NBC's Curry: U.S. to Blame for 'Toxic Legacy' of Oil Drilling in the Amazon

Previewing an upcoming story for NBC's Rock Center on Friday's Today, correspondent Ann Curry warned that tribes of the Amazon rain forest "are sharpening their spears and preparing their blow guns to fight Ecuador's new plan to auction as much as 8 million acres of the rain forest for oil drilling." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

She then cited Boston University biology professor Kelly Swing arguing that "America, a top importer of oil from Ecuador, shares responsibility for this coming conflict....And the toxic legacy of past oil drilling in other parts of the rain forest." A sound bite played of Swing declaring: "We're definitely guilty in this story."

Curry fretted: "I understand that more oil has been spilled here than in the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska." Swing replied: "Yeah, those numbers are real. We're talking about hundreds of small spills that add up to a huge amount."

Curry proclaimed the Amazon tribes "believe their purpose in life is to save the forest." Speaking to one tribal leader, she sympathetically wondered: "As long as you're alive, you're going to fight for your community?" After the man replied that he would, Curry concluded: "He sees no difference between the survival of the forest and the survival of his people."

In an interview with the vice president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, Curry worried: "So if confronted with indigenous people with spears, would Ecuador use force?" Moreno responded: "According to international law, if dialogue fails, there is a process of escalation of the use of force."

Curry lamented: "In this battle of blow guns against bull dosers, the Kichwa and Wauroni are clearly outmatched. Perhaps one reason why Professor Kelly Swing says this is about more than saving the rain forest." Swing asserted: "I definitely see this as a human rights issue. I think it's very sad to say that most human rights issues don't really come to be recognized as human rights issues until people start to die."


Here is a full transcript of the May 3 segment:

8:17AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And now to one of the most remote and pristine places on the planet and a battle brewing over oil. With the story, here's NBC's Ann Curry.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Rock Center With Brian Williams; Battle Brewing Over Oil in the Amazon]

ANN CURRY: Deep in Ecuador's lush Amazon rain forest, the most bio-diverse place on Earth, the rarely seen Wauroni tribes are sharpening their spears and preparing their blow guns to fight Ecuador's new plan to auction as much as 8 million acres of the rain forest for oil drilling. A tribal leader sings, "We are not going to lose our culture. We are going to protect our land." Boston University biology professor Kelly Swing has come to know the riches of this rain forest after researching here for more than 20 years.

KELLY SWING: There may be one-tenth of all the species on the planet right here in this space that's like the size of South Carolina.

CURRY: He's also come to know Wauroni tribesmen, who he says will fight to the death to protect this land. And he says America, a top importer of oil from Ecuador, shares responsibility for this coming conflict.

SWING: We're definitely guilty in this story.

CURRY: And the toxic legacy of past oil drilling in other parts of the rain forest. [Looking at spilt oil] Smells pretty bad. Well, I understand that more oil has been spilled here than in the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.

SWING: Yeah, those numbers are real. We're talking about hundreds of small spills that add up to a huge amount.

CURRY: Another tribe, the Kichwa, has been told to expect oil operations to begin at any time. Angry Kichwa women say they will fight with their men because they believe their purpose in life is to save the forest. Patresia Hupa, a tribal leader and shaman healer

PATRESIA HUPA: My grandfather protect this land and up to this, my father said me, "You need to protect." If I am leaving, I am going to fight, my community.

CURRY: As long as you're alive, you're going to fight for your community?

HUPA: Yes.

CURRY: You feel so strongly?

HUPA: Yes. I'm sorry.

CURRY: He sees no difference between the survival of the forest and the survival of his people.

The drilling is being ordered by the government of Ecuador, which depends on Amazon oil for up to 50% of its revenues. Ecuador's vice president, Lenin Moreno

LENIN MORENO: If Ecuador were in a position to provide for all of the needs of its people, we will be happy not to exploit. However, that is not the case.

CURRY: So if confronted with indigenous people with spears, would Ecuador use force?

MORENO: According to international law, if dialogue fails, there is a process of escalation of the use of force.

CURRY: In this battle of blow guns against bull dosers, the Kichwa and Wauroni are clearly outmatched. Perhaps one reason why Professor Kelly Swing says this is about more than saving the rain forest.

SWING: I definitely see this as a human rights issue. I think it's very sad to say that most human rights issues don't really come to be recognized as human rights issues until people start to die.

CURRY: Ann Curry, NBC News, Ecuador.

GUTHRIE: And you can see more of Ann's report from the rain forest tonight on Rock Center with Brian Williams at 10/9 Central Time, right here on NBC.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC