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Descending from the Andes into the oil boomtown of Coca, the Ecuadorian Amazon, one of the most biologically diverse rainforests on the planet, stretches as far as the eye can see.

Nearly half a century ago, this part of the rainforest was the pristine home of five indigenous groups – the Quichua, Cofan, Huaorani, Siona, and Secoya. In the early 1960s, American oil company Texaco discovered heavy crude oil beneath this jungle region, called the Oriente, or the East.

Over the next three decades of oil drilling Texaco (now Chevron) spilled an estimated 17 million gallons of oil, and dumped over 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the rivers and streams relied upon by local residents for drinking and bathing.

The invasion of the region by oil workers wreaked havoc on the cultures of the indigenous communities while Texaco’s environmental devastation condemned the tribes to an ongoing public health crisis. The extensive oil infrastructure (opening roads to build oil wells and pipelines) propelled a massive colonization of the region by poor farmers from around Ecuador, who in turn would suffer from the same problems faced by the indigenous residents.

This is the first in a series of photo essays documenting the cultural and environmental destruction in this region of Ecuador by Chevron. The people who came to the region hoping for a brighter future in the wake of the discovery of oil encountered unsafe working conditions and exposure to toxic chemicals, and continue to live in the midst of a polluted environment that has caused an epidemic of oil-related illness throughout their communities.

To find out more about the historic lawsuit to demand Chevron/Texaco clean up its contamination, please visit the website of Amazon Watch’s Clean Up Ecuador Campaign, and stay updated about new events and how you can help on Facebook, Twitter, and by signing up to the campaign’s email list.

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About The Author

Mitch Anderson

Mitch has been working in the fields of journalism and human rights since graduating from UC Berkeley in 2003. Currently he is working as the Corporate Campaigns Director at the environmental and indigenous rights organization Amazon Watch. He likes fiction, old newspapers and strangers. He lives in the Mission district of San Francisco.

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  • http://www.photojbartlett.com Jeff Bartlett

    What a fantastic collection of images and a terribly hard story. I love the work and vision that went into documenting this terrible tale of oil, greed, and thoughtless business.

  • http://abbiemood.com Abbie

    Thank you for your continued coverage in the Amazon, Mitch. I think photos *can be* so much more powerful than words sometimes and can really get the point across.

  • Chris

    Thank you, I never would have heard about this story otherwise.

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  • Andrea

    I just literally learned about this in my Environmental Activism class today and I am appalled at what the oil companies are doing. It’s really sickening to know that these companies have no respect for human life or nature. I really hate how they have this anthropocentric ideology and that they think they can do whatever they want even if it’s hurting people and nature. I wish this issue was brought up more in social media and I wish governments would actually do something about these crimes against humanity and to nature.

    Only so much wishing can actually do, right?

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  • Sue

    What truely stunning and poingnant pictures.
    I am sure that a majority of the world is unaware of the destruction the oil companies are wreaking on our planet. Our hearts go out to these people who are having to live with the pollution, sickness and death, brought about by greed. This needs to be brought to the attention of people and governments worldwide.
    What, if anything, are Texaco and the other oil companies doing to clean up their mess.
    Why is the American government not forcing Texaco to clean up its act?

  • Philip Dixon

    Telling Post! Luckily, there is some beauty and hope for the region as well. I have only been in Ecuador for four years, but despite the corruption and instability, I support the president’s plan to keep the oil in the soil…http://mptf.undp.org/yasuni…at least it is an interesting experiment!

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