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We're in the judicial inspection phase of the Texaco case. What do you see as being the next step?
I don't anticipate a lot of difficulties in the judicial inspections phase, except for the financing of the inspections. The evidence provided by the judicial inspections is the fundamental basis for the case. The evidence must be supported scientifically, and this is expensive. If there?s not enough money to carry out these tests, I anticipate serious problems, and we run the risk of losing the case.
With the legal process itself, I don't foresee difficulties because the laws determine the process that should be followed, and the Judge will make a decision based on what the law says. He needs to determine his decision according to the law.
As for the final sentence: I will reserve judgments about what I think might happen. Unfortunately our courts have weaknesses, and there are many examples of corruption and political influence and political pressures on the legal system. For example, at our conference today we just heard the delegate from Ecuador's Ministry of Foreign Commerce say that the US government asked for the Texaco case to be dropped as a condition for negotiating a free trade agreement. Although the government has publicly said they do not accept this position, we are certain that pressure will be applied to the judge to decide in favor of Texaco. And that is very dangerous because for me what is at stake is the dignity of the Ecuadorian Amazon and the dignity of the justice system.
The only thing that I hope for in the Texaco case is that justice can be done. Those of us who live here have a great opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the country that we are men and women with rights equal to those of others.
Why did you become a lawyer and decide to work with the Amazon Defense Front?
Since I was very small, I was always searching for justice. When I was 14, and my parents migrated from Esmeraldas, where we lived before, here to Sucumbios, I worked in an African palm plantation company for four years. Afterwards I worked for an oil company, also for four years, and in both places I saw great injustices with the workers and the campesinos. I also saw grave destruction of the environment. I shared these concerns with others, and so about six young people (I was just 17 at the time) agreed, we said "we must do something about these problems." Some were colleagues from work, some were friends from school, and others were from a church youth group. So when we got together and started to take actions with protests and complaints or simply pointing out problems and suggesting solutions, I got into trouble. That was the reason they fired me from the African palm plantation company. Then the oil company threw me out for defending the rights of other workers.
And so from this experience came my dream, my idea, to become a professional. A lawyer. To defend those like myself and others who would be denied their rights, especially for rural people.
Fortunately the church supported me for about 12 years. When I was left without work in the companies, the church gave me work so that I could continue with my studies and social service. I worked with the church until about one year ago when I was hired by the Amazon Defense Front.
You had to overcome many obstacles to become a lawyer, didn't you?
The first obstacle and the most important one was the economic obstacle. My parents provided education for me until [eighth grade]. From there on I had to do it on my own—to study and to work. So I worked during the day and studied at night. And when I entered the university, the church helped me by providing more than half of the tuition. That was not easy for them. And it was very difficult for me as I simply didn't have the money. Out of 10 brothers and sisters, I am the only one who finished high school, because of a lack of resources.
The group of friends that I mentioned before also helped me. And I also took other jobs. I worked for the radio doing the news, and as a professor in a distance learning program. I had to study from four until seven in the morning. Then I had to go to work until six at night. The time I had free for lunch midday I dedicated to doing news on the radio. At night I taught high school classes, so my work day was from four in the morning until 11 or 12 at night. That was how I got to this point.