Return to WRR39 contents

Special Report from Jen Smith/Native Forest Network:



Occidental Petroleum (OXY), formerly known as Hooker Chemical, the company responsible for Love Canal, has moved their operations to the Ecuadorian Amazon. OXY has a poor environmental track record in Ecuador. The company appears to have used bribery and subterfuge in its campaign to get approval from the Secoya people for exploration rights to their land.

There is an Action Request at the end of this report. Please help.


OXY came to Ecuador during Texaco's twenty year stint during which Texaco modeled reckless practices by setting up substandard technology, disregarding lining waste pits, and pumping formation water containing arsenic, cyanide, lead, and mercury, into local rivers, leaving the Ecuadorian Amazon contaminated with 30 billion gallons of toxic waste.

For years, indigenous groups and environmental organizations have been demanding clean up, compensation, and a moratorium on oil development. The Cofan, Quiichua, Secoya, and Siona peoples pending $1 billion class action suit against Texaco is the most notable example of outcry for an end to the atrocities. Occidental's choice of Ecuador as a location for their operations is fitting in that there is complete freedom to neglect environmental and health standards.

Oil exploration and the Secoya

The Ecuadorian Amazon, thirty percent of which is presently open to oil activities, is home to 95,000 indigenous people comprised of 8 distinct cultures. The Secoya people, a community of 350 living along the Aguarico River, have been targeted as a means through which Occidental Petroleum can gain access to develop in Block 15, a potential production ground within the boundaries of Secoya territory. The pre-existing negative impact of oil development on Secoya lifestyle has been apparent.

For example, the 1994 report by The Center for Economic and Social Rights on Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon, shows the results of water testing from drinking water supplies in the Secoya territory to be well below EPA standards. While the EPA recommended level for ply aromatic hydrocarbon content is 0, the Secoyas water sources reach levels of 108 and 223 Np/L. The Secoya people have witnessed their major life source, the Aguarico River, coated with a 40 cm deep petroleum cap three times in the last twenty years due to upstream ruptures in the oil pipeline.

OXY's track record in Ecuador

Accion Ecologica, a Quito based environmental group monitoring oil companies activities throughout Ecuador, has highlighted OXYs track record in the Ecuadorian Amazon. According to their 1995 report, in July 1991, OXYs well Laguna 1, drilled in a flood zone near Limoncocha lake, contaminated the lake, and OXY's futile attempt to clean up the lake involved throwing the waste in the Jivino River, where the community goes to bathe and drink the water.

Moreover, since the drilling of well Jivino 1, OXY has thrown its liquid waste into a stream that flows directly into the Rio Jivino, and when the people of Rio Jivino asked Occidental to give the community data on the chemicals they were using for their drilling activities, OXY denied the request.

In a clean up project in September of 1991, OXY hired children in the Limoncocha community to collect plastic tanks and other contaminated waste. Even though these materials are highly toxic, OXY produced absolutely no protective gear for workers, and the children were forced to use their bare hands.

Furthermore, two major spills by Occidental took place inside of the Limoncocha Ecological Reserve; in May 1993 during the exploration phase OXY caused an oil spill at the Jivino B and on September 7, 1995, there was a pipe line rupture that caused a spill of 900 barrels of petroleum.

Before June of 1997, the 42,000 hectares of territory co-owned by the Secoya and Siona people was absent of oil operations. At the onset of negotiations, the Secoya people, who resisted dealing with OXY, were told by a OXY legal representative that if they didnt negotiate a deal, the government would revoke their land title. Following this threat, OXY began insidious divide-and-conquer tactics by offering gifts and employment to Secoya who were willing to open the land to development.

Divide, Bribe and Rule

In spite of the fact that the territory belongs to both the Siona and Secoya, when the Siona people refused to sign any agreement, they were excluded from the negotiations, voting process, and payments. Secoya leaders were taken to five star hotels in the capital, flown to the coast, and given tours of Boston, NY, and Washington DC.

When it came time to vote, the variety of threats and rewards broke down resistance. The community wide vote taking place in May of 1997 sent the Organizacion Indigena Secoya del Ecuadors (OISE) leaders to negotiate a deal with OXY in Quito. The two step process in which there was the initial community wide vote prior to OXY making offers for specific payments allowed OXY to negotiate knowing they already had a vote in their favor.

At this time Secoya leaders, discouraged by OXY from having legal counsel, were presented with a document that covered both exploration and production stages within their territory. Prior to this day, most Secoya thought the community wide vote was for the exploration phase. Occidental presented this document to the leaders in Quito, where they were dependent on the company for transportation, housing, and food. Lacking legal counsel and unable to understand all of the language in the document, an OXY representative said, go ahead, sign, well give you what you want.

OXY's true colors

OISE signed and the exploration phase began. The exploration stage in Secoya territory in which OXY found three positive sites has brought out OXYs true colors. Just days after establishing a base camp in the community of Sehuaya, a Secoya woman was attacked by an oil worker who subsequently was sent home without a criminal investigation.

