Ecuador Election: No Good Option for the Amazon March 31, 2017Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America, Right Wing, Uncategorized.
Tags: alianza pais, amazon rainforest, democracy, Ecuador, Ecuador Election, ecuador oil, guillermo lasso, indigenous, kevin koenig, lenin moreno, Rafael Correa, roger hollander, yasuni
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Roger’s note: This is a good, if limited, analysis of the Ecuadorian presidential run-off election that takes place this Sunday. In the first round of voting, the Government candidate, Lenin Moreno, needed 40% of the vote to avoid a second round. He won by a large amount against the rest of the field, but with 39.3% of the vote, he fell short of election.
Ten years of the Correa government has left the Ecuadorian left in shambles. The coalition that brought Correa to power — the Indigenous and campesino communities, the environmentalists, most of the social movements and labor unions — have been shut out and for the most part are considered “enemies” by Correa, and not only to him personally, but to the Ecuadorian state.
Watching the Indigenous organizations and most of the political lefts coming out in support of the Banker, Guillermo Lasso, is almost surreal. Lasso was the chief economic advisor (Superminister of Economy and Energy) to Jamil Mahuad, whose presidency was responsible for the infamous “banking holiday” in 1999 where thousands of Ecuadorians lost their life savings. Mahuad had to flee the country and landed at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, where he lectures on economics in spite of the fact that he is on INTERPOL’s wanted list (I am not making this up).
Candidate Lasso is connected to right wing governments throughout the region and to the alt-right Roman Catholic Opus Dei. Regardless of what he has told the Amazonian Indigenous in order to gain their support (a la Trump), his election would certainly mean a return to the pre-Correa belt-tightening neo-Liberal corruption that plagued the country for decades. For these reasons it is mind-boggling to see much of the left behind his candidacy.
Whether he wins or loses on Sunday, the Lasso phenomenon is another example of that notion that presidential elections in our so-called democracies do not give genuine options for social justice, that voters get fed up with existing governments and vote in whatever opposition option they are given, even those oppositions that are contrary to the self interest of those who vote them in (again, a la Trump).
Photo credit: Amazon Watch
By KEVIN KOENIG
All over the capital city of Quito and throughout the small towns in the countryside, campaign propaganda is everywhere. Posters choke telephone poles, flags hang from windows, awnings, and corner stores, entire houses are painted with the respective colors of Alianza PAIS – Ecuador’s governing party of the last ten years – and those of the opposition CREO party, which is running on the promise of change. This Sunday, Ecuadorians will take to the polls and vote again for president, and the stakes couldn’t be higher for the country’s Amazon rainforest and its indigenous inhabitants.
The April 2nd run-off election pits Guillermo Lasso, a right-wing former banker against the former vice president of the outgoing and controversial current president, Rafael Correa. It will be the first time in recent memory that Correa, the country’s longest-standing elected president, won’t be on the ballot. The Alianza PAIS ticket is led by both vice presidents who served under Correa: Lenin Moreno and Jorge Glas.
Ten years ago, Correa embarked on what he dubbed a “Citizens’ Revolution,” the largest expansion of public sector spending in the country’s history, which included investments in schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure development like port expansions and hydroelectric dams. The administration also greatly expanded subsidy programs for housing and monthly cash payments to the country’s poor.
But it has all come at a price. To implement these popular measures, and to maintain the national economy after being shut out of the finance world due to a debt default, Correa borrowed heavily from China, amassing loans for more than US $15 billion. But many of these loans must be paid in oil, committing the majority of the crude the country extracts to China through 2024. As oil prices have dropped, the quantity of oil needed to repay those loans has increased, essentially guaranteeing new oil drilling in Ecuador’s pristine, indigenous rainforest territories in the Amazon.
