Ecuador Tribe Wins Court Case to Protect Amazon Rainforest from Oil Drilling

Influential figures including Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo supported the ‘Waorani Resistance’ cause, which has led to legal protections for half a million acres of rainforest.

18.07.2019 | by Christy Romer
Photo by Amazon Frontlines
Photo by Amazon Frontlines

Indigenous communities across the globe, particularly those living on valuable plots of land, have long struggled to protect their way of lives against corporate and governmental interests.

The Amazon is no different, ever since Texaco—the oil company now known as Chevron—began operations in the area in the 1960s. Rainforest Action Network has called subsequent oil pollution in Ecuador “one of the largest environmental disasters in history,” poisoning soil and water sources used for fishing, drinking, farming and bathing.

Yet, this month has seen a rare cause for hope. A recent ruling by an Ecuadorian court has guaranteed that almost half a million acres of Amazon rainforest will be protected from exploitation by oil companies—in spite of the wishes of the Ecuadorian government, which has actively pursued oil extraction as a way of boosting its financial coffers and mitigating foreign debt.

The rainforest is home to the 2,000-strong Waorani tribe, the most recently contacted of all indigenous peoples, having first been reached in 1958. The ‘Jaguar Shamans’ took the government to court to challenge the claim that they had been properly consulted on plans to sell off their land to oil interests.

Nemonte Nenquimo, the female president of the Waoranis, described the success in striking down the government’s right to bulldoze through the tribe’s control over the land as a “victory for my ancestors.”

“It’s our forest and future generations’,” she added. “And it’s for the whole world.”

The campaign in support of their cause, coordinated by Amazon Frontlines, highlighted the plight of the Waorani people with a series of  hashtags and shareable videos. One video simply said that the world would have to choose between letting the Ecuadorian government destroy the rainforest to take oil or breathe the oxygen provided by rainforest. It could not do both.

Hundreds backed the campaign, including celebrated actors and social activists Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio and rising eco-campaigners Extinction Rebellion.

Further support

It’s hoped that the legal success could support all of the other indigenous communities affected by the ‘Ronda Suroriente,’ the 7.5 million acres of rainforest that the Ecuadorian government has earmarked for oil extraction. Following the success of the Waorani campaign, Amazon Frontlines has continued to call for support to ensure the remaining areas of threatened land are protected. 351,000 signatures have already been collected.

In addition, several women from the Waorani tribe—including Nenquimo and Omanca Enquiri, an elder and one of the tribe’s traditional leaders— travelled to a United Nations event in Switzerland this week to denounce the systematic violation of indigenous rights on a global stage.

“We’re here, in the United Nations, because the Ecuadorian government said that they are advancing with the petrol exploitation in the Amazon, whatever happens,” Nenquimo said in a statement on Twitter. “If our judicial victory prevents the government from selling our lands to petrol companies for the time being, our fight is to keep the Waorani in Pastaza territory from from petrol for ever. We have the right to decide, and this is our decision.”

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