by Tito Drago
Spanish doctor Miguel San Sebastien, who has worked with Medicus Mundi in Ecuador for the last 10 years, has produced a report on the oil industry's impact on the health of the rural populations of the Ecuadorian Amazon, titled "Yana Curi" (Black Gold, in the Native Quechua language of the region).
The study, reflecting more than two years of work, is to be used by the region's peasants and Native peoples as evidence in the case they filed in the United States against Texaco in 1993. They are seeking compensation for damage to the environment and harm to the people living in the zone where oil drilling takes place.
The U.S. courts accepted the lawsuit in 1998, but the judge hearing the case is considering a proposal to move the case to Ecuador, as Texaco has urged.
The multinational oil company places all responsibility on its affiliate in Ecuador -- an Ecuadorian body corporate -- for the related events since 1972, when the company began its oil exploitation there.
But according to San Sebastien, Ecuadorean law stipulates that once a lawsuit has been initiated in another country, it cannot be moved to Ecuador.
Given this situation -- and open to the possibility of a settlement -- Medicus Mundi is calling for international support for the Ecuadorian indigenous groups, in hopes that public opinion could have strong positive influence on the case.
The Yana Curi report indicates that the residents of communities near the oil wells and installations are exposed to high concentrations of heavy metals -- originating from the crude -- that end up in area rivers and even in aquifers.
In some waterways, concentrations of heavy metals like mercury and lead are more than 100 times the European Union's limits, according to Medicus Mundi.
In addition, women in the region suffer spontaneous abortions 2.5 times more often than those who live in uncontaminated areas.
These women present with skin rashes, tiredness, nasal and eye irritations, headaches, sore throat, ear infections, diarrhea and gastritis -- "all the symptoms that stem from the toxicological effects attributed to petroleum," affirmed physician San Sebastien.
Some 10,000 Native peoples and 20,000 small farmers, headed by the Amazon Defense Front, filed the lawsuit against Texaco seven years ago. The plaintiffs demand that the oil company pay to clean up the oil waste it has left behind and compensate the people for health problems.
Since oil drilling began there in 1972, Texaco and other oil companies have extracted, with the collaboration of the government-run Petroecuador, more than 2 billion barrels of crude, largely from the Amazon region.
Tons of petroleum and toxic waste have been dumped in the area without first being treated, San Sebastien said.
Hundreds of oil wells operating in the region produce a total of more than 16 million liters of sludge every day.
It is estimated that ruptures in the 503-km Trans-Ecuatoriano pipeline, which links the oil fields to the shipping ports on Ecuador's Pacific coast, have caused spills totalling more than 400,000 barrels of crude.
Nieves Zabala, president of Medicus Mundi, officially launched the campaign today that is known, like the report, as Yana Curi, to support research and provide assistance to the ill, as well as backing for the peasant and indigenous lawsuit.
The campaign also aims to inform the public and raise awareness about the health and environmental effects of oil exploitation in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Medicus Mundi was founded in 1963, uniting 16 federated associations, all from Spain, and has 220 support projects underway in 39 countries, mainly in Latin America. The group only acts on emergency cases and always in collaboration with a non-governmental organization from the country where the project is taking place.
February 12, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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