In other words, Correa made poverty reduction depend upon the exploitation of natural resources in one of the most ecologically and culturally important places on the planet. Correa once promised to “drill every drop of oil” in the Amazon, ignoring the ecological and cultural harm this would cause as well as the “resource curse” and likelihood of corruption (which has occurred in Ecuador) resulting from relying heavily on oil, gas, or mineral extraction as the mainstay of a country’s economy.
For his part, opposition leader Guillermo Lasso, a former banker from the port city of Guayaquil, promises a return to U.S.-aligned, right-wing policies and reliance upon traditional lending institutions like the IMF and World Bank. However, these very same institutions deserve much of the blame for the country’s historic natural resource dependence and austerity policies favoring export-led development and “free trade,” and these policies provoked a full-fledged banking collapse that forced the country to dollarize its economy in 2000. The backlash against these neoliberal policies by civil society and the indigenous movement led to the ousting of several presidents and a period of great political instability that set the stage for the ascendancy of Correa and his self-described “revolutionary” agenda.
Despite this history, in this campaign Lasso has endorsed the platform of CONFENAIE, the indigenous Amazonian confederation, which calls for an end to new oil and mining concessions, an amnesty for indigenous leaders currently facing charges of terrorism for leading anti-government protests, respect for the right to Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC), and several other legal reforms affecting indigenous rights. This endorsement came after direct pressure on all the candidates from CONFENAIEand Yasunidos, an active environmental coalition that made a series of viral videos pressuring them to take strong stances on environmental protection and indigenous rights, especially in Yasuní National Park in the Amazon.
How he would implement such policies while also fulfilling his neoliberal campaign promises is an open question. If Ecuador elects him, it risks a return to past policies that were historically hostile to indigenous rights, including a likely re-opening to multinational companies that have run roughshod over the environment and human rights, as exemplified by the notorious Chevron-Texaco case.
Moreno, for the most part, has been largely silent on these issues, and so Ecuadorians and observers are left to expect a continuation of Correa’s extractivist policies.
In the first round, most Amazonian provinces chose Lasso, in a clear rejection of Correa’s efforts to expand oil and mining projects on indigenous lands, his crackdown on indigenous rights that has seen several leaders jailed and persecuted, and a state of emergency that lasted 60 days in the ongoing conflict between the Shuar, the government, and the Chinese mining conglomerate Explorcobres.
Nationally, the polls for the run-off election currently show a statistical dead heat, with Moreno at 52.4% and Lasso at 47.6%, with a margin of error of 3.4% and roughly 16% of voters undecided. Moreno’s lead is surprising, given that first-round voting split the conservative vote among several candidates who were predicted to coalesce around Lasso for the run-off. Each side has accused the other of dirty tricks: Lasso has accused the governing party of using state-run media and coffers to support its campaign, and Alianza PAIS has promoted allegations made public last week that Lasso has suspicious investments in several offshore businesses and properties. Each side has warned of possible fraud and both predict widespread protests after Sunday’s vote.
Regardless of who wins, the response to the escalated social conflicts over extractive industry projects, rollback of indigenous rights, and criminalization of civil society protest will be an early and pressing challenge for the incoming administration. Further oil and mineral development will only make the country’s economy more vulnerable to fluctuations in the world oil market, whose recent crash has Ecuador reeling. This, combined with the country’s extreme wealth disparity, means that further income from oil alone will not solve the problems of poverty in Ecuador. The country must create a diverse economy that addresses wealth inequality in order to reduce poverty.
How the new president responds will serve as an indicator of whether Ecuador can transition to a post-petroleum economy, save what remains of its pristine rainforests, and respect the rights of its indigenous inhabitants, or whether it will continue to see the Amazon and the indigenous peoples there as solely a source of short-term financial gain.
As Domingo Peas, an Achuar leader, told me today, “No matter who wins, our agenda is the same: a platform based on indigenous rights, territorial protection and defense, and solutions that maintain our forests intact, keep the oil in the ground, and show the world how frontline indigenous peoples have been protecting the sacred for millennia.”
The future of Ecuador’s Amazon – one of the most ecologically and culturally important places on the planet – hangs in the balance.
