Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Chevron Hires "Hit Man" Anthropologist To Rewrite Indigenous History In Amazon

Shoddy Scholarship Infects Report Submitted To Court To Hide Possible Genocide Committed By Chevron Against Cofan

Amazon Defense Coalition

Amazon Defense Coalition
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109

Quito - Chevron's "hired gun" anthropologist, Dr. Eduardo Bedoya, has attempted to rewrite the indigenous history of the Cofan without interviewing a single member of the Cofan people, who are struggling to survive due to Chevron's extensive oil contamination in Ecuador's Amazon region.

Bedoya's slipshod "study" - which, like all Chevron reports on Ecuador was not peer-reviewed by other academics - was sent to the press just days after lawyers for the affected communities suggested the oil giant might have committed genocide against the Cofan by poisoning their ancestral lands and chasing them deeper into the rainforest as they tried to flee to areas with clean water. Bedoya's work, which looks rushed, relied largely on a search of the internet for information about the Cofan, and even much of that second-hand information was taken out of context.

The Cofán people reacted angrily to a press release put out by Chevron on April 21 claiming that Bedoya presented the Ecuador court "with the results of demographic studies." In fact, he never personally presented the Court with anything, and never conducted any demographic studies. Rather, he read some materials on Cofán history and signed a statement from his office at the World Bank in Washington which Chevron lawyers tried to spin into an excuse for its legacy of corporate misdeeds in Ecuador.

"This statement by Bedoya is not only false, it is disrespectful to our people and culture and lacks integrity," said Ermegildo Criollo, a Cofan leader. "This man was clearly paid by Chevron for a reason."

Chevron is accused in an ongoing trial of dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water - roughly 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill - into the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador from 1964 to 1992. A large portion of this waste was dumped on the ancestral territory of the Cofan, an indigenous people with their own language and customs. There are only a few hundred Cofan left, down from several thousand from the period before Texaco arrived, according to the Cofan themselves. But you would never know this from Bedoya's report because he didn't speak to the Cofanes.

In what appears to be a statistical sleight-of-hand, Bedoya (according to Chevron's public relations spin) seems to be saying the Cofan population actually increased since Chevron started polluting their territory. Yet no comprehensive census has ever been taken of the Cofan, and Bedoya himself has never counted the number of people who live there. Moreover, Bedoya completely ignores the 100,000 pages of trial transcript in the Chevron case that documents extensive toxic contamination at sites operated by Texaco in Cofan territory - contamination proven by Chevron's own lab reports.

"In fact, this is shoddy scholarship that ignores the Cofan and their rich oral history," said Aaron Marr Page, a member of the legal team for the affected communities who has analyzed Bedoya's sources. "For an anthropologist to make these sorts of factual assertions regarding an existing community, without even attempting to contact the community directly, smacks of unprofessionalism. It suggests he already had his conclusions and didn't want them challenged."

Bedoya claimed to have relied on sources published by Cofanes themselves, but in fact he just cherry-picked the few parts that would serve his corporate client while ignoring the rest. For example, he cites the history published by R. Borman, available at Borman, an American who was born into the Cofan community via missionary parents and who to this day lives amongst the Cofán, is an appropriate source. The story he tells of Texaco's effect on Cofán -- which Chevron's anthropologist ignores but which is reprinted below -- is ugly indeed.

It is true that the that the Cofán people have made great gains -- especially in the 15 years since since Texaco (Chevron's predecessor) stopped working in the Oriente -- in re-building their cultural institutions and finally asserting their long-trampled rights. This is a testament to the heroism and perseverence of the Cofán people themselves, not a chance for Chevron to pat itself on the back. The Cofanes resurgence in recent years in no way undermines even the worst of the charges against the corporation.

For example, Texaco's environmental policies in Ecuador were so primitive, and its relations with indigenous peoples so aggressive, that they amount to serious circumstantial evidence that the company may have intended to commit a genocide against the Cofán and other indigenous peoples in violation of the Genocide Convention. Ecuador ratified this Convention in 1949.

