Call to investigate US oil companies in Ecuador

Wednesday, June 12, 1991

WASHINGTON, D.C. — US oil companies, seeking petroleum exploration rights in a region of the Ecuadorian Amazon considered a jewel of biodiversity, are running into legal opposition under US law.

The Corporación de Defensa de la Vida (CORDAVI), an Ecuadorian organisation specialising in environmental law, has formally asked the US attorney general to investigate US oil companies operating in Ecuador under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The companies named include Conoco, Texaco, Arco, Occidental, Oryx Energy Company and Unocal. The request for review stems from contacts allegedly made by US oil companies to officials of the Ecuadorian government between October 2 and 30, 1990.

On October 2, Ecuador's Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees ruled that oil concessions in national parks would be illegal and unconstitutional. The ruling was made on a case involving Yasuni National Park brought before the tribunal by CORDAVI. On October 30, without a written motion by any party, the tribunal reversed its ruling. CORDAVI points out that Conoco Oil Company is the entity most likely to profit by such a reversal.

The CORDAVI request for an investigation cites a tape recording made of a January 30, 1991, meeting of the tribunal at which the reversal of its October 2 ruling was discussed. One tribunal member, Dr Hugo Ordónez, said that the adoption of the October 2 resolution, "led to a very serious problem in the country ... the oil companies who were negotiating new contracts ... intimidate a little the Ecuadorian state ... it appears that there were international contracts of certain petroleum companies and were threats of paralysing of petroleum investment in the country ... In that session we faced this problem, this dilemma: either the paralysing of oil exploration with all of its consequences ... the millions of dollars that were in jeopardy at that moment, or ..."

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it a crime to use bribery or threats to influence a decision of a foreign official in his/her official capacity. — Environment News Service/Pegasus

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