BY JOHN SEED
Early in the morning of October 11, dozens of women — many accompanied by their children — arrived in the Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest Reserve and began peacefully blockading construction machinery belonging to the company Techint, a member of the consortium in charge of building Ecuador's new Heavy crude Oil Pipeline (OCP).
The protesters aim to stop the clearing of the pipeline route, which began the week before their blockade began. An estimated 40 people were participating in the blockade, many of them from local communities affected by the pipeline.
"The blockade has virtually stopped the crews from destroying this globally significant cloud forest reserve", according to environmental group Accion Ecologica, which says that local activists and residents will be maintaining a resistance camp in Los Guarumos region on the Non-Tandapaya Road, an approximately two-hour drive from the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.
Opposition to the construction of Ecuador's new OCP has captured international headlines especially in Germany, where activists have been pressuring Germany's largest public bank, Westdeustche Landesbank (WestLB), to pull out of the $900 million financing package it is arranging for the project.
The pipeline consortium includes Alberta Energy, Repsol-YPF, AGIP, Perez-Companc, Kerr McGee and the Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum, already the subject of protest campaigns for its controversial oil projects in Colombia.
For many months, environmentalists had sought to change the pipeline route around this internationally recognised eco-tourism destination to no avail. Groups are opposed to the construction of the pipeline as the route directly impacts on 11 protected areas and will lead to the doubling of oil production from national parks and other protected areas in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Groups also cite ongoing environmental and public health problems with pipeline spills in Ecuador. In May, the country's existing pipeline ruptured due to a landslide, spilling 7,000 barrels of oil. This accident was the 14th major oil spill since 1998. The Mindo area includes steep and unstable slopes where there is a high risk of oil spills.
The Mindo inhabitants want to focus international attention on their stance in defence of endangered species and globally important ecosystems.
Volunteers from the Rainforest Information Centre (RIC) in Lismore have been working in Ecuador for more than 15 years to protect the rainforests there and the cultures of its indigenous inhabitants.
Most recently RIC has been working on a management plan for the Panacocha reserve in the headwaters of the Amazon. A previous government in Ecuador allowed the volunteers to do the surveying, mapping, species inventories and community consultations needed to protect this pristine 56,000 hectares of rainforests, rivers and lagoons, which is home to the pink Amazon River Dolphin, the jaguar, nine species of monkeys and 500 species of birds.
Opponents of the oil pipeline have called for international actions on October 24 aimed at pressuring WestLB to withdraw financing from the project. Protests will take place in Sydney and Canberra as well as in Washington DC, London, Munster, Dusseldorf, Munich, Warsaw, Mumbai, Zurich and Amsterdam.
In Sydney, protesters will gather at 1pm outside WestLB's offices at the Westpac Plaza, 60 Margaret Street by Wynyard Park in the city. A number of speakers will address the crowd including Richard Jones MLA, Greens Senate candidate for NSW Kerry Nettle, Friends Of the Earth forests campaigner Tom McLaughlin, Melita Grant of AidWatch and John Seed of the Rainforest Information Centre.
In Canberra, people will gather at the German Embassy in Yarralumla at 1pm to deliver a protest note there.
Those wishing to can also write, email, fax or phone WestLB to register their protests and asking them not to fund the OCP project.
Contact Juergen Sengera, CEO, WestLB, Herzogstr. 15, 40217 Duesseldorf Germany, phone: ++49-211-826-2210, fax: ++49-211-826-6121; or Sydney branch Westdeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale, 60 Margaret Street Westpac Plaza, Level 29 NSW 2000, phone: (02) 9777 9910, fax: (02) 9777 9911, email: [For more information, visit the Rainforest Information Centre's Ecuador web site: <http://www.forests.org/ric/Projects/ecuador.htm>.]
[For more information, visit the Rainforest Information Centre's Ecuador web site: <http://www.forests.org/ric/Projects/ecuador.htm>.]