The Chevron Pit blog has posted the latest installment in a series of stories about how Chevron's contamination in Ecuador's rainforest region has impacted the people living near the former oil sites. The photos and testimonials are from the book 'Crude Reflections' by photographers Lou Dematteis and Kayana Szymczak.
This latest story is about Luz Maria Martin and her late husband Angel Toala. They lived – and Luz and their family continues to live – in the Shushufindi area of the Ecuadorian Amazon, near an oil pumping station and only 200 yards from an oil well. Shushufindi is the name of a small town in the northeast of Ecuador, as well as the name of the largest oil field in Ecuador's Oriente Basin, discovered by Chevron-owned Texaco in 1970.
Luz and Angel moved with their six children to the Shushufindi area for work. But Angel developed stomach cancer, and by the time it was diagnosed, it was too late. Photographer Lou Dematteis and journalist Joan Kruckewitt conducted the interview with his widow Luz.
An excerpt from the interview:
I don’t think the oil company (Texaco) worried if they contaminated the water. We farmers didn't realize the water was contaminated, and certainly it was not in the oil company’s interest to tell us that.Angel Toala at his home in Shushufindi shortly before succumbing to stomach cancer. Photo by Lou Dematteis.
Transcription of interview with Luz Maria Martin, widow of Angel Toala, who died of stomach cancer:
My husband, Angel Toala, and I came here to the Amazon 23 years ago from the mountains of San Domingo. We came because he was told you could earn good money with the [oil] companies here. We have six children.Angel Toala at home in Shushufindi. Photo by Lou Dematteis from Crude Reflections.
Angel worked on the pipeline for Texaco for five years, and that’s how we’ve been able to buy this farm. Mostly we grew coffee, plantains, yucca, some cacao.
There’s a [Texaco] pumping station near our house and a [Texaco] oil well 200 yards from our house, and downstream is a lake where the crude oil they dumped gathers. We never let the animals drink the water. A lot of times we found dead fish in it. Our coffee plants there turned yellow and died.
We got our drinking water from the rain, and, when it didn’t rain, from the stream. It had a funny taste and sometimes you could see oil floating on top. We bathed there and washed our clothes there. We knew the water was bad for our health, but what could we do? There wasn’t water anywhere else.
About three years ago, my husband started having stomach pains, slight pains when he ate. He couldn’t eat as much as he used to. (Crying) Certain foods made him feel bad, and he couldn’t eat meat, or fish. About a year ago he started losing weight.
(Crying) Then his back began hurting, and his muscles. He felt tired. At the end, he couldn’t take the sun. He was so tired; he didn’t have any energy.
In Quito he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. We took him to the Eugenio Espejo Hospital but the doctors said that it was too late; nothing could be done.
(Crying) The last three months before he died, he couldn’t do anything. He just lay in the hammock.