After promising employment, the company only hired Secoya for the most menial of jobs: unskilled labor such as machete work and carrying things. Even Secoya with skills and education couldn't get other jobs. In an effort to reduce the nickels and dimes OXY was paying the Secoya, OXY lied about the total distance of seismic lines that were cut. In addition, the company, required to cover holes from seismic testing, has left contamination from explosions throughout the territory.

In a conflict over material payments made to the community, oil workers, attempting a break in, damaged the building which stored the materials. Occidentals exploration stage has only brought negotiations of bad faith, violence, conflict, contamination, and broken promises to the Secoya people.

Secoya vote to oust OXY

On March 25, 1995, the Secoya, outraged with the flagrant violations OXY has committed, voted 87-3 to annul the agreement with Occidental. This vote took place only days before company representatives entered the community intending to negotiate where access roads to and from the drilling sites were to be laid. In fact, due to the devastating impact of road building and the colonization that follows, Ecuadorian law recommends that helicopters be used during the exploration phase.

Nevertheless, Occidental has not asked the community if they want roads, but where they want them. With Occidental threatening culture and human rights in this blatant form, the Secoya community insists that a moratorium be imposed on OXYs activities within their territory. The letter from OISE to OXY explains the valid reasons behind their decision to annul the contract; they didn't have legal representation, they didn't understand all the language in the document, they were pressured to sign, the decision by the directors to sign did not reflect the decision of the community, and environmental and cultural impact studies were not provided to the community. OXY has violated their side of the deal.

The fate of oil production on Secoya territory is unclear at this point. OISE has presented the letter cancelling the agreement to OXY representatives, however, the Secoya fear being forced to make hastened decisions about renegotiating another contract. In the meantime, the Secoya people have asked that the illegality of the form in which OXY gained access to development be acknowledged. Currently an internal advisory board consisting of two members of each Secoya community, two Secoya women and three outside advisors is being created to study how the community ought to proceed from here.

Call for OXY to go public with its plans

To assist this team, it is crucial that OXY make public their environmental and cultural impact statements, something they neglected to do when OISE signed the first contract. Only through providing these studies can the community have the opportunity to make informed decisions. In addition, technical, legal, and economic advisors to the internal advisory board and OISE is a fundamental requirement before anything else happens in their territory. It is essential that there are expert advisors with whom the Secoya can consult about all aspects of the operations intended by the company.

The entire Secoya community deserves time to evaluate proposals, consider options, and develop their territory (or not develop it), without pressure from OXY representatives. Until all of these basic requirements are fulfilled, Occidental Petroleum should withdraw from the Secoya territory, and respect the community demand for time to develop a long range plan that best protects their interests. Individuals and organizations of the US have the power to hold Occidental accountable for their violations of the Secoya and Siona people of Ecuador. It is the responsibility of those with a voice and particularly those consuming Occidentals oil demand that their natural resources not be extracted at the expense of native people.


The following list has contact names to which you can address a letter denouncing the exploitation of Block 15. Demand a moratorium on all Occidental Petroleum Corporations activities in the Secoya and Siona territory.

ACCION ECOLOGICA Attention: O.I.S.E Casilla 17-15-246C Lerida 407 y Ponteverdra Quito, Ecuador E-mail: Telephone/Fax (593-2)547-516

SENOR PRESIDENTE DE LA REPUBLICA DEL ECUADOR Dr. Fabian Alarcon Palacio Presidencial Garcia Moreno y Chile Quito, Ecuador, Fax: (593-2) 580-735; 580-751

OCCIDENTAL PETROLEUM CORPORATION Attention: Ray Irani, President 10889 Wilshire Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90024 USA. Telephone; 213-879-1700 Fax: 310-443-6922

NATIVE FOREST NETWORK Attention: Jen Smith P.O. Box 57 Burlington, VT 05402, USA Telephone; 802-863-0571 Fax: 802-863-2532 E-mail:

The author, Native Forest Network's, Jen Smith, had her most recent visit to Secoya territory in December 1997, during OXYs exploratory stage. The opinions and position of this report reflect that of the author. Some information for this report was gathered from the following sources:

Organizacion Indigena Secoya del Ecuador
Accion Ecologica
Secoya Survival Project
Green Peace Toxins Campaign
The Center for Economic and Social Rights

Special Report via: NATIVE FOREST NETWORK Eastern North America Resource Center, POB 57, Burlington, VT 05402 USA (802)863-0571 (802)863-2532 Fax Email:

Forwarded by R A I N F O R E S T R E L I E F

Dedicated to the Preservation of the World's Rainforests

Portland, OR phone: (503) 236-3031 Brooklyn, NY, USA. phone/fax: (718) 832-6775
Email: (Portland) (Brooklyn)

P.O. Box 14131, Portland, OR 97293, USA or P.O. 150566, Brooklyn, NY 11215 USA

Return to WRR39 contents