The Genocide Convention bans attempted genocides equally with achieved genocides. It is still true that by willfully and unnecessarily destroying the primary "institution" on which the Cofanes relied to sustain their culture -- namely, the rainforest itself, where they worshipped, remembered, trained future generations, and effectively "stored" their immense repository of knowledge about the natural world -- Texaco nearly effected a cultural genocide, in violation of international law. It is still true that Texaco's environmental crimes may legally constitute a "crime against humanity" in violation of international criminal law. For more information about these allegations, see the Draft Submission prepared by the affected communities on these issues.

Finally, although the Cofán have struggled back from the brink, other indigenous peoples in Texaco's concession area have suffered or worse fates. One community, the Tetetes, known to have inhabited the region just north of Lago Agrio when Texaco arrived, has now disappeared entirely. The story of their last years, along with their entire history, disappeared with them.

Part of the real history of the Cofan follows - the part of Randy Borman's testimony that Bedoya ignores in his so-called "scholarship".


The Real History of Cofán and Texaco

As Told by R. Borman,
Cited by Chevron's Own Anthropologist
available at

[In 1964, the company began] "laying the groundwork for [its] new oil kingdom. . . . Helicopters . . . flew in workers and supplies. Outboard motor-driven canoes roared up and down the river. Supply depots and then airfields appeared as if by magic, and huge four engine airplanes (DC-4s and DC- 6s) began flying in everything from potatoes to dynamite. Crews fanned out, carving perfectly straight trails through the forest and planting explosive charges every couple hundred meters. The shock waves from the detonations would be traced and monitored, and a rough picture of where oil might be found would emerge.

All of this was done with no thought whatsoever for the presence of the indigenous cultures and peoples affected. The Bormans [the author's parents] protested and tried to get the Ecuadorian government to set aside reserve areas as early as 1965, but the word of a foreign missionary championing the cause of a few hundred "savage jungle Indians" did not carry much weight when put in the balance of the fabulous oil bonanza being promised by the oil companies. The actual impact at the local level was brutal. Young men were urged to work for the "company" cutting down the forest that had provided sustenance for many centuries, and ridiculed for wearing "womanly" ondiccuje and beads. Young women were propositioned and often raped. Alcohol flowed freely. Petty robbery, almost unknown among a closed and egalitarian traditional culture, became common. . . . The fabric of the culture was being frayed in a thousand ways.

In 1966, the first exploratory well confirmed the presence of major quantities of good quality petroleum in the region. Along with it came the first major ecological repercussions of the exploration as streams flowed with toxic chemicals and crude oil.

. . . [The] road from Quito to present day Lago Agrio was completed [in 1972]. With the road came thousands of land-hungry colonists from all over Ecuador. . . . It mattered not that much of that "unused jungle" was the hunting and gathering grounds of the Cofan. It mattered even less that that "useless" forest had provided a very good standard of living for a lot of people for centuries. . . . By 1974, even the fields and homes of the Dureno Cofan were at risk as roads snaked out to link up the oil wells and colonists pushed farther in search of lumber and home sites.

. . . [The] contamination slowly spread through the forest. [In] 1974, the Dureno Cofans began clearing a boundary trail that would try to stem the influx of colonists. After lengthy negotiations both at the local and national levels, Dureno finally received title to 9,500 hectares (approximately 20,000 acres) in 1977. It included . . . by oversight, an oil well which went on line in 1976, and by 1992 had pumped more than a million barrels of oil. It had also polluted the Pisore, the only small river within the Cofan territory, with numerous leaks and a continuous flow of toxic production wastes. The Cofans, to this date, have never seen a cent of compensation in any form for this well's presence and destructiveness. The original proud masters of the Aguarico valley were reduced to a tiny enclave of frightened people trying to grope their way into a foreign world and way of life.