Humberto Piaguaje, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC to deliver an Open Letter to the People of the United States about the plight of the Amazon communities affected by Chevron

Testimonial of Secoya leader Humberto Piauguaje, of San Pablo

The oil companies have had a significant cultural impact, especially on our territory. How we used to live—naturally, that is—is no longer natural. We are experiencing the impact of many other cultures, especially from [modern-day migration]. Before we didn’t need money because we had everything we needed. There were animals and fish; there was fruit, and medicines. Everything was found in the forest. But now we must go out to buy everything.

Another great impact is on the environment. For example, we no longer have animals because one step behind the oil companies came the colonists. And every time the colonists found an animal they had to shoot it, they had to kill it. The animals withdrew farther and farther away. And now we no longer have territories in which we have everything we need around us; in which we can go from one side to the other.

What has really damaged us is the pollution in the rivers. This is really the worst part, along with the contamination in the air and the earth itself on which we cultivate our plants and our food. These are the terrible effects that have been visited upon us.

Although we talk about remediation, I think it will be difficult to repair what has been damaged. I think perhaps we will never be able to, because even though we might repair the natural environment, modern society is here among us—on our doorstep—and we will never be able to repair that.

We have seen many new sicknesses that we didn’t see in our people before. We the Secoyas knew how to cure ourselves when those sicknesses were natural sicknesses. But now, with these unknown diseases, not even the best healer among us knows how to cure them. I think if we don’t now have people who really know how to cure those previously unknown diseases, if we don’t resolve this case against ChevronTexaco, then the very few Secoyas that remain—about 400 of us—will lose our culture and we may be finished off by sickness or disease. We will disappear bit by bit.

There is hope for us, in the way that we have been organizing around ChevronTexaco because the Sionas, Secoyas, and Cofanes, we are the ones who have lived here. We are the original owners of these territories and we have seen all of the damage that has been done. And through friends and allies the Sionas, Secoyas, Cofanes, and Kichwas started to organize in order to bring justice to this case.

The above was condensed from an interview with Oxfam America.

Read the Open Letter to the People of the United States Humberto helped deliver during a 2011 visit to the U.S.

Read more testimonials from Los Afectados…