Tags: amazon, amazon rainforest, climate change, Ecuador, ecuador oil, environment, fossil fuel, global warming, Rafael Correa, rainforest, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: Like all so-called leftist governments, with virtually no exceptions (Chile under Allende, and we saw what happened there), as stewards of the capitalist state they supposedly rule, it becomes expedient if not necessary, to move to the right, which means to accommodate the basic needs of capital. In the case of Correa’s Ecuador, the proposed destruction, ecological and cultural, of the rain-forest, is justified as an anti-poverty endeavor. In the face of falling oil prices, it is virtually a suicidal move (for the country, if not for the ruling elite). Exchanging US (IMF/World Bank) debt for Chinese debt will ensure the impoverization of the county in the long run. This while contributing to global warming and the possible of genocide of the self-imposed isolated indigenous tribes in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Last week, the Ecuadorian government announced that it had begun constructing the first of a planned 276 wells, ten drilling platforms, and multiple related pipelines and production facilities in the ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) oil field, known as Block 43, which overlaps Yasuní National Park in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. Coupled with the recent signing of two new oil concessions on the southern border of Yasuní and plans to launch another oil lease auction for additional blocks in the country’s southern Amazon in late 2016, the slated drilling frenzy is part of a larger, aggressive move for new oil exploration as the country faces daunting oil-backed loan payments to China, its largest creditor.
Yasuní National Park is widely considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. It has more species per hectare of trees, shrubs, insects, birds, amphibians, and mammals than anywhere else in the world. It was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989, and it is home to the Tagaeri-Taromenane, Ecuador’s last indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation.
The controversial drilling plans were met with protest at the headquarters of state-run Petroamazonas’ Quito office, the company charged with developing the field. Ecuador averaged a spill per week between 2000 and 2010, which doesn’t bode well for drilling in a national park.
Despite touting the new perforation, the government is on the defensive, trying to downplay impact on the park. It points to the fact that the well site, Tiputini C, is technically outside of Yasuní’s limits. But, as the first wildcat well of hundreds planned, the government’s rhetoric is misleading at best.
Correa also boldly claimed that drilling in the adjacent Block 31 concession was not inside the boundary of Yasuní National Park, which was followed by a press conference from Environmental Minister Daniel Ortega who reiterated that claim. But activists are crying foul.
“The government is lying,” said Patricio Chavez, a member of Yasunídos, a national collective dedicated to defend Yasuní National Park. “They have no idea what they’re talking about. We’re not sure whether they make these statements because they honestly don’t know their own country or they’re trying to intentionally confuse people.”
In fact, Block 31 is in the heart of Yasuní National Park, with the two oil fields clearly in the middle of the block. The Ministry of Hydrocarbons’ own map shows a pipeline extending to the Apaika field – in the middle of the block and the heart of the park.
Conveniently for the government, though, both Block 31 and Block 43 are highly militarized and entrance by the public is forbidden. But satellite images and investigative undercover missions into the area not only show oil activity underway but also the construction of illegal roads in violation of the environmental license.
But don’t be fooled. In fact, there are currently eight oil blocks that overlap Yasuní National Park, which calls into question the relevance of its “national park” status with so much drilling either underway or planned.
“The park and its indigenous peoples are under siege,” said Leo Cerda, a Kichwa youth leader and Amazon Watch Field Coordinator. “If this is how a national park is treated, imagine what drilling in an ‘unprotected’ area looks like.”
Expanding drilling activity in the park has left the nomadic Tagaeri-Taromenane virtually surrounded. Recent conflicts between the two clans and their Waorani relatives has led to several killings and other inter-ethnic violence. While there are different theories as to the roots of the confrontations, dwindling territory, scarce resources, noise from oil activity, and encroachment by outsiders are all likely factors. Regardless, so much pressure on the park and its inhabitants is having predictable and tragic consequences.
