Emergildo Criollo


Cofan indigenous leader Emergildo Criollo examining oil-contaminated water in once-pristine rainforest that has been home to his tribe for millennia.

Cofan indigenous leader Emergildo Criollo examining oil-contaminated water in once-pristine rainforest that has been home to his tribe for millennia.

Testimonial of Emergildo Criollo, of Cofan Dureno

I’m from the Cofan-Dureno community in Sucumbios Province. My parents taught me to hunt and fish. Before, we didn’t even need money to buy anything. We had enough food for the family, and we also had traditional medicine from the jungle. If somebody got sick, we would try to cure them with traditional medicine.

When I was a little boy [in 1964], Texaco arrived in the Amazon. Until then, we hadn’t really changed that much as a culture. When the company arrived, my dad and I went in to one of the work sites. I was wearing traditional clothing — a tunic — and the Texaco workers lifted up my tunic to see if I was a boy or a girl because they said they couldn’t tell. So what I understood was that the company saw me as a girl. So, then, with the other kids, I would explain that if you don’t wear pants, the company won’t know if you’re a boy or a girl. After that, the young people would buy Hispanic clothes and we started wearing them. Everything changed when the company arrived.

In 1964, it started. That was the year they made the first well at Lago Agrio. But we didn’t know that petroleum was a contaminant. Two of my children died from drinking contaminated water. Since then, we don’t drink any water from the Aguarico River, because it’s completely contaminated with oil, so we don’t even bathe in it. We have to look for a spring or catch rainwater. We’ve gotten exactly three things from the company: pollution, sickness and death; that’s it.

My oldest son, when his mother was pregnant, she drank the water from the Aguarico. After he was born, he just never developed. He was six months old, but he was like a tiny baby. I took him to the Voz Andes Hospital in Quito, but they couldn’t find any solution either, and he died there, in the hospital, in 1974.

My other son was already three years old. And one day, I took him to the river. At three, our kids can already bathe in the river. So I took him to the river, and the river was contaminated with oil. The boy, while he bathed, swallowed some water. When we got back to the house, he started to vomit. He threw up and threw up, frequently, and eventually he threw up blood. And the next day he died.

That affected me a lot, because, as a father, I think that if the company hadn’t come to the Amazon, my two children wouldn’t have died. That’s the reason why I have to do absolutely everything I can to fix this thing, because, otherwise my grandchildren — I have 13 grandchildren — the same thing will happen to them. I have to fight for the company to solve this problem in the Amazon.

The above is condensed from an interview with Alternet’s Cameron Scott.

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