Albion Monitor /News

Native Interests Ignored at Oil, Gas Summit

by Pratap Chatterjee

No discussion of rights of people whose lands are most threatened

(IPS) DALLAS -- A major meeting in late February that brought together energy ministry officials and oil and natural gas companies from the western hemisphere focused on ways to raise capital for energy development in the Americas, but one key issue received little or no attention.

The meeting did not discuss the rights of indigenous peoples whose lands are most threatened by oil and natural gas exploration.

Following an inter-governmental meeting on energy cooperation in Washington last November, Venezuelan Energy Minister Edwin Arrieta had a cryptic response to the question: "There is a saying in Mexico, 'if children ran the world, it would be candies and chocolate; if children ran the oil and gas industry, we would be living in Disney Land'."

And according to the U.S. Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary, "The United States believes that we should lead by example rather than lay down conditions for other countries."

Exploration affects Native people from Alaska to Chile

Multinational companies like Amoco, Chevron, Exxon, Enron, Mobil, Occidental, Shell, and Texaco attended the four-day meeting along with state-owned companies and government officials.

The meeting was a follow-up to the December 1994 Summit of the Americas in Miami that discussed regional trade issues. Apart from financing for energy development, talks included an Inter-American Petroleum and Gas Conference and a review of such issues as privatization in the Americas, the Mexican economic crisis, and regional trade accords, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Indigenous peoples have condemned oil and gas exploration all over the Americas, and many of the companies represented at the conference have been assailed for their destruction of native lands in the Americas.

Maxus, the Dallas-based company, and main corporate sponsor of this meeting, is one example. Last April, the Huaorani peoples of Ecuador seized Maxus' oil wells in the Ecuadorean Amazon.

"Since its arrival to this country, Maxus has implemented an intensive plan of persecution in an effort to weaken the Huaorani people's resistance and buy off their conscience," said an official statement from the Organization of the Huaorani Nation of the Ecuadorean Amazon (ONHAE).

Native groups in Ecuador have also sued Texaco for massive environmental pollution of their lands, and Mobil has been condemned for its exploration activities in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, where the Toeri, Zapateri, Amarakaire, and Esse-Eja peoples live.

In the far south of the Americas, local groups have criticized GasAndes, an Argentine-Canadian consortium that has begun construction work on a natural gas pipeline from Neuquen in Argentina to Santiago in Chile. Critics say that proper environmental impact assessments have not been conducted.

In a report last November, the Britain-based World Rainforest Movement (WRM) and Survival International noted the recent deaths of members of Venezuela's Wayuu and Yupka peoples at the hands of military and police forces when state-controlled companies took over their lands in the Sierra de la Perija for coal and oil exploration.

Native groups who lose lands charge that government agencies share the blame.

The native and black communities in Colombia complain that the Colombian government has ignored their rights in the development of new petroleum fields in Cuisiana and Cusiagua in the eastern part of the country.

The takeover of indigenous lands by major oil companies is not new.

Since large-scale oil drilling technology was invented in Pennsylvania in 1859, native American groups have been forced to cede their lands to these companies.

In one case, the Navajo lost their reservations in New Mexico to John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil in the 1920s, according to Gerald Colby and Charlotte Denning, authors of the new book on the Rockefeller family, "Thy Will Be Done."

Last November, President Bill Clinton lifted a 22 year old ban on oil drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge. An official White House statement described the action as "good fiscal policy, sensible economic policy, and most important, sound energy policy."

The native Gwich'in peoples fiercely opposed Clinton's action, saying that the drilling will have a major impact on the caribou herds, on which they have depended for 20,000 years.

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club point out that the reversal of the ban was encouraged by oil and gas companies which paid large sums of money to members of the U.S. Congress, largely in the form of campaign contributions.

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Albion Monitor March 10, 1996 (

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