ADELE BUTLER – Women of Spirit: Grandma and Goliath



Grandma and Goliath





Grandmother Takes on Oil Giant …


Recently I read what can only be called a modern day David and Goliath story. The two contenders are an Ecuadorean grandmother whose modest home sits near marshes that are clogged with sticky oil for decades and Chevron. Maria Aguinda helped to bring a landmark judgment against Chevron for polluting the rain forest which she calls home. She spoke out against the US oil giant after it was fined $9.5 billion, among the heaviest ever handed down for environmental damage.

“Before I die they have to pay me for the dead animals, and for what they did to the river, and the water and the earth,” the 61-year-old Aguinda told AFP at her home in Rumipamba, a town in remote Orellana province where pollution caused by 30 years of oil drilling and petroleum accidents had become a sad fact of life.

“Mary Aguinda et al” are the opening words of the suit launched in 1993 on behalf of 30,000 residents of Orellana and Sucumbios provinces, in which they charge Texaco dumped billions of gallons of toxic crude during its operations, fouling rivers, lakes and soil and causing cancer deaths in indigenous communities.

Aguinda said she believes her husband and two of his 10 children died from the effects of the pollution, which rights group Amazon Watch says has affected an area the size of the US state of Rhode Island.

Several of her family members “have skin problems, like fungus,” Aguinda said as she lifted her granddaughter’s foot off the dirt floor to show an outbreak on her leg.

There is an ongoing cleanup of a marsh just meters from Aguinda’s house, where workers are dressed in oil-stained yellow overalls and are dredging thick black ooze into suction pipes. Unfortunately, the clean up process is not going well at all. The operation has done little to improve conditions. According to Aguinda, “With the cleanup that Texaco left, the air is just unbearable. I can’t live above the oil.”

A strong petroleum smell permeates Rumipamba, home to nine families, some of whom complain of headaches. Several areas of Sucumbios are also contaminated, according to the plaintiffs, who argue that merely sinking a shovel into the ground yields a thick layer of crude.

In a court ruling Chevron received a penalty of $8.6 billion with an additional 10 percent for environment management costs. They referred to the ruling as “illegitimate and unenforceable” and have asked a judge in Ecuador for clarification of it. They plan to appeal. The plaintiffs also plan to appeal the ruling, citing that it inadequately compensates for certain damages and illnesses. They are seeking more than $27 billion in their suit (

I hope that Aguinda and the other families will receive the damages that will compensate for the years they have had to endure polluted air and the interruption of life as they know it. The grandmother testifies that this disaster has “changed our life: hunting, fishing, and other food, it’s all finished.” She lost her husband and two children.

Please pray for these families who are being forced to live in a toxic environment and that Chevron will stop making excuses and clean up their mess! Some people say that the executives of these oil companies should be forced to live in the messes they have created and then we would see how quickly they will move to clean up these messes.

I applaud this brave grandmother who was not afraid to stand up to a giant. As I thought of her, these words came to mind, “I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore, and I know too much to go back and pretend.”


Adele Butler, A Celebration of Women 2011.




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