WASHINGTON, D.C. – Indigenous peoples from the North, Central and South American parts of the continent converged in Washington D.C. on Apr. 21 to demand justice for the indigenous victims of Chevron’s pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Protests were Inside the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, where a private tribunal was being heard where Chevron argued that Ecuador’s government should clean up the Amazon, which was polluted between 1964 and 1992 by the corporation (formerly Texaco).
Meanwhile, people gathered at the nation’s capital and shook the ground as demonstrators demanded the corporation own up to its debt and begin cleaning the Amazon.
In 2011, Ecuador’s Supreme Court found Chevron guilty of dumping billions of gallons of toxic sludge in the Lago Agrio region of the Amazon, and ordered it to pay $9.5 billion dollars to clean it up. Until today, oil still seeps from the ground up, which is what inspired the ‘Chevron’s Dirty Hand’ campaign making its way around the world to demand justice for the Afectados (the affected).
To avoid paying its debt, Chevron has launched lawsuit after lawsuit after anyone attempting to help the 30,000 people from indigenous and farming communities who first launched the class-action lawsuit in 1994. This list has included lawyers, a litigation funding company and now even the state of Ecuador – all of whom the oil giant contends acted in a corrupt way to obtain the favourable judgement.
But the corporation’s refusal to pay — “until hell freezes over,” as one of Chevron’s lawyer’s notoriously quipped – is backfiring, and all it’s achieved is the unity of leaders from various backgrounds and from all over the continent.
Speakers at the event included Ecuadorian Ambassador to the United States Efrain Baús, the Ecuadorian member of parliament, Ximena Peña, and Indigenous representatives from throughout the continent.
Dr. Rigoberta Menchú, a world-renowned Guatemalan Mayan activist, captivated the audience with a fiery speech. After warmly welcoming all the indigenous and other ethnic brothers and sisters, she went on to denounce the mining industry’s destructive nature and invited everyone to help protect Mother Earth from it.
“Our Mother Earth is untouchable, and any offence against her is an offence against our own lives,” she said in Spanish to the massive though peaceful crowd. “We are witnesses of the indiscriminate destruction of the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle. Through many decades, Chevron contaminated the land, the rivers, the plants, and has taken many lives. That is why today is a judgement of the People against Chevron!”
Menchú is a world renowned winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, which she received in 1992 for her constant efforts to promote indigenous rights in her country of Guatemala. She’s also a main figure in indigenous politics there, and even ran for president of the country in 2007 and 2011.
Kanensaraken (Loran) Thompson, Mohawk Bear clan from Akwesasne, also gave a powerful speech which touched the sea of demonstrators at their very cores as they erupted in applause.
“The land you come from is now the garden of Eden. It is feeding you, and right now you are still free. In this country the people have to depend on corporations to feed them for the almighty dollar. So you hang on to your freedom, from the land you come from,” said the towering indigenous man. “We are one mind. We are one people. The Original People of our Lands! We have been split on years before. We have been convinced that we are different all over the different lands in this world. But we are all the natural peoples of this land, and we have to support our Mother Earth because she’s going to feed us, not the corporations.”