The drilling plans have been a flashpoint since 2013 when President Rafael Correa pulled the plug on the Yasuní-ITT initiative, a proposal to permanently keep the ITT fields – an estimated 920 million barrels of oil – in the ground in exchange for international contributions equaling half of Ecuador’s forfeited revenue.
The initiative failed to attract funds, in part because Annex I countries were unwilling to contribute to an untested supply-side proposal to keep fossil fuels in the ground instead of more traditional demand-side regulations and carbon offsets. Essentially, northern countries – the most responsible for climate change – were unwilling to cough up cash to protect one of the world’s most important places if they weren’t going to get anything in exchange.
Scientists now agree that we need to keep at least 80 percent of all fossil fuels in the ground to avoid a catastrophic 1.5℃ rise in global temperature, so Ecuador’s proposal was apparently ahead of its time. The world dropped the ball, but the blame for the initiative’s stillbirth is shared.
The Correa administration mismanaged the initiative from the outset. It took several years to establish a trust fund where people and governments could contribute. But more detrimental was the administration’s simultaneous tender of multiple oil blocks in the country’s southern Amazon. Why pay to keep oil in the ground in one place if the host country government merely opens up new areas to compensate for lost revenue? Correa’s have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too politics were not very convincing to potential donors.
Public outrage and protest met Correa’s unilateral decision to scrap the initiative. A six-month national mobilization to force a ballot initiative on drilling plans garnered over 700,000 signatures, far more than the required 400,000. But almost half were nullified by Ecuador National Election Council in a process littered with secrecy and fraud.
“When the Yasuní-ITT initiative was launched, the idea was that leaving the oil in the ground would help address environmental and economic problems on the local, national, and global level,” said Esperanza Martinez, President of Ecuador’s Accion Ecologica and founder of the Oilwatch network. “The abandonment of the initiative has come with an aggressive push on Yasuní – on its borders to the north, south, east, and west. But the decision to drill now comes at a time when the world is talking about breaking free of fossil fuel dependence and agreeing on targets to avoid the rise of global temperature.”
Martinez continued, “It makes no sense to drill now – at great biological and cultural risk – when economically Ecuador is losing money with each barrel extracted. There is no justification that drilling in Yasuní is in the economic interest of the country.”
Indeed, it costs Ecuador $39 to produce a barrel of oil. But current market price for its two types of crude are in the low $30s, so Ecuador is losing money on each barrel being pulled from the ground. And when the aboveground ecosystem is one of the most important in the world and drilling activities threaten the ethnocide of isolated peoples, drilling at a loss is bewildering. Of course, there is no price per barrel that would justify drilling in such an environmentally pristine and culturally sensitive area with the extinction of a people at risk.
A major factor in Ecuador’s drive to expand drilling in Yasuní and beyond, despite the current oil market context of abundant and cheap oil, is the country’s outstanding debt to China. According to a Boston University/Inter-American Dialogue Database, Ecuador has obtained 11 loans, totalling about $15.2 billion, much of which must be paid back with petroleum.
But the move into Yasuní coincides with an equally aggressive push to open new areas south of Yasuní in a large, roadless pristine swath of forest that extends out to the Peruvian border.
Two blocks, 79 and 83, were recently concessioned, and drilling deals were signed with Andes Petroleum, a Chinese state-run firm. Faced with adamant opposition from both the Sápara and Kichwa peoples whose legally-titled territory overlaps these oil blocks, the government has sought to divide the indigenous communities.
Speaking at an Inter-American Human Rights Commission hearing on Monday, Franco Viteri, President of CONFENAIE (Confederation of Amazonian Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador), described efforts of the government to divide the legitimate indigenous organizations with the aim of circumventing resistance to resource extraction and advancing Andes Petroleum’s drilling plans.
“The objective of the government is to create acceptance – or the appearance of acceptance – of resource extraction. That’s what the government wants because we are resisting resource extraction projects like oil and mining throughout the Amazon region.”
