QUITO, ECUADOR - A United States citizen was deported Thursday from Ecuador
after being detained Tuesday along with seven Ecuadorians as they engaged in a
protest against the construction of an oil pipeline through the country's Amazon
The activist, Julia "Butterfly" Hill, best known for her two-year protest
in which she lived in a giant redwood tree in the U.S. state of California, was
taken without prior notice from the Provisional Detention Center, where she was
held under arrest, to the Quito airport. Two hours later, the remaining detainees
Hill said she had spent a long, tiring few days in Ecuadorian prison, but
was not surprised to hear during the deportation hearing that the consortium Oleoducto
de Crudos Pesados (OCP, heavy crude pipeline) Limited had sent a letter to the
local police pressing for her deportation.
She also stated that the proceedings were illegal and that the rights of the
people arrested had not been respected. But her greatest concern is the violation
of "the rights of the communities devastated by oil exploitation," said Hill.
The oil pipeline targeted by the environmental activists is 540 km long and
is to transport petroleum from the Ecuadorian Amazon region to the Pacific coast
for refining and export.
The protesters were detained by the police as they staged a demonstration
outside the offices of Occidental Petroleum, a member of the OCP Limited consortium,
which is building the pipeline.
"The immigration police attacked us and beat us, and although some in our
group were able to run, others were forced into the police cars," said Ricardo
Buitrón, member of the environmental organization Acción Ecológica.
"I was never told what I'm being charged with. I was never once read my rights.
I was shown a piece of paper in Spanish but was refused a translator," said U.S.
"The only reason I am being deported is because I have lent my solidarity
to the forests of Ecuador and the communities defending their lands and their
basic human rights," she added.
Hill, famous for her efforts to protect the world's forests, said by telephone
from Panama, where she was waiting while arrangements were being made for her
return to the United States, that her intention in Quito was to make it known
that Occidental Petroleum is not complying with environmental standards in its
construction of the pipeline.
On another front, several rural residents were arrested Thursday in the northeastern
province of Sucumbíos when the demanded compensation for the use of their
lands for the pipeline route.
Since the beginning of the year, environmentalists from several countries
have mobilized in protest against the Ecuadorian pipeline, citing its negative
ecological and social impacts.
In March, special units of the police force arrested 17 members of Acción
Ecológica and of the international environmental watchdog Greenpeace who
had chained themselves to trees in the Mindo-Nambillo forest, a protected area
50 km northwest of Quito, to obstruct work on the pipeline.
Then, in May, environmentalists and landowners from the same forest were detained
for standing in the way of the OCP route.
The activists showed the press the ownership certificates of an 840-hectare
tract of land through which the pipeline was to pass. They demanded the removal
of the heavy construction machinery from the area.
But OCP Limited claimed to hold "right of way," granted by the government,
to build on privately held property.
In June, environmentalists, lawmakers and journalists arrived from Italy and
took over the offices in Quito of the Italian petroleum firm Agip Oil to protest
its role in the pipeline-building consortium.
Ecuador's President Gustavo Noboa has accused Acción Ecológica of
obstructing a project that, according the government, would provide important
economic benefits to the country.
Noboa stated in May 2001 that he would fight the environmentalists "in the
trenches" if they continued to take action against the pipeline project.
"In the past, we knew what they were called. We knew they were the extreme
left. Today they are known as 'greens', ecologists," said the president. In his
opinion, it is just "a handful of idiots" protesting the pipeline construction.
Greenpeace, meanwhile, has taken action in Germany to prevent WestDeutche
Landesbank (WestLB) from freeing up a 900-million-dollar loan to finance the pipeline
The government of the western German state of North Rhine Westphalia, holder
of 43 percent of the WestLB shares, announced it would postpone financing until
it verified the environmental impacts of the pipeline construction.
Representatives of OCP Limited, consisting of the Canadian transnational Alberta
Energy, Italy's Agip Oil, Spain's Repsol-YPF, the U.S.-based Kerr McGee and Occidental
Petroleum and Argentina's Techint, assured that the project complies with the
environmental norms stipulated by the World Bank.
But the World Bank even contradicted that statement. In a communiqué
issued in December, it reported that the OCP was not following its environmental
Copyright 2002 IPS