9 January 2002 – German lawmakers hold hearing on 14 January on WestLB’s $900 million loan to the controversial pipeline.

For the past week, local community residents, students, and environmentalists have been engaged in a permanent peaceful tree occupation high in the mountains of the Mindo Nambillo Cloudforest Reserve to stop construction of Ecuador’s new heavy crude pipeline. Several activists have climbed the trees and built platforms and others are chained to the base in order to ensure that construction crews for the 300-mile pipeline, known as the OCP, do not enter the protected area.

Road building crews have reached the edge of this globally significant ecosystem forcing activists to begin tree sits. News stations in Ecuador have reported that police forces will be forcibly relocating the demonstrators in the next several days.

Faced with escalating protests and tree sitters determined to stay perched for months, OCP announced yesterday that it would abandon construction works in the Mindo cloud forest until the end of the rainy season in April. Since September, activists have repeatedly blocked construction crews and effectively slowed the advance of construction works in this contested part of the route, counting on the rainy season to buy more time for the endangered Mindo cloud forest.

While construction on the remaining portions of the OCP route continues, the Mindo protests were cited as a factor in the consortium’s decision to temporarily suspend construction in the region. Environmentalists say there is another reason: the consortium is worried about their financing.

“It is obvious that the OCP consortium did not want bulldozers battling tree sitters at the very moment when the company’s $900 million loan is in jeopardy in Germany. This is a significant factor in OCP’s announcement that construction is suspended in Mindo,” said Yvonne Ramos of Acción Ecologica.

Called by the state government of North Rhine Westphalia (NWR), the hearing is set for January 14. At the hearing, lawmakers will review mounting evidence that Westdeutsche Landesbank (WestLB), of which NWR holds a 43 percent interest, has violated its own lending policies by syndicating a $900 million loan to the OCP project. NGO experts will testify on how the project violates minimum environmental guidelines set by the World Bank. According to WestLB, adherence to World Bank standards is a “prerequisite for any financial involvement of WestLB in the project.”

In recent months, debates about WestLB’s role in the project have raged within the Bank and in the State Parliament of NWR, leading to strong denouncements from Green Party members and officials including the Prime Minister Wolfgang Clement and State Minister of Environment, Baerbel Hoehn.

“We’re calling on the NWR parliament to ensure that WestLB does not contribute to the irreversible loss of endangered ecosystems. We urge the bank to cancel this loan immediately,” said Atossa Soltani of Amazon Watch.

The pipeline is setting off an unprecedented boom in new oil investments — over $2.5 billion over the next five years from oil exploration, drilling, feeder pipelines, refineries, and related processing facilities. Much of the crude needed to feed the pipeline lies beneath national parks and indigenous lands in pristine rainforests. Prominent Ecuadorian and international environmental and human rights organizations are calling for the cancellation of the OCP project and a moratorium on all new oil exploration in the country’s ecologically and culturally sensitive rainforests.

Building on tactics used in forest defence in the US and Canada, the tree occupation in Ecuador is the first of its kind in South America. A statement follows from Julia Butterfly Hill, known worldwide for her two year long tree sit atop a threatened 2000-year-old redwood tree in northern California.

Kevin Koenig, Amazon Watch 202 256 9795
Natalia Arias, Acción Ecologíca 011 593 2 254 7516 [2]