Manari Ushigua, President of the Sápara federation, whose territory is almost totally engulfed by Blocks 79 and 83, also addressed the government’s intentions.
“The goal of the Ecuadorian government is to divide us and open our land to oil extraction. We live in peace, with the natural world, with our spirits. But our elders are few. We are on the verge of extinction.”
The government has also announced plans to launch a new oil licensing round in late 2016 which would sell off several other oil blocks in Ecuador’s southern Amazon. However, the last auction, known as the 11th Round, was a widely recognized failure. Offering thirteen blocks, the government only received four bids, two of those from the same company – Andes. Clearly, the Chinese state-run firm wants to make sure that its sole shareholder, the Chinese government, gets paid back for its generous lending to Ecuador. And because the payments are in oil, it explains why Ecuador is forced to expand drilling, even if it’s at a loss. China can then turn around and sell the barrels of oil in the open market for a substantial profit.
Ecuador’s new oil boom is ill-timed. While several years ago the country was the vanguard of what is now a worldwide movement to #keepitintheground, Correa’s “Drill, baby, drill!” policies place its frontier forests and indigenous peoples at great risk. As I’ve written before, Ecuador’s pipe dream of prosperity from perforating wells like ITT have failed to pan out, instead trapping the country in a downward spiral of debt, dependency, and environmental destruction.
However, the movement to #keepitintheground in Ecuador is growing. Ecuador’s 11th Oil Round failed mostly because communities on the ground vowed resistance and indigenous leaders traveled to every oil expo at which the government sought to sell its Amazon oil blocks to the highest bidders – including Quito, Houston, Paris, and Calgary – and let any interested company or investor know that their lands were not for sale. Indigenous peoples across Ecuador’s Amazon have again vowed to keep the companies out and they are asking for our solidarity. Let’s join them!
Ecuadorian Victims’ Struggle for Justice Against Chevron October 16, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Ecuador, Energy, Environment, Human Rights.
Tags: bianca jagger, chevron, cofan, Ecuador, ecuador oil, ecuadorian amazon, environment, environmental devastation, environmental lawsuit, Huaorani, human rights, kichwa, lewis kaplan, oil spill, oil-contaminated water, roger hollander, secoya, siona, texaco, toxic waste
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And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ecosystemsin the Ecuadorian Amazon have been contaminated with by-products of oil extraction
Tomorrow, October 15, a landmark trial opens in federal court in New York City: Chevron Corp v. Steven Donziger et al., one of the world’s largest oil companies against the attorneys and advocates who represent the 30,000 “Lago Agrio Plaintiffs.” The case is the latest in a long and often tragic saga of the Ecuadorian victims struggle for justice.
I am writing this because I don’t want the real issue to be forgotten. The Ecuadorian communities are fighting for justice for the human rights violations and environmental crimes committed by Texaco between 1971 and 1992 in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon. Since 1993 these Ecuadorian victims have been seeking relief in the largest environmental lawsuit in Latin America to date.
In 2003 I visited the affected communities in the Ecuadorian provinces of Orellana and Succumbios, and I have long supported them in their quest for justice.
Bianca Jagger by an oil pit, Ecuador, 2003I am not writing as an apologist of the legal team, nor am I condoning their behavior — but I feel the need to speak up on behalf of the Ecuadorian victims who may now never get the justice they deserve. It’s critical that Judge Lewis Kaplan, the media, and the public at large don’t lose sight of the real issue.
The original case against Texaco (now Chevron) has been well documented.
Between 1971 and 1992, Texaco embarked upon reckless oil exploration, pumping 1.5 billion barrels of oil from Ecuador. Texaco carved more than 350 oil wells in a rainforest area roughly three times the size of Manhattan and dumped approximately 16.5 billion gallons of oil-contaminated water into unlined pits — one and a half times the amount spilled by the oil tanker Exxon Valdez. When Texaco left Ecuador in 1992, it left behind 916 unlined open toxic waste pits, some just a few feet from the homes of residents. Leeching of highly toxic wastewater byproducts of oil extraction from these pits contaminated the entire groundwater and ecosystem in one of the world’s most valuable rainforests. As there is no running water in the region families, including thousands of children, have no alternative but to drink, bathe, and cook with poisoned water from streams, rivers, lagoons and swamps that have been contaminated by Texaco.
