Like oil pollution in Ecuador and California years ago, the BP Gulf catastrophe could – and should – lead to profound political change across America.
As the plumes of sickly fluorescent oil begin to wash up on Gulf shores, the immediate focus is on how – and whether – officials can mitigate the destruction of wetlands, fisheries, and the lifeways of coastal towns.
An equally powerful question: Will the political impact be just as significant?
Twenty years ago, near the beginning of that transformation, I sat beside a campesino-turned-community activist, Segundo Jaramillo, as our small plane banked low over the company oil town of Lago Agrio.
Below lay the grimy hub of Texaco’s former operation in Ecuador, with its maze of pipelines, pumping stations, and Wild West bars. Mr. Jaramillo gripped his armrests and looked out the window nervously; it was his first flight.
In the capital, he met with Texaco critics and antipetroleum activists, who introduced us. Now we were returning to the Amazon so he could show me his homeland.
In the coming days with Jaramillo and local indigenous leaders along the Napo and Aguarico rivers, I began to understand the extent of the damage.
Huge open pools of oil and toxic sludge were scattered throughout the rain forest, dumped unceremoniously by indifferent oil workers. Contaminated water supplies had Jaramillo’s neighbors complaining of skin diseases, nonstop headaches, and internal organ pain.
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