The Amazon is Not for Sale!
- February 14, 2013
- Adam Zuckerman
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"Why are you auctioning off millions of acres of the Ecuadorian Amazon without the consent of the communities that live there?"
I managed to get the first question during a Q&A with the Ecuadorian Minister of Hydrocarbons Andres Donoso at the Ecuadorian government's invitation-only meeting with oil executives in Houston, where I had gained entry by saying that I worked for Goldman Sachs. Trying hard not to think about the team of security guards who were eyeing me closely, I politely asked Mr. Donoso why he was selling off the Amazon without the permission of the communities that call it home and asked whether potential investors knew about the legal, environmental, social and financial risk factors that their companies would face. That's when I was invited to leave.
We had traveled with indigenous leaders from the Ecuadorian Amazon to Houston to challenge the Ecuadorian government face-to-face during its XI Round oil concession promotional activities at the North America Prospect Expo (NAPE), the oil prospecting industry's semi-annual trade show where government officials were peddling plans to auction off a vast swath of pristine Amazon rainforest.
Outside the hotel dozens of activists from local and national groups including the Tar Sands Blockade, Idle No More Gulf Coast, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S.) and local indigenous activists had organized a protest and had come out in full force to support Jaime and Narcisa, our partners who had come up from their rainforest homes in Ecuador. The show of solidarity moved the Ecuadorians and strengthened their resolve:
"We have come here to tell the government and companies that these lands are not for sale," said Jaime.
Narcisa added that at stake was "the land of our ancestors, the land of our children, a peaceful land that is full of life...that is what we don't want them to destroy."
On our last day in Houston, activists from the Tar Sands Blockade took us on a "toxic tour" of the world's largest petrochemical complex. The refineries and chemical processing plants run uninterrupted for dozens of miles. Many lie in the middle of low-income neighborhoods of color.
I could smell the fumes the moment that I stepped outside, and the Tar Sands Blockade activists told me that they had bloody noses everyday for the first three weeks that they worked there.
We visited the home a Delilah, a nine-year-old Latina girl whose house is 150 feet from the Valero refinery. She isn't able to play outside.
I was about to give up hope when I saw Jaime recording a video in front of the refinery. He spoke to the camera and reiterated his community's decision in the starkest of terms: "We've seen the impact of oil extraction in Ecuador and the impact of oil refining here in Houston. We know that it only brings contamination, poverty, and cultural destruction. We will defend our sacred lands and culture as we have for millennia."