Texaco had the latest drilling technology when operating in the Ecuadorean Amazon from 1964 to 1990, but to cut costs the company allegedly dumped over 16 billion gallons of oil and toxic waste in the pristine forests of Ecuador's Amazon.
Communities are to this day suffering the consequences of the U.S. oil giant’s operations.
Maria is one of the 30,000 plaintiffs currently involved in a lawsuit against the Chevron Corporation, which acquired Texaco in 2001. The oil dumped by the company seeped into the rivers and water sources of families like Maria's, resulting in illness and death.
"What I have now is cancer of the uterus, that's what they tell me I have, and now I am also living with this fungus. They give me creams, and other things, and nothing has helped,” Maria told teleSUR in front of her home in Lago Agrio. “And it is because of the water. We are suffering. They tell me that the water is contaminated. This is water that we drink, and we bathe in this water."
While operating in the region, Texaco allegedly told members of the communities that the oil was filled with minerals, which were healthy for consumption. Birth defects and skin diseases today plague the population, and there is double the national rate of cancer in the surrounding communities.
Maria believes her husband died as a result of the contamination.
"My husband died. He first became swollen, then began having heart issues, respiratory problems, and then he then had intestinal deficiencies. He could not retain liquids and he died of this," said Maria.
Attempting to hide the dumping, Texaco covered nearly 1,000 oil pits with vegetation.
Serbio Curipoma moved from Loja to Lago Agrio, seeking a better life for his family. After he began suffering from illnesses, he learned that his home was built on top of an oil pit which the company falsely claimed to have cleaned up.
"It has been 33 years since I came, and I never knew that this was a covered pit. And the worst part is that I came here voluntarily to build my home here with my wife and three children. Look, this is a pit. And my water well is only 4 or 5 meters away. My children and myself, are always sick, we get skin rashes, high temperatures from fevers, everything. It is unfortunate, and I am worried about my family living in these conditions, my wife has had problems with her uterus,” said Serbio to teleSUR.
Pablo Fajardo has been defending the 30,000 affected indigenous and campesinos by Chevron, demanding environmental remediation and social justice. In a court in Sucumbios province, they won a lawsuit demanding Chevron pay US$9.5 billion in damages. The company has refused to pay, and has instead engaged in a US$400 million smear campaign against the Ecuadorean state.
"Children would bathe in the rivers. They thought this was normal, and that it was ok. When people found out and realized this was poison, and that it was killing them, they began taking precautions,” Fajardo told teleSUR. “Today you see all these beautiful rivers, but nobody enjoys them, because they are filled with hydrocarbons. So this has really changed the lifestyle of people here. Especially indigenous communities.”
The plaintiffs have asked the courts of Argentina, Brazil and Canada to enforce the judgment of the Sucumbios court and make Chevron pay for its crimes. In the meantime, communities continue living on top of oil, drinking and bathing in contaminated water, and suffering the consequences.