Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, President Marlon Vargas letter to European Banks

November 13, 2020

Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) President Marlon Vargas to banks, “Our peoples do not want in their territories any type of oil activity that threatens their food security and health. Within this framework, the financial institutions that finance these activities, including yours, assume the financial risks arising from this measure and others that will be adjusted to the development of the process.”

Dear Members of ESR and Due Diligence Teams ING, Credit Suisse, Natixis, PNB Paribas, UBS, Rabobank. Other Financial Institutions

In my capacity as president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon – CONFENIAE-, the regional indigenous organization that represents about 1,500 communities belonging to the Amazonian nationalities Kichwa, Shuar, Achuar, Waorani, Sapara, Andwa, Shiwiar, Cofán, Siona, Secoya and Kijus, I am writing to you:

In 2017 and in response to the devastation of our ancestral territories, the Amazonian indigenous organizations of Ecuador and Peru decided to join forces to save the headwaters of the Amazon River basin, our home. This region, which covers 35 million hectares and is home to more than half a million indigenous peoples from over 20 nationalities. It is a true global treasure and is megadiverse due to its cultural and biological uniqueness. Our vision is to keep extractivism outside the limits of our territories as an alternative that allows us to maintain the lives of our peoples, rivers, and forests. We are committed to being able to live and maintain our culture, language, worldview and tradition, in addition to providing humanity with the possibility of mitigating climate change from the conservation of the Amazon.

The pandemic has revealed what is at stake for our peoples. In the health emergency, thousands of Amazonian indigenous people have died due to the lack of hospitals, medical personnel and the necessary supplies for the treatment of COVID. Indigenous peoples have risen up in protest in both countries.

In Ecuador, the oil spill that occurred on April 7th., a few days after the quarantine began (March 12th.), kept more than 120,000 people without water or food for months in which other spills occurred. The fish in the river died and the water could not be used even for crops. Our bathing in the river has turned into skin diseases and infections. Neither the Ecuadorian government nor the companies responsible for the pipelines have remedied this reality. Since the oil boom in the seventies, the State has become used to poisoning our rivers and through them, our populations, and forests. Furthermore, our governments have manipulated justice so that all these crimes that violate the right to nature and our human rights go unpunished.

In Peru, the situation has led to deaths and casualties. The demands of the indigenous leaders reached the government and the oil companies that operate in their territories and that never stopped their operations during the pandemic. Peru saw the Chilean Oil company GeoPark abandon Block 64 for having operated without environmental licenses. Block 95 is the epicenter of a massacre where the police sent by the government attacked and killed at point-blank range against residents who were protesting the lack of care, water and food.

The amendment to the Law for the Protection of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and Initial Contact Condition -PIACI- has not been discussed in the Plenary of Congress, presumably because the Peruvian Hydrocarbons Society has launched a campaign against the vote since several Oil companies operate in these territories.

In the context of a pandemic, this Law seeks to prevent the extinction of uncontacted peoples through the intangibility of their territories. The lack of this regulatory framework could lead to ethnocide. In this context, recent investigations carried out by our allies and Amazon Watch (The controversial role of European banks in the oil trade from the Amazon to the United States, Investing in Amazon Destruction) allow us to understand how European banks and various financial institutions are jointly responsible for the tragedy to which our peoples are exposed in this half century of oil extraction. There are impacts associated with these activities that evidently the institution that you represent has not yet considered: 

  • the impact of violating the human rights of indigenous peoples and other populations that inhabit our territories,  
  • the impact on the environment and the biodiversity that affects our food security, the contamination of the rivers that feed the Amazon River has exacerbated our exposure to the pandemic,  
  • the impact of promoting extractive activities in national parks recognized as biospheres and world heritage sites,  
  • the impact of financing activities that do not count with social or environmental licenses in countries where there is no consultation and less consent on the part of indigenous peoples, 
  • the impact of being complicit in state crimes where leaders have been criminalized, among others.

