Swedish Construction as Sexism in Ecuador

Brothel along Amazon pipeline

On the road between the two oil towns Lago Agrio and Coca the brothels are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The women along the road are waiting for the oil workers. Many of them come from the Ecuadorian coastal region or are refugees from the conflict-ridden Colombia.

On the road between the two oil towns Lago Agrio and Coca the brothels are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The women along the road are waiting for the oil workers. Many of them come from the Ecuadorian coastal region or are refugees from the conflict-ridden Colombia.

Oil workers and Child Prostitution

Swedish construction company Skanska states the company “generates employment” when it actually deprives the local population the possibility to hunt, fish, and cultivate crops on its own terms. The one employment that oil exploitation actually has contributed to is prostitution, because in the oil region of Ecuador women are the most exposed and their lives the most commercialized and exploited. Skanska, with the operational responsibility of 5,000 oil wells in Latin America (1), is raping the earth as well as the women of the region.

Credit: Oilwatch

Macho Repsol workers with boa constrictor

In the oil town of Coca, buying sex is not unusual among oil company employees, whose wages that are far above the average in Ecuador.  These workers lead a double life: two weeks with their families in the capital of Quito, and two weeks in the oil fields. Juan Rodriguez grew up and lives on Via Auca, outside of Coca, and told me that there are eight legal brothels in the small town of Coca but that prostitution is present in all of the town bars and is very common. “To buy sex is part of the oil worker’s identity,” explains Juan.

According to a study by CONAMU (Consejo Nacional de las Mujeres – National Women’s Council), the UN Children’s Fund, and Sucumbios’ provincial church, the bars and discotheques of the oil town Lago Agrio are actually brothels frequented by the oil workers from Ecuador and other countries. The same report confirms that girls aged 12 to 16 work as prostitutes under slave-like conditions 17 hours a day.

Photo Credit: Hanna Dahlström

Brothel along an oil road in Orellana, Ecuador

The bars use the girls to attract the oil workers as customers, while the brothels sell sex. The children clean, serve the customers, and sell their bodies. Ecuador’s largest daily newspaper reported on the story of Lorena, age 17, who is one of the exploited women from Puyo in the southern Amazon region, and who cannot go to the police for fear of reprisal from her bosses.(2)

Swedish Skanska and sexism

The contact Agneta Enström and I have had with the Skanska in Ecuador confirms the context of sexism in which Skanska operates and where prostitution is an every day feature.

At the company’s administrative base a few kilometers outside of Coca, the kitchen staff give “massages,” according to one Skanska manager. One of Skanska’s employees, a geologist by profession, wants to let people know how Skanska operates. He describes observing another Skanska manager, Oswaldo Contreras, yelling obscenities at women, including an indigenous woman carrying her child, who he drove past while on his way out to the oil field to work. At Bermejo, the Skanska base close to the Colombian border, the companies’ employees’ complain about how difficult it is to sleep at night due to the noise from pornographic movies. Naturally, Skanska’s male personnel visit the bars of Coca every week and some managers even occasionally reside at the luxury hotel Auca in Coca.

Photo Credit: Agneta Enstrom

Oil company caps are lined up at favorite bar in Coca

Nonetheless, we were taken by surprise to be invited by Skanska manager Milton Diaz to skinny dip in the company swimming pool at the base on the road between Coca and Lago Agrio at night, “and you don’t have to bring your swim suits,” Diaz laughed. We rejected the invitation.

Militarized oil fields and institutionalized prostitution

Oil companies like Texaco and Shell arrived in the Amazon region of Ecuador in the 1950s, and with the help of the military they stole indigenous lands. The region is now constantly militarized and the military has repeatedly been deployed against the local population during demonstrations. Women are particularly affected by the militarization since the presence of oil workers and military leads to prostitution, rape, and thus higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, HIV and hepatitis C.

The role of the military in the oil state of Ecuador is clear – it is under direct order of the oil companies. The local population is forced to pass the oil companies’ military check points in their own villages, and outsiders must seek permission from the companies to visit the areas, and must state their relation to the company while travelling.

In the Ecuadorian oil field called “block 16” (in company language) where Skanska works for Spanish Repsol, the military is directly under the command of Repsol through a contract valued at more than 1 million USD. There, the military’s principal task, according to the aforementioned contract, is to prevent “intrusion by subversive elements into the areas of operation,” which is conveniently defined to apply to not only block 16 but to the country’s entire Amazonian region. In other words, the military personnel are mercenaries of Skanska and its clients and the military presence is constant. In addition, Skanska also employs its own security guards.

