Nora Testerman
Smith College-Box 866398 Green Street
Northampton, MA 01063

May 30, 2002
David J. O’Reilly
Chevron Texaco
575 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94105

Dear Mr. O’Reilly, Chairman of the Board of Chevron-Texaco:

I am enrolled in a course at Smith College entitled "Native South Americans: Conquest and Resistance." We have learned about both historical issues of outside influence in South America, as well as current struggles of the native populations as they continue to deal with enormous devastation from outside contact and attempt to raise their voices above the turmoil in demand of recognition. Their tragic histories are unfortunate and their current struggles are even more disturbing because it seems as if historical lessons would have been internalized and avoided in the late 20th century. Are you surprised that your company has been a focus of study in our class? You shouldn’t be, because the case of Texaco’s involvement in the extraction of oil in Ecuador’s rainforests is a perfect example of native South American’s struggles in the contemporary backdrop of exploitation and subjugation. Native Ecuadorians groups have very little leverage against a large, wealthy, powerful oil company like Texaco (now even more powerful after the merger with Chevron.)

We have read about the case, watched numerous videos that documented the widespread damage, and have even had the chance to talk with one of the lawyers involved in the current lawsuit. Every single source has shown the devastation caused by Texaco in many parts of the rainforest. I’ve seen pictures of oil-covered roads that cut directly in front of native’s houses. I’ve watched people on film demonstrate how oil seeps from almost any ground area with a gentle poke of a stick. I’ve read the health reports that document problems ranging from cancer caused by environmental toxins to skin irritations to spontaneous abortions to respiratory infections to severe burns (San Sebastián). The list goes on and on. Environmental damage includes many negative impacts from production water holding ponds, oil spills, fires, and pipeline leaks. These included: contaminated ground water (and subsequently drinking water), a sharp decrease in fish and other game (food supply has fallen), poor soil (land production has suffered), and destroyed sense of normalcy. I couldn’t believe many of the pictures taken from an airplane where I could see acres of oily pits, black roads, and random blazes cutting through what I could tell used to be beautiful rainforest. Native populations in Ecuador have suffered from social disruption, acculturation, health problems, a rapid decline in population, poverty, and malnutrition, in addition to the blatant environmental damage.

I highly challenge the assertion made by Texaco in a written response to the lawsuit: "Texaco was firmly committed to the protection of the people and the environment in those areas where we operated" (Knight 2001). It is obvious to me and the rest of the world that Texaco did not have the best interests of the native population or the environment in mind as the oil company caused enormous social and environmental devastation. If Texaco had considered the negative impacts of its actions as a result of the drilling in Ecuador, it would have been much more conscious about drilling with current technology (i.e., injecting production waters back into the ground). Additionally, it would have made every effort to clean up subsequent damage to the environment, as well as prevent and/or treat health issues that arose as a direct effect from oil drilling. I wold argue that your company had what most profit-making companies have in mind as the goal of drilling in Ecuador-to make as much money as possible with the least amount of opposition. To accomplish this goal, Texaco chose an area of the world that no only had oil reserves, but also a country with a government desperate for cash, which means that Texaco had enormous influence over Ecuador’s officials. They would do almost anything for some money as well and think that they had no idea what to expect as far as the following events.

Lastly Texaco chose an area with huge populations of already marginalized peoples that were unable to effectively fight off the presence of the giant oil company and were also unable to receive adequate compensation for the damage because their demands were drowned out and their voices silenced with quick band-aid fixes by Texaco in order to appear diplomatic. The $40 million clean-up was not enough. The majority of indigenous tribes were politically underrepresented, socially marginalized, and economically unsound. Since Texaco’s first days of oil drilling, these native people had to deal with in settling similar issues that native populations have encountered since the arrival of Europeans back in the 1500’s. Big, powerful entities have invaded South America land for centuries, demanding resources and labor from indigenous people without adequate compensation. Native groups in all parts of the Amazon have been subjected to extractivist companies from rubber tapping, mining, lumber, and oil industries have created systems of dependency and degradation.

I have learned about the term "environmental racism" in another r class this year that seems to fit this case as well. It is defined as the unequal distribution of toxins where the burdens of environmental risk are unequal across races. This includes groups of people in poverty, people of color, and other political minorities such as indigenous groups that are unable to challenge policies and practices that affect them (Wheatley 2002). Big companies all over the world seem to gravitate towards setting up many of their industrial projects in areas that contain such groups of people. It is interesting that you never see huge dumping sites or chemical treatment plants in affluent, white suburbs in industrialized countries. Companies like Texaco are smart enough to know that they have more control and power over areas where they can practice environmental racism without much resistance.

Now, this lawsuit will attempt to hold your company responsible for the damage is has done, despite the fact that you did nothing wrong. Texaco did cause enormous damage to both the environment and the people’s health in Ecuador’s Amazon, despite the fact that it did not sign a contract making them directly responsible for their actions. The company did all this horrific damage and should be responsible for cleaning it up. I hope this case will be tried in the United States and that it will ultimately set a precedent for U.S. companies to follow the same environmental and humanitarian guidelines that it would adhere to in any of the 50 states. I hope that the negative media attention and widespread awareness about Texaco will make the company (and all other big corporations) think twice before it would do something like this again in any area of the world.

One of the reasons that this lawsuit is so relevant in our class is that it really merges the study of contemporary native struggles with the underlying historical context where indigenous peoples have been plagued by similar issues for years. I’m certain that Texaco would never have practiced such abysmal drilling techniques or caused such damage if it not have been in Ecuador’s rainforest, home of indigenous groups that have been taken advantage of since the arrival of Europeans. In a lot of respects, indigenous rights have come a long way, but on the other hand, Texaco’s legacy in Ecuador suggests that we have much lying ahead of us in order to make real progress. Paulina Garzon from Center for Economic and Social Rights in Quito said: "Now we find that the first thing [oil] companies say when they come to Ecuador is that they are not like Texaco" (Knight 2000). This statement instills a little confidence that at least companies are aware that Texaco did something horribly wrong and although it may not be considered "illegal" in the strictest sense, all of the damage caused is seen by the rest of the world as a violation of international and humanitarian law nevertheless. Texaco as a specific company must be held responsible for its actions in Ecuador and hopefully, native populations from around the world will not be subjected to such discrimination in the future.


Nora Testerman


Knight, Danielle. October 19, 2000. "Consumer Environmental Group Blast Spate of Big Oil Mergers." Common Dreams News Center. [].

Knight, Danielle. August 6, 2001. "Ecuadorians Move to Block Chevron-Texaco Merger." [].

San Sebastián, Miguel and J. Cordova. "Yana Curi Report: The Impact of Oil Development on the Health of the People of the Ecuadorian Amazon." [].

Wheatly, Elizabeth. March 26, 2002. "Environmental Racism." SOC 219 Medical Sociology Class Lecture.



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To read more about the legal side of this travesty click here. 

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Sample of Articles on the Case

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