U.S. states have laws requiring that pits have impermeable liners. Louisiana and Texas, two major oil-producing states, passed such laws in the 1930s. Texaco must have been aware of the dire consequences of leaving unlined pits exposed — they made a calculated decision, based on profit. The company saved an estimated $3 per barrel of oil produced by handling its toxic waste in Ecuador in ways that were unthinkable and illegal in the US. The cost to the human population is immeasurable. Ecosystems have been destroyed, diseases have proliferated, crops have been damaged, farm animals killed.
During my visits to the affected communities in 2003, I was appalled at the evidence of the consequences of direct exposure to these toxic waters. The suffering and environmental devastation I witnessed is not a fabrication, or a fiction. There is a toxic legacy left by Texaco for present and future generations.
In May 1995, three years after Texaco left Ecuador, the Republic of Ecuador and Texaco reached a settlement regarding Texaco’s obligations to clean up a percentage of the well sites roughly corresponding to its percentage ownership in the consortium that made money from the drilling. Ecuador’s state-owned oil company, PetroEcuador, was the 62.5 percent majority owner of that consortium from 1976 to 1992, so Texaco was required to clean up only a minority of the well sites. The settlement would later form part of Chevron’s claims that the case had been settled. It did not, however, extinguish the claims of individual third parties, or affect the rights of the communities affected by Texaco’s actions. Certainly the “clean up” undertaken by Texaco was limited and has made no material difference to the lives of the Ecuadorian communities.
Ecosystems contaminated by Texaco’s activities in Ecuador.
The Texaco disaster culminated in the largest environmental lawsuit in Latin America to date; brought by 30,000 plaintiffs from the Ecuadorean Amazon. They filed a billion dollar class action against Texaco in New York. Texaco moved to dismiss the U.S. lawsuit on forum non conveniens grounds. In 2002 the court granted Texaco’s motion, and the case moved to Ecuador on the condition that the company stop using an expiration of the statute of limitations as a defence and that any judgment be enforceable in the U.S. Among the plaintiffs are five indigenous tribes, the Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa and Huaorani.
The Ecuadorian Amazon in the wake of Texaco.
Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001. Unlike the Exxon Valdez and the Deepwater Horizon accidents, where Exxon and BP, respectively, took some responsibility for their negligence, Chevron has successfully managed to move the case outside of the U.S. because it provided them with two options: to rig the judicial system in a foreign country, or to dodge its responsibility by not recognizing the validity of the verdict if it was not in their favor.
In February 2011, Judge Nicolas Zambrano issued a final verdict, ordering Chevron to pay $18.5 billion to the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. But as Chevron has no holdings in Ecuador, the plaintiffs have been unable to collect that judgement.
Chevron has paid more than $400 million to an army of lawyers to help the company avoid payment and spent over $100 million in lobbying firms to influence U.S. lawmakers and government officials to affect Ecuador’s trade with the U.S., and to discredit Ecuador, its government and legal system. Chevron has even been lobbying Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative not to renew Ecuador’s Most Favored Nation status, which expired on July 31, 2013.
Even prior to the 2011 Ecuadoran ruling, the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, representing Chevron, was shifting the case physically, from Ecuador to New York, from pollution and human rights to attorney ethics.
Gibson Dunn won U.S. court orders forcing the makers of the feature documentary CRUDE to turn over 600 hours of raw footage on the Ecuadorean case in 2010. This footage apparently shows an attorney for the Ecuadorian communities, recounting how he has put pressure on Ecuadorian judges. Now Chevron has accused the attorney of fraud and racketeering — of attempting to obtain the settlement for his own personal benefit, and brought the civil lawsuit against the trial lawyers and consultants for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.
