The area around the Texaco concession in the northern Oriente, far from being the pristine rainforest it was in 1964, is now heavily deforested, and its ecosystem degraded. Much of the deforestation has been to convert the land to agricultural use. While it would be an oversimplification to blame a single oil company for all of this, it is important to realize that Texaco showed a systemic indifference to the potential that its operations had to devastate the environment, and with it communities, cultures, and entire ways of life.
Texaco aggressively built roads during the early years of its operation, more than 1200 miles worth by time the company left in 1992. These roads served as arteries into what was once impenetrable rainforest, and were subsequently used by a tidal wave of migrants to colonize the area and dispossess indigenous peoples of their ancestral territory. Fueled by the government's agrarian reform and drawn by job potential in the booming oil fields, the permanent transformation of a region was underway.
In the early 1960s, the Government of Ecuador passed the Ley de Tierras Baldias, or Vacant Lands Act, as part of its agrarian reform and colonization strategy. Similar to legislation passed in the U.S. to take lands away from Native Americans, the Act in Ecuador declared that any one who encountered "vacant" or "unoccupied lands" and put them to "productive use" would receive title. Growing cities, like the capital Quito, used the Act to relieve population pressure, and people from far off provinces like Loja began to resettle the area. For indigenous groups like the Cofan whose ancestral territory consisted of thousands of uninhabited hectares used for hunting or were off limits because of special cultural significance, the policy was devastating and resulted in the loss of the majority of the ancestral lands.
"When Texaco penetrated our territory, settlers followed. They invaded our ancestral lands; now we're like a small island surrounded by settlers. Texaco built roads to the oil wells, and this opened the floodgates to ambitious settlers who are hungry for land."
– Ricardo Piaguaje, President of the Secoya Federation