Indigenous communities in Ecuador, Bolivia, and other South American countries have started to push back against multinational oil and gas companies, which have had a presence in the region since the beginning of the 20th century with the support of pro-business governments.
Many complaints have been lodged against the foreign companies, including charges that profits derived from the extraction of oil and gas provide little, if any, economic benefit to the local communities. An even more serious charge is that the foreigners have had no regard for the needs of local communities and are causing significant environmental damage by polluting water and soil and destroying large tracts of rain forest. The environmental damage is also said to have contributed to health problems in some of these communities, many of which are in indigenous areas.
The complaints against the foreign companies have been around for decades, but the problems have not received international attention until recently. One reason for the stepped-up scrutiny is increased activism by local indigenous communities, which have joined with local and international environmental advocates and human rights organizations to bring legal action against the foreign companies.In many cases, the lawsuits have been filed in the country where the damage has occurred. In other cases, the matter has been brought before the courts in the home country of the oil companies.
Some countries like Ecuador have taken steps to exert greater control over the oil companies. In 2006, Ecuador terminated Occidental Petroleum's permit to exploit resources in that country.And in 2007, President Rafael Correa's administration announced plans to impose hefty taxes on oil companies.
This issue of NotiEn contains accounts of some of the struggles between indigenous communities and multinational oil companies in South America. The list is by no means exhaustive, but it does point to some important developments since 2003.