Oxy Agreement Under Fire in Ecuador

Members of the Siona and Secoya indigenous communities have denounced an agreement reached between Occidental Petroleum (Los Angeles) and the Secoya Indigenous Organization of Ecuador (OISE), signed on July 16 in the Amazonian pueblo of San Pablo. The agreement was clearly signed under coercive circumstances.

Manuel Echeverria, the legal representative for Occidental who conducted the discussions with OISE employed a variety of pressure tactics to get the indigenous leaders to sign the agreement. According to Humberto Piaguaje, the President of OISE, Echeverria told them that "if we didn't permit the company, the government would take our land." When negotiations were dragging on, Piaguaje says that Echeverria told him that "if they continued to make the situation difficult, they would come with the military." When the agreement was finally signed, Major Hernan Altamirano of the Ecuadorian Army was present as a "witness of honor." [1]

The agreement is part of a full court press being mounted by oil companies in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Although understood by the indigenous signatories to permit only seismic testing activities (the first stage of exploration during which swaths are cut through the jungle and explosions are set off), the agreement is so vague that it can be interpreted as giving Occidental carte blanche in the jungle. "The Siona-Secoya communities promise to authorize the right of way to Occidental work groups and their contractors to carry out their petroleum activities" reads one paragraph.

In a classic "trinkets and beads" tale, the only requirements of Occidental are to provide "five water pumps and their solar panels" and short-term contract employment opportunities to the communities "to the extent possible." Some monetary compensation was also agreed upon, but Occidental claimed this was contingent on oil reserves being found. "They told us that a farmer can't pay the rent on the land until he's harvested the corn," explained Piaguaje.

Almost immediately upon learning of the agreement, three of the communities in the OISE federation strongly criticized the negotiations, accusing the company of manipulating the leaders of the communities. The Siona, who share territory with the Secoya, have also expressed their disagreement. "The Seona people wish to express, in the strongest terms, our rejection of the document," William Criollo, president of Ecuador's national organization of Seona indigenous people (ONISE) wrote in a letter to OISE on July 26

Occidental Petroleum did not respond to requests for comment by press time.


[1] Piaguaje quotes are from conversations with Project Underground and Acción Ecológica

Posted to saiic-l, August 2, 1996.


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