(Versión en Español aquí). To me, Ecuador’s capital city of Quito is a place of bright blue skies; cold crisp nights under heavy woollen blankets; breathless walks up steep cobbled streets; whitewashed walls and junkshop chic.
It was a single day in this beautiful city which led to my friend C and me accepting the most exciting challenge of our lives.
We’d made the long journey to Quito to find the answers to the following questions:
How can we be most useful in the fight against Big Oil in the Amazon? How can we best support the indigenous peoples who are defending their ancestral lands against the invasion of oil companies?
Backtracking a little, what was it that led us to undertake a journey such as this; to ask questions such as these?
Our shared interest in the topic stemmed from watching this eye opening low-budget documentary about oil exploitation in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
As I watched this documentary for the first time, I was horrified to see the terrible social and environmental impact of existing oil exploitation in Ecuador’s rainforest. I was also absolutely shocked by the government’s plans to sell all of Ecuador’s remaining virgin jungle, totalling 8 million acres, to oil companies in an auction known as the XI Oil Round. As I discovered the scope of the calamity, I became increasingly determined to spread the word as widely as possible about this enormous environmental crime.
I began by writing articles, one attempting to appeal to a wider audience by comparing the situation in Ecuador to the plot of the movie Avatar. I sent countless emails to environmental radio stations; local, national and international news outlets; celebrities; and university environmental groups, trying to raise awareness of the XI Oil Round.
The lack of response was such that, at times, it felt like all my messages must be going into recipients’ junk folders. Nevertheless, whenever I felt really discouraged, something would happen to rejuvenate me exactly when I needed it most. At one such moment, Amazon Watch posted one of my articles on their Facebook page, which has 75,000 Facebook followers. At another, a captain of a Greenpeace boat I’d been in contact with, emailing from his boat in the South Pacific, introduced me to the organisation’s Lead Forestry Campaigners with the following words, which brought a tear to my eye:
“When the Earth is beset by bulldozers, drilling-platforms and leaky pipelines and we feel dizzy in the ensuing dust bowl of depravity – we need to put down our maps and look about to track the signs and symbols that are left, to recognise the chance meetings and then to know there is a way out. Above all else we need to recognise the warriors who are making a stand. And so it is that I introduce you to one such person. I do hope you are able to share information or ideas, but also inspiration”.
If being called a warrior by a Greenpeace captain is not incentive to go on, I’m not sure what is.
A major milestone for me was a screening of a film about oil exploitation in the Ecuadorian rainforest called Blood of the Amazon. By a serendipitous stroke of luck, the event was happening during a brief visit to the UK. I ended up speaking at the event and was struck by two things. Firstly, even in that informed crowd, not a single person knew about Ecuador’s impending rainforest auction. Secondly, that a number of people were interested in supporting the indigenous communities resisting the invasion of oil companies into the Amazon. I started to wonder whether my role might be to gather international support for the indigenous resistance, as well as to spread the word about what was happening.
The creator of Blood of the Amazon, environmentalist Nicola Peel, has been working to protect the Ecuadorian Amazon for many years and is involved in some incredible projects, including research into the use of mushrooms to clean up oil pollution (amazingly, 95% effective). I’m a big believer in the universe putting the right people in your path at the right time and so I’d reached out to Nicola before the event and we had a strategy meeting the following day. We discussed plans for gathering support for the indigenous resistance and she subsequently introduced me to some key contacts.
After months of knocking on doors, it was a huge breakthrough when one of Nicola’s contacts responded to one of my emails and I was offered a meeting with a very well respected international organisation with a small presence in Quito.
The capital city is a hub of resistance in Ecuador and I wanted to make the most of my time there. Through a mutual friend I set up a meeting with Carlos Pérez Guartambel, leader of Ecuarunari (the Confederation of Kichwa people of Ecuador). Carlos is a long-time activist dedicated to the indigenous resistance and I was star struck at the prospect of meeting him (to understand why, read this wonderful interview, which has been a real source of inspiration to me).
A couple of months previously C had happened to watch “The Dark Side of the Amazon” on the internet and was so moved by it that we began to discuss what we could do about it. We decided to go to Quito and find out.
To be continued …