Lawyer Bolivar Beltran from the Fundación Lianas in Ecuador has studied the contracts between the oil companies and the mlitary confirms these illegalities:
“The indigenous people have never been informed about the contracts between the companies and the military, which is a clear breach of chapter V of the Ecuadorian constitution and the UN Convention ILO 169, the convention on the rights of indigenous peoples,” he says. 

Prostitution is further institutionalized in the Ecuadorian military since all military personnel receive a ticket to buy sex from one of the military’s own sex workers. The women mainly come from the coast to live on the military base while they work there. Each month, an obligatory five dollars is deducted for prostitution from each military’s $100 salary. The militarization of indigenous territory has also led to the military raping local women.

“Around the military base kichwa girls become pregnant from the military” says Manuel Shiguango who himself is of the indigenous nationality kichwa and previously worked at the military base 49 Capitan Chiriboga in Montalvo. He now works with the indigenous federation CONAIE, as a youth leader of the indigenous peoples in the Amazonian province Napo, which is protesting against this oppression.

Women protest against oil

Photo Credit: Agneta Enstrom

Waoroni protest of oil exploitation

In 2005 the women of the indigenous Waorani community formed their own organization – AMWAE – to protect their territory for their children and the world. Not only have the companies exploited crude oil from their territory for more than 20 years, but now the companies have entered the heart of Waorani territory and of the UNESCO reserve and national park Yasuni.

The Waorani women refused to compromise with the companies.  They protested against Brazilian Petrobras and Swedish Skanska’s illegal intrusion in their territory, and succeeded in stopping the thieves this time, as the Ecuadorian state withdrew their permit due to bribery scandals and insufficient environmental impact studies. Their territory and Ecuador’s largest national park is once again under threat as Skanska and Petrobras assert that it is possible to exploit for oil without damaging the sensitive rain forest and its inhabitants.(3)

Naturally the oil companies are the first to talk about sustainability as the hunt for nonrenewable resources become increasingly bloody. Many are those who join the ranks of the oil companies’ preaching of high tech solutions to prevent an environmental disaster, and a very famous example is Sweden’s honorary consul Galo Abril, former minister of oil in Ecuador. His own position is at the height of ecological ignorance and arrogance and was manifested in an interview with Agneta Enström and I in which he said that there is no problem in building roads to reach oil in the rain forest as Skanska has done, if you just “let the treetops touch so that the monkeys can jump across.”

The Waorani women’s current representative Manuela Omari Ima protested in an open letter to Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa:
"To believe that Petrobras, which is the same company that acquired its permit in an illegal manner and today continues to exploit for oil under loud protests of the local population in block 183, now will exploit oil in a sustainable way is ludicrous." (4)

The Waorani’s preparedeness to defend its culture and territory has earned them the reputation of being bloodthirsty savages. In Waorani language wao means “people” while cawode is used to describe outsiders, that is, the white man. Literally, the word cawode means “inhuman cannibal,” or as an old Waorani warrior explained: “those who cut up everything into pieces,” because who is the real savage in this Wild West in which the lawlessness, racism, and sexism of Swedish Skanska know no bounds?(5)

Hanna Dahlström is an editor and reporter at www.yelah.net. Yelah is a Swedish independent media group, uncovering activism and politics worldwide. She has recently worked in Ecuador, researching Skanska and oil exploration on indigenous land. Contact: hannagoanna@hotmail.com


1. See information about Skanska provided via trivia game on the website of a contracted advertising company. "Skanska – Trivia en Oil & Gas 2005": http://www.siainteractive.com/sitio2/050579.htm
2. Menores, explotadas en bares (Children exploited in bars): http://www.hoy.com.ec/NoticiaNue.asp?row_id=230991
3. See the article by Agneta Enström: “Ecuador: Swedish Construction Versus Indigenous Survival in the Amazon”: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/929/1/
4. Read the open letter to the President of Ecuador “Petrobras en el bloque 31: Carta abierta al presidente de la República”: http://www.llacta.org/organiz/coms/2007/com0072.htm
5. Kimerling, Judith. El derecho del tambor. Ediciones Abya Yala Quito Ecuador 1996. p.171.

For further informaition on this topic, see the following series by Agneta Enstrom: (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5)