and another is that the works are regularly brought to a halt to ask for more money," he complained.

Nueva Loja Mayor Maximo Abad said that neither the government nor OCP Limited, which is building the pipeline, have lived up to their promises to pave roads and provide electricity.

"This is where the oil comes from, and these provinces do not even have paved roads or power, while 90 percent of the people live in poverty. These are the country's poorest provinces, even though they are the richest" in terms of natural resources, said Abad.

Interior Minister Marcelo Merlo Jaramillo said the stance taken by some local authorities was "bordering on subversion."

The state of emergency allows the government "to take all of the actions provided for by the constitution," and "we will not allow oil production to be brought to a halt," the minister warned.

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Albion Monitor March 10, 2002 (

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