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Traces of crude oil are seen on the banks of the Napo River Traces of crude oil are seen on the banks of the Napo River  (www.ivancastaneira.com)

Catholic leaders voice support for Ecuador’s indigenous after oil spill

A coalition of 117 Catholic leaders send a letter in support of indigenous communities at odds with Ecuador’s government following a massive oil spill.

By Devin Watkins

Ecuador’s indigenous communities are calling on the judicial system to hold the government and oil companies accountable for the damage caused by an oil spill in early April.

Catholic leaders from across Latin America and from other parts of the globe joined in that appeal with a letter expressing support for their plight.

Ecological disaster

On 7 April 2020, a landslide burst three pipelines carrying crude oil along the Coca River.

Over 16,000 barrels of oil spilled into the river, washing downstream and polluting vast tracts of land.

The pipelines are managed by state-run oil company Petroecuador and a private company, Heavy Crude Pipeline (OCP).

The resulting environmental damage hit Ecuador’s indigenous communities hardest, due to their heavy reliance on sustenance fishing and hunting in the affected area.

Wide range of Catholic leaders

Now, months later, judicial hearings resumed to discover who was responsible for the disaster.

A group of 117 Catholic leaders sent an amicus brief to the judge overseeing the case. In it they present relevant information and arguments for consideration.

The letter’s signatories include Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo of Burkina Faso, two Archbishops, 42 Bishops, and a wide complement of religious superiors and directors of lay organizations.

Unhindered exploitation

“As people of faith,” the letter reads, “we call attention to one of the most urgent moral questions with which we are confronted today in the Amazon region of Latin America.”

The Catholic leaders say the Ecuador disaster “is sadly only one of many recent examples in a long history of ecological and human health crises that are the result of the unhindered extraction and exploitation of natural resources.”

They explain their desire to “defend and promote human rights as both a social duty and a demand arising out of faith.”

Reparation and prevention

Defending the rights of indigenous communities, say Catholic leaders, includes “condemning extractive destruction and encouraging states to fulfill their obligations in this regard.”

“May justice be done,” they urge, calling for “comprehensive and urgent measures to repair the harm done to the communities and ecosystems damaged by the oil spill.”

Preventative strategies must be put in place, conclude Catholic leaders, “so that serious incidents such as these are never repeated in Ecuador or in any other Amazonian nation.”

19 August 2020, 13:29