Craving for Oil in Ecuador

Farzana Z. Line
9 grade, International High School

[2nd Place, 9th and 10th Grade Contest]

     We have abundant amounts of international conflicts worldwide; some of them are noticeable and others are unnoticeable. Those unnoticeable conflicts might not affect us now but if we do not speak up or take any early action against it, it will affect us in the near future. When we turn on the television, we often hear about Middle Eastern problems such as conflicts between Palestine and Israel or the civil war that is happening in Syria and Iraq or ongoing war of Afghanistan and many others but we forget to focus on other third world countries. Some of the problems in third world countries are not known to the people around the globe. Just because we do not know about it, does not mean that it is not going to affect us. It is going to affect us when we cannot do anything about it because it will be too late.

     Third world countries might be poor but they are blessed with many rich resources. Sometimes, these resources are the biggest enemy that they can ever have because companies from rich and modern countries take their resources away and leave them even poorer. One of the resources in the world that everyone craves for is oil. In South America, Ecuador is the fourth-smallest country. It is one out of nine nations that the Amazon rainforest belongs to. The Amazon represents over half of the remaining tropical rainforest in the world. It has more rich species than the west forest of Africa or Asia combined. Ecuador is known to have oil worth as much as $2 billion. Companies like Texaco, Exxon and Maxus Oil and many other companies pump out large amounts of oil every day from Ecuador. This is causing a big conflict to Ecuadorian people whose lives and culture rely on the forest.

     The oil companies are allowed to drill because the Ecuadorian government needs them badly. Ecuador is heavily in debt to international banks. They owe a total of $15 billion. For them, to pay the interest on this debt is difficult. The companies came to Ecuador because they might go bankrupt. To keep their company alive, healthy, and to keep their well-paid jobs, they are ready to do anything to convince the native people and keep them under control. Companies are willing to offer jobs, money for schools, clothes, food and many more. They are even offering bribes to leaders. Oil companies are also bringing missionaries from America to change the way native people live and it is causing the small native Indian community to split.

     Ecuadorians who work for these companies are the poorest of Ecuador. When they saw that the oil companies had arrived, they saw it as an opportunity for them to survive. Their work is to build roads, cut down the jungle, build the pipelines, work on the oil wells, burn unwanted oil without proper treatment, clean up the frequent spills or cook food for other workers. The companies hire them to do the dirty work which they do not want to do themselves. In return, they get paid almost nothing but a dollar. They get charged half for a room where 20 people live in one room. The companies don’t care at all about their workers’ health or safety. Working around oil can poison them and their families. Their skin is always swollen and itchy. Their children often have diarrhea and lumps on their chests. To save money, companies do not fix or repair the oil pipeline and it can rust out and burst. Pipelines burst all the time, spilling oil onto the native land where they live and the companies always blame the workers instead of fixing it.

     The Huaorani Native people of Ecuador who are known as uncivilized and who are still in their stone age are helpless. They and their ancestor lived and hunted on this land long before the government was even created. Their culture is connected to the forest. They survive by hunting and use material from the forest to make tools or treatments for their illness. Without the forest, they cannot survive. To them, peace is when they get enough food, water and medicine from the forest but that life that they know is now threatened because companies are making roads on their land, cutting down trees in the forest, killing and scaring off animals by loud explosions. When the oil spills and gets into the water, it contaminates the water and causes terrible sickness. The native people cannot do anything about it because according to Ecuadorian law, the government owns all the mineral rights and that includes the rights to oil but the Huaorani never signed or gave away any rights of their land to the government.

      The government of Ecuador always talks about how it will benefit the people of Ecuador and it will indirectly benefit everyone in the world and how money from Oil Companies will change Ecuador but it is not true. Most of the money goes to the United States to purchase oil equipment and supplies, or it pays off the loan interest that the government took in the past from the United States. Furthermore, it goes to accounts of the Ecuadorian government officials and oil company executives' secret Swiss bank accounts. Oil money obviously does not go to help the poor of Ecuador; instead, it’s taking away what they had. For example, one Texaco pipeline in Oriente spilled almost 17 million gallons of oil. If you contrast this spill to the most terrible Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska which spilled about only 11 million gallons, this one would be a lot more but it was overlooked because it happened in Ecuador. This comparison gives us an idea about how much disaster they often have to face in Ecuador. People from oil pumping areas have high rates of birth defects, automatic abortions, nerve disorders, and a higher rate of cancer.

      In my physics class, we did a survey and a play based on this conflict in Ecuador. A bunch of people asked me how this conflict is related to physics. To start with, everything is related to science. In this conflict, the oil companies are taking out potential energy. The play we acted out was between oil companies and missionaries who are allies and they also have good friendship with the president of Ecuador versus the Huaorani people and environmentalists who are allies because both teams care about the nature and culture. However, the workers of these oil companies were in neither side and were afraid to speak up because they fear they might lose their jobs. Their jobs are very important to them to support their family and there is no guarantee that they will find another job in Ecuador in this bad economic condition. The conflict was clear to all of my classmates and 100% of them thought that the government is treating the Huaoranian people unfairly.

     In my opinion, Justice to me is about being fair, equal, and having the same rights as others. I support the Huaorani Indians in this fight because the government of Ecuador is being unfair to them and taking away their rights. If you look at the map of Ecuador, the oil companies are drilling for oil on a national park of Ecuador known as Yasuni National Park. As far as I know as an International high school student, we are not allowed to drill in a national park in America so how does drilling on another country's national park make any difference? The most famous Amazon River begins from the oil polluted area which is being contaminated and it is also contaminating other bodies of water .The oil companies are taking oil from Ecuador ever since the 1980’s but still the Ecuador economy did not make any difference. They are the same poor country they were before the oil companies arrived. Therefore, we can see that the money the country is making goes to the government’s own pocket instead of using it for their country's development which is known to be called corruption.

     In conclusion, the solution to this matter is to keep the oil where it is because it’s not helping the economy or making the country any richer. Instead, it is killing many innocent people, valuable animals, polluting the country and destroying the richness of the Amazon. The country of Ecuador can only help themselves by decreasing corruption around the country and saving money for tourism. Tourism will open an opportunity for them to make money from people who come from all over the world to have an adventure in the great Amazon. This can pay off their debt in no time and will keep the Huaoranian people alive because they are the caretakers of that beautiful land. They lived in the heart of the forest for thousands of years. They love it and that’s the reason why they want to protect it.