Business, Finance & Economics

Advice for fighting oil companies

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Houma and Ecuadorean Leaders Tour the Gulf Oil Spill (Image by the Rainforest Action Network (cc:by-nc))

This story was originally reported by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

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In 1993, five indigenous tribes from the Ecuadorian Amazon sued the oil giant Texaco, now Chevron, for environmental crimes. The lawsuit accuses the company of dumping more than 15 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest, and a final decision on the case is still pending. Now, those tribes are lending their oil company-fighting expertise to indigenous groups in Louisiana.

The non-profits Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch recently organized a trip to the Louisiana Bayous for the leaders of the Ecuadorian tribes and other indigenous leaders from around the world. The idea was to show the leaders the devastation caused by BP, and to see if they could offer any advice.

Over the last 17 years, many in the Ecuadorian tribes have learned about how to deal with oil companies. Humberto Piaguaje, who grew up in the Amazon forest, says that the oil companies lied to the tribes, telling them that the oil was safe. He says that the companies told people that the oil could be used as medicine. Now, he told PRI's The World:

The oil flows downstream and the children go to bathe without knowing how it will affect them. The women wash their clothes, clean their dishes, and take water from the river to cook their daily meals for the family. This has really caused a problem over all these years. And since we don't have anywhere else to turn, we continue consuming. I have seen many children die. The mothers want their children to grow and really has been extremely painful, more than anything for the families.

As oil washes up onto Louisiana's shores, indigenous tribes are considering their options on how to protect themselves. Many legal experts believe that the Ecuadorian tribes have a good chance at winning their case in the next few months, but it has taken 17 years to get to that point. No matter what path they choose, Luis Yanza, the lead plaintiff in the case against Chevron, has some advice:

It's important to document the evidence of the damages with independent credible scientists. Because when you go to court, you have to prove the damages and if you don't have strong and conclusive evidence, the company will evade its responsibility.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More "The World."

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