An Indigenous Ecuadorian Christian Activist Takes on Big Oil

By Elizabeth Palmberg 12-30-2009

Earlier this year, Luis Yanza, who is featured in the documentary Crude, sat down with Sojourners assistant editor Elizabeth Palmberg to talk about what drives him to continue his work at the Amazon Defense Coalition, a group of indigenous and other communities in the Ecuadorian rainforest who are suing Texaco for polluting their land and water from 1964 through 1990.

Yanza has continued with this work despite intimidation, including a kidnap attempt of his then 9-year-old daughter. Watch him introduce himself and talk about the religious diversity of the people he works with:

Here's the rest of what he had to say:

I arrived in the Lago Agrio area in 1977, when Texaco was starting its operations to extract oil. I saw how Texaco dumped oil in the roadways, in the rivers, and how it contaminated the air by burning off gas flares, how they also set fires in the waste pits and pools, in order to burn off toxic byproducts. I saw all of this.

This made a very strong impact on me because, in the past, I had lived in an area in the south of the Amazon where there was no pollution at all. So this was a very strong shock for me.

This, I think, is a reason why, years later, I decided to struggle for economic, social, and cultural rights, and human rights in general And in the last fifteen years, also the rights of those people with regard to all the damage that Texaco and Chevron caused in the Amazon.

Obviously, when one faces a powerful company like Chevron, one runs many risks. Four years ago, certain threats were made against members of our team, and me in particular, for being involved in this fight I can't say that they came directly from Chevron, because they were never investigated, but nevertheless, it can't be a coincidence that we who were involved in this struggle at a specific point, were threatened.

But we will continue, because we are fighting for life, and when it is a matter of defending the life of thousands of people, we have to run any risk, even up to sacrificing our lives-as, many years ago, Christ did. He gave his life for others, and we believe that we are trying to do the same: to sacrifice everything, including our lives, to try to save the lives of many people.

And how will that life be saved? By forcing Chevron to clean up the pollution to repair the damage. This is what we want to achieve with this struggle.

Elizabeth Palmberg is an assistant editor of Sojourners. Crude is appearing in different venues through February.

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