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Asunta Santillan (back left) and Maria del Rosario Sevillano (lower right), lawyers from DAR, and the indigenous leaders working together at the workshop in April 2010

Last week I did something I would not have thought possible just a few years ago:  connect via live audio conference from my office in the cold, wet Pacific Northwest to the indigenous people of Pucallpa, in the hot and humid Amazon rainforest of Peru (my home country).

Approximately 20 indigenous leaders from the Ucayali River basin (members of  ORAU, a regional branch of the nation-wide Amazon indigenous organization AIDESEP) were ready with numerous questions about the two latest environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies.  These studies were released for public review and are about oil exploration in Blocks 114 and 126 in the Peruvian Amazon.

The studies describe seismic prospecting and drilling of exploratory wells in the Ucayali River basin.  Neither of the studies has detailed management plans for the drilling wastes.  These activities might contaminate soil and freshwater with substances hazardous  to wildlife and people.

Not only is it difficult for the indigenous communities to get hard copies, but these studies are also hundreds of pages long, with complicated, technical jargon… understanding them can be very challenging!

ELAW and Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR) are working together to help review these studies and interpret what they say (and what they don’t say) in plain language so people can participate in an informed manner in the public discussions.

But there are other hurdles.  During our interactive audio meeting, a storm caused blackouts that affected  communication.  Thanks to Charito Sevillano, a lawyer with DAR, we were able to sort out a last-minute solution to the problem and I was able to continue the conversation with the indigenous leaders.  We were so happy to hear each other’s voices again!

In April, I went to Pucallpa to meet with these leaders, learn about their concerns, and exchange information.  The Yine, Piro, Shipibo and Ashaninka ethnic groups live in the buffer zone of the Cordillera Azul National Park, now divided into oil concessions.  They are asking for help seeking environmental justice and are demanding that authorities acknowledge their concerns.  We will continue to do our best to help them overcome the huge challenges they face.

Meche Lu
ELAW Environmental Research Scientist

I always love stories that start with Once Upon A Time.

So, I’m going to start this one that way…

Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in northeastern Ecuador. His name was Pablo Fajardo. He cherished his community and the beauty of the surrounding Amazon rainforest. But when he saw his neighbors’ livestock dying as the result of falling into petroleum pits and saw nearby streams oozing with oily sludge, he knew  something was wrong, and he vowed to do something about it.

He was only 16.Pablo Weekly cover

He became a leader of his community and begged the government to act to clean up the mess and help his neighbors who were getting sick from drinking and bathing in the polluted waters.  Officials told him that the only way to get results was to hire a lawyer.  He looked around but did not find one lawyer who could or would help.

So he looked in the mirror.  And then, as soon as he could, he went to law school.

Twenty years later, Pablo is still fighting to protect communities from devastation caused by oil extraction in Ecuador that began before he was born.

The current Eugene Weekly has Pablo on the cover, and reporter Camilla Mortensen does a fabulous job of telling his story and detailing the controversy surrounding the destruction of the Ecuadorean Amazon.  Read it here.

Pablo is going to tell some of the story and show documentary footage at a fundraising event for ELAW on August 27th at the Lord Leebrick Theater in Eugene.  More details on the ELAW website.  We hope you will come to hear more about Pablo’s world and what can be done to make it right so that his community can live (you saw this coming, right?) happily ever after.

Rita Radostitz

Director of Philanthropy

Pablo Fajardo  photo by John Antonellism

Pablo Fajardo photo by John Antonelli

ELAW partner Pablo Fajardo is a fearless fighter who is working with the people of  Ecuador to protect the Amazon rain forest.

NPR featured Pablo in a story on Morning Edition:

The plaintiffs say Texaco, in 18 years of full-scale production, also dumped wastewater into rivers and that pipeline breaks spilled 17 million gallons of oil.

Pablo Fajardo, a 36-year-old lawyer, leads the plaintiffs’ team. He grew up poor in the area; this is his first legal case.

Fajardo says his side has proved there was damage, that Chevron was responsible and that the company should pay.

You can listen to the whole story here: NPR story about Pablo Fajardo or read about it on their website.

UPDATE:   60 Minutes will air “Amazon Crude” on Sunday May 3, 2009 — featuring the legal case to protect communities in the Amazon from polluting oil companies.  We’ll try to post the video when it becomes available.

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