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Fluye el petróleo, sangra la selva

-Graffiti en Quito - Ecuador

Keep the oil in the soil and the coal in the hole

-Conference of Polluters - COP17 - Durban 2011

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Hablando sobre tuberías de petroleo

Talking of crude pipes (english)
by Nnimmo Bassey

I got to Quito 25 June 2001 (from Bogota where I had attended a CENSAT forum) for a reunion with our family of Oilwatchers and defenders of our fragile environments. Set to work from early hours of the 26th. Discussions and strategic previews were held at the offices of the famed Accion Ecologica. Discussions ranged from Oilwatch matters to plans for the forthcoming Ecological Debt Conference that would be held in Benin Republic come later on in the year. Much time spent applying for my exit transit visa through Bogota.

The evening of the 26th was especially dramatic for me. First part of the evening was spent at the formal presentation of the landmark book, El Ecuador Post Petrolero written by Accion Ecologica. This was a remarkable event. The speeches revealed the opposition of the State to the struggles of the people for a safe and protected environment free from despoliation by hydrocarbon bloodsuckers. It was time to begin to consider what awaits us all after petrol. It was a sobering moment.

LAGO AGRIO BY NIGHT BUS

"What did you say, Ivonne?" I asked. "We have to leave for Lago Agrio tonight!" "Why?" "We are going by bus. The flight for tomorrow morning is fully booked," Ivonne explained.

That meant I would have to travel all through the night and would not have a chance to enjoy the night in a warm bed. I have never taken a night bus in Nigeria and had determined that I would never do so. Such rides are too dangerous and too risky. Here I was without options. It was time to go. On our team: Ivonne Yanez, Ivonne Ramos, Jose Guerra and yours truly.

We left the bus station at 10.00 p.m. and arrived Lago Agrio at 6.00 a.m. It was a fairly smooth ride, wavy at times but not so bumpy. We entered the town after a search of all the men on the bus at a military checkpoint. Welcome to the oil zone! I was told that security has remained on high alert to curtail cross-border incursions. Colombia is a whistle away. Heard tales of herbicides and dangerous chemicals used in drug wars and how the wind carries some of that toxic cocktail right across and into the Succumbios. Heard also of an explosion in a river that killed 2 kids. Pieces of their bodies were handed to their parents. Compensations were paid too. How much? 40 US$ per child. Think about that as the value of life: 40 pieces of dollars!

Rainy morning. Cold. Tried to dodge some wet leaves and puddles as we made our way to the warmth of Accion Ecologica's Centro Monitero. Ivonne Yanez fed me with some basic news about changes that has taken place here since my last visit in 1997. First information was that the town now experiences regular power cuts. Some neighbourhoods go without electricity from 2.00 a.m. to 6.00 a.m. daily. And we were in that zone. Tonight I would enjoy that period of blackout and learn to keep my eyes off pages of written stuff.

It was soon time for breakfast. We headed to the Pizza Restaurant. The menu parades a very tempting dish called "Oil Workers' Breakfast." Some real heavy stuff: rice, fried eggs, etc. I didn't touch it. Trust me.

A CRUDE CONSULTATION

A special event was scheduled for Thursday 21st June 2001 at the Municipio Lago Agrio hall. The event was a Hearing on the Trans Ecuadorian heavy crude pipeline project. It was time for the presentation of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The meeting started at 2.30 p.m. and drew to a close at 6 .00 p.m.

Alcalde (Mayor) Maximo Abad stepped in to take the chair and everyone stood up and sang the national anthem with gusto. Patriotism filled the air.

Seated to make presentations were representatives of the oil pipeline company, community leaders and activists.

Preliminary talks by the Alcalde brought up the basic question of the proposed pipeline routing the region. He told the gathering that the town grew more or less spontaneously 30 years ago. The population stands at about 25,000. The oil station related to the proposed pipeline is to be built only 600 metres away from the city and the people are concerned about related problems that would follow. His initial submission included:

' Oil brings wealth to the entire nation ' This wealth should be of benefit to the local people and have minimal impact on their environment. Sustainability is the key word. ' People recall with indignation Texaco's destruction of the environment and the lack of benefit to the people. ' The people were unhappy that the oil pumping station and the airport and located in close proximity. ' Oil exploitation has devastated the region and the people have lost hope.