How can you sleep soundly? Imagine that tomorrow your family wakes up with oil instead of water, that the water sources in your city are contaminated, that water with oil stains emanates from your taps and that due to the lack of clean water, you and your families are forced to take it, that because of the oil in the water members of your families and communities need a hospital, a doctor, a medicine and that it does not exist; that your garden on which you and your community depend to feed you is muddy in oil? You cannot imagine because the pristine landscapes in developed countries are financed, among others, with oil from the Sacred Headwaters. If all the spills, pollution and fires in our Amazon, added to the construction of infrastructures that threaten our environment, and the permanent violation of rights are not a sufficient argument, I allow myself to take into account other aspects associated with the business that your financial institutions and banks encourage by financing the oil trade from this region:

1. Co-responsibility: Private banks and other financial institutions finance the tipping point of the Amazon Basin. The Amazon is the largest continuous forest on the planet and regulates the Earth’s climate. From the Andes to the Alps and from pole to pole, rains and droughts largely depend on the Amazon biome. Oil exploitation in the Amazon has a process that begins in: a. The opening of roads: our studies indicate that the greatest deforestation occurs within a 50km radius of the roads that are opened for oil exploitation. b. Deforestation and agribusiness: with the opening of roads, access is also opened for industries as lethal as African palm to enter our territories. In the midst of the pandemic, the Plenary of the National Assembly approved on June 2nd. the Law for the Strengthening and Development of the Production, Marketing, Extraction, Exportation and Industrialization of oil palm and its derivatives. Ecuador is the country with the highest deforestation rate in Latin America compared to its size, even more than Brazil. c. Oil and poverty: Despite the fact that the State fills its fiscal coffers with oil activity from our territories, our peoples register the highest rates of poverty, lack of public services, malnutrition and other deficiencies.

2. Complicity in the violation of Human Rights and the Rights of Nature: In Ecuador there is no binding regulation to enforce the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), therefore, all oil extracted in our territories does not comply with this international regulation neither now nor ever. In this way, all investments in projects and oil trade fail to comply with this requirement and make the companies, banks and other financial institutions involved, accomplices of all the non-compliance of their clients.

3. Corruption: Our territories and nationalities have been recognized in the Constitution. The companies have entered with contracts granted despite not having social and/or environmental licenses. In the process, there are several cases of corruption such as the most recent finding where Core Petroleum, an oil intermediary, paid the Fairgate Trading Corp. company, owned by the Ecuadorian Enrique Cadena Marín, more than 10.2 million dollars. This discovery, which is under investigation for money laundering, would be linked to the Panama Papers. This example reveals how the oil business encourages corruption in Ecuador and the rest of the region.

4. Impunity: There are countless legal processes that indigenous organizations and other conglomerates have initiated against the State for contamination and human rights violations. There are also international lawsuits against Texaco, Chevron, and other oil companies. The most recent example is that of the oil spill. All these processes have gone unpunished both in national and international courts.

Faced with this reality, our position today is a moratorium conditioned first on the immediate remediation of our rivers. This is intended to be a long-range measure. Our peoples do not want in their territories any type of oil activity that threatens their food security and health. Within this framework, the financial institutions that finance these activities, including yours, assume the financial risks arising from this measure and others that will be adjusted to the development of the process. Second, Ecuador needs to generate a regulation to implement and make FPIC binding. A campaign in which the different financial institutions should join together to reduce their risk margin.

Finally, we demand that financial institutions and specifically, your institution, join the call of Ecuador’s regional and national Indigenous organizations, along with an Amazonwide Indigenous confederation for an immediate moratorium on current crude production in the Sacred Headwaters. Given the impact of the spill, we need to urgently address clean-up of our rivers and land to mitigate community impact. We also need to strengthen measures to prevent future spills in conjunction with the national government. In the medium and long term, we seek an indefinite moratorium on all financing to the oil value chain of the Amazon Basin, unless the following minimum conditions are met:

1. Ecuador enforces the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) and implements it in current and future concessions.

2. The government of Ecuador commits to the non-expansion of the oil frontier and takes a wind-down of existing wells

3. The government of Ecuador aligns with the goals of the Paris Agreement and respects the vision of our peoples by making the Amazon, a priority ecosystem for the country and the planet, to prevent an environmental collapse.

I look forward to your response to concretize the next steps in the direction we have defined.


Marlon Vargas, President Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE)