Cultural & Environmental Destruction in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Descending from the Andes into the oil boomtown of Coca, the Ecuadorian Amazon, one of the most biologically diverse rainforests on the planet, stretches as far as the eye can see. Nearly half a century ago, this part of the rainforest was the pristine home of five Indigenous groups – the Quichua, Cofan, Huaorani, Siona, and Secoya. In the early 1960s, American oil company Texaco discovered heavy crude oil beneath this jungle region called the Oriente, or the East. Over the next three decades of oil drilling Texaco (now Chevron) spilled an estimated 17 million gallons of oil, and dumped over 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the rivers and streams relied upon by local residents for drinking and bathing. The invasion of the region by oil workers wreaked havoc on the cultures of the Indigenous communities while Texaco's environmental devastation condemned the tribes to an ongoing public health crisis. The extensive oil infrastructure (building roads to build oil wells and a sprawling network of pipelines) also propelled a massive colonization of the region by poor farmers from around Ecuador, who in turn would suffer from the same problems faced by the Indigenous residents.

This is the first in a series of photo essays documenting the cultural and environmental destruction in this region of Ecuador by an American oil company, Texaco, which is now a part of California-based Chevron. The colonists who came to the region hoping for a brighter future in the wake of the discovery of oil encountered unsafe working conditions and exposure to toxic chemicals, and continue to live in the midst of a polluted environment that has caused an epidemic of oil-related illness throughout their communities.

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