Pennie Plant, Gloria Ushigua, Leila Salazar-Lopez, Executive Director of Amazon Watch
Published July 23, 2017
OAKLAND – Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland, California hosted an event to honor and introduce activist Gloria Ushigua from the Sapara tribe of Ecuador. Ms. Ushigua visited the Bay area in order to participate in the non-violent protest on Friday, July 14 at the Chinese Embassy, and to join the final walk of the 2017 Idle No More San Francisco Bay Refinery Healing Walks on July 16. The final walk traveled 13 miles from the Conoco Phillips 66 refinery to the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California. At present there are five major oil refineries located in the San Francisco Bay area. They are Shell, Tesoro, Valero, Conoco Phillips 66, and Chevron.
Women signing the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty, 2017
Ms. Ushigua was invited by Pennie Opal Plant, one of the organizers of Idle No More San Francisco, and both were original signatories of the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty. Ms. Ushigua spoke at length about the problems her tribe has been having since oil companies began drilling in the Ecuadoran rain forest. The Sapara territory is in Pastaza province in southern Ecuador and covers over 500,000 acres of land. There are only 400 people left in her tribe. Their territory is overlapped by two large oil blocks and the oil taken from this area has been concessioned to the Chinese. At the present time, Ecuador is over 20 million dollars in debt to China, and Ms. Ushigua and others believe the new government headed by Lenin Moreno plans to use oil produced from their land in order to pay down this debt. “Our territory is so remote. There are no roads, and it can only be reached by plane. There are tribes such as the Wo dani people who have never been contacted by the outside world. Many massacres of these people have already taken place,” she explained.
“The government said they were going to establish reserves of land for us, and develop eco-tourism, but we now know that is not true. They plan to use oil to pay down their debt to China,” she said.
The Sapara tribe only learned of the plan to drill for oil in their rain forest in 2013. Five Sapara women protested as the planes tried to land on the only runway, and temporarily stopped them from landing. “Many women in our area are facing violence, threats, and are being jailed for speaking out and protesting this violation of our land and our rights. The military goes into peoples homes”, she said. Ms. Ushigua has spoken before the United Nations and has traveled to the United States in order to make people aware of the seriousness of drilling for oil in one of the most bio-diverse places on earth. The government of Ecuador plans to sign deals with Chevron and the Chinese government on July 26th.
Gloria Ushigua from the Sapara Tribe, Ecuador
Ms. Ushigua’s translator for the evening was Leila Salazar-Lopez, executive director of Amazon Watch.”Amazon crude oil is coming to California and the United States in record amounts. The US refined 225,441 barrels of Amazon crude per day in 2015. California processed 3/4’s of those barrels. Despite alternatives, all truck fleets in California use Amazon crude,” she said. “The people of the Ecuadorian rain forest consider this oil to be the blood of mother earth. The destruction of the eco system and the people whose lives depend on the rain forest are being destroyed,” she stressed.
Drilling in the Amazon has a triple carbon impact according to Amazon Watch. These include burning the oil, the emissions from cutting down the rain forest, and the additional emissions that cause a reduction in the world’s largest carbon sink.
After Ms. Ushigua spoke, Pennie Opal Plant invited all indigenous women present to sign their names to the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty. This treaty is not a legally binding document, but is important because indigenous women tribal leaders took part in writing it and many of those who signed it attended the Paris Climate talks. For the first time in our history, indigenous women are making their voices heard and acknowledged. Ms. Ushigua also extended an invitation to everyone in attendance to visit the Sapara tribe before the Ecuadoran rain forest is contaminated by oil drilling.