OCP's POSITION

The pipeline company, OCP (Oleoducto de Crudos Pesados) made their own presentation with the following key points:

' Crude oil is important for the country. ' They want to do things in a better way. ' They process for the proposed pipeline began 8 months ago. ' They want NGOs to collaborate with OCP in order to find better ways of doing things. ' Their leader had 7 years experience working with NGOs and still has a "green heart". ' The new pipeline will be buried 3 metres deep into the ground. ' The contract has many safety clauses. ' 9 sites were studied before selecting the "best" for the station to heat the crude. One near the airport and the other about 4 kilometres to the city. ' They will build a recreational/green buffer zone around the station. ' Pipes will encircle the city and integrate the facility into the city.

Note: 10% of the land area of the city will be taken up by the facility. They need 60 hectares of Lago Agrio's 600 hectares.

I was the next speaker after the OCP presentation. My speech mainly painted the picture of hopelessness and destruction that has been brought to Nigeria 's Niger Delta by oil exploration, exploitation and transportation. The people were told that the picture is the same for all tropical countries where oil is exploited and so the people of Ecuador should not think that their situation would be different.

Guevera told the tale of Esmeraldas and declared that OCP would not be permitted to pass their pipes over their land on the western seaboard of the country. Ivonne Ramos spoke next. While she spoke there was a dramatic power cut at 3.38 p.m. and this underscored the neglect suffered by the region. The people called the blackout a "benefit of crude oil."

Ramos made irrefutable points such as:

' Lago Agrio has higher incidents of cancer than other areas of Ecuador ' The councillors in the region had unanimously rejected the pipeline project and the plan to pass it through the town. ' The people, living in 50 neighbourhoods, have rejected the project and call it a "time bomb." ' She revealed that OCP is not consulting about where to build their heating station as they have already purchased the land for it.

The Alcalde then asked if the people wanted the pipeline to pass through Lago Agrio, and the answer was a resounding "NO."

He thereafter asked the OCP representatives to accept the will of the people, go back to their drawing board and get back with an acceptable plan. Alcalde Maximo said that he respects the will of the people and would not want a confrontation with them.

THE PEOPLE SPOKE

' The people said they only heard of the locating of the proposed heating station in their community from the radio. ' The said station is to located a mere 100 metres from a primary school. ' There has been no consultation whatsoever on the project. ' They would hold OPC responsible for any physical injury the people may receive from the police or from the army in the course of their resistance to the project.

ALCALDE's CONCLUSION

The Alcalde said that it would be a humiliation for him and the people if their opinion on the project is disregarded. He asked the OCP to carefully consider the demands of the people because the people could respond with unpredictable consequences.

The Alcalde then asked the OCP to answer directly whther they would consider the position of the council and the people.

Mr Kajut, OCP's environment and Public relations Officer/manager said they had made their study and presented it to the council and the municipality and had nothing more to do or say!

To me that was just a confirmation of the arrogance of crude oil transnational corporations. They are able to spit in the face of the people because they often have the central governments in their pockets. Their presence at this so-called consultation was nothing more than window dressing. The opinion of the people means nothing to them.

The meeting that started with a happy singing of the Ecuadorian national anthem ended rather abruptly as the mayor and the people took their exit unceremoniously after OCP refused to even say that they would consider the people's opinion.

In a conversation with a member of the OCP team, the man told me that the problem they were having was with a corrupt political set up and the meeting was a charade. I told him that what he had just said was like from a script that oil TNCs use when speaking of my country, Nigeria, also. They accuse our people of corruption whereas they (the TNCs) are the manufacturers and exporters of corruption into our countries. I then asked why they couldn't concede even to say they would consider what they people had said. His answer was that there was no point to do that because "the pipeline MUST BE BUILT by somebody" and they just happened to have won the contract.

As I left the meeting hall, the word that echoed through my mind was "profit" as the sole driving force behind these oil TNCs.

We were not daunted. The people spoke unequivocally and gave a resounding rejection of the project. If and when this project goes on let it be known that it is an undemocratic development, completely against the wishes of the people.

NEXT DAYS

The next day, we had a quick live interview on Lago TV Cable at 8.30 a.m. and caught a flight back to Quito. It took 8 hours by bus to get in by bus. It took 30 minutes to get out by air.

And soon I was on my way to the Colombian Embassy to pick up a transit visa to allow me fly out through Bogota. Yes, the peoples' resolve to resist the crude business kept echoing in my mind as I flew from Quito into Bogota and out to London and the next day to Lagos and on to home.