Chevron brought three collateral actions against the Ecuador judgment in a New York federal court, all overseen by Judge Lewis Kaplan, who has a puzzling attitude toward the case. The Ecuadorians asked that Judge Kaplan be recused from the case in 2011. In their writ of Mandamus the Ecuadorians expressed their concern at the Judge’s language — referring to them as the “so-called Lago Agrio plaintiffs,” and in one written order, describes them as “a number of indigenous peoples said to reside in the Amazon rainforest.”
On Jan. 26, 2012, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Judge Kaplan previously overstepped his authority when he tried to ban enforcement around the world of the $18.5 billion judgement against Chevron Inc. for environmental damage in Ecuador. But Chevron has retaliated.
Which brings us back to the suit that begins tomorrow, October 15, in a federal district court in New York, once again before Judge Kaplan. In order to avoid a trial by jury Chevron has dropped their claims for damages against the defendants. There is a massive imbalance of power and resources between the two sides. Unlike Chevron, the defense has scant resources — as demonstrated by this motion by Julio Gomez, which asks that the trial schedule reflect the fact that
My firm has no funds to hire an associate, a paralegal or even an assistant to help me through trial given the fact that I have insufficient funds to cover outstanding bills – much less fees going into trial. I have not even been able to contract the two assistants who aided me temporarily with the filing of Defendants’ draft pre-trial submissions in August.
Chevron has also subpoenaed nine years’ worth of email metadata — from September 2003 to 2012 — from 101 email accounts belonging to people with connections to the case. Data requested includes names, time stamps, and detailed location data and login info. Judge Kaplan granted this subpoena in September 2013. According to Mother Jones, this strays dangerously close to violation of First Amendment rights.
The Republic of Ecuador is also seeking leave to intervene to protect the confidentiality of privileged documents which appear to have made their way into Chevron’s suit without explanation.
The case of the Ecuadorians is being lost in a legal labyrinth. Avenues of legal recourse are being closed off, so that the victims have nowhere to turn.
The $18.5 billion judgement in favor of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs should have been historic, a landmark, a precedent for ending impunity for powerful multinational corporations in the developing world and achieving justice. It was a beacon of hope. But after 20 years of long, hard battle, I am beginning to have serious doubts as to whether the victims in Ecuador will ever be compensated.
The Ecuadorian communities were the victims of exploitation by a multinational corporation, Texaco. Their lives, and that of their children, are affected by the toxic waters that leaked into water sources on which they are dependent. This is the real issue, and it is a story that is all too common throughout the developing world. With their legal team on trial, who will pursue justice for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs now?
I appeal to Judge Kaplan, to the media, and to the public at large — please don’t forget what is at stake here. Don’t let this legal imbroglio eclipse the issues which are really at the heart of this case: human rights, justice and environmental protection.
Indigenous Ecuadorian Village Battles Oil Giant—and Army January 14, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations.
Tags: amazon watch, Ecuador, ecuador indigenous, ecuador oil, Ecuador petroleum, environment, fossil fuels, petroamazonas, petroecuador, rainforest, roger hollander
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‘We may die fighting to defend the rainforest’
An indigenous community in the Ecuadorian rainforest says they “will die fighting to protect the rainforest” after they say they were swindled by an oil company into signing away rights to 70,000 hectares of one of the most biodiverse areas in the world.
An Amazonian species of dragonflies with iridescent wings is among the species found in Yasuni national park in Ecuador, the most biodiverse region on Earth, under siege by the state-backed Petroamazonas oil company. (Photograph: Kelly Swing/Estacion Tiputini Colegio de Ciencias Biológicas y Ambientales/Universidad San Francisco de Quito)
But the state-backed oil company, PetroAmazonas—backed by the Ecuadorean army—plans to begin prospecting the Kichwa village on the Napo River on Tuesday, The Guardian reports.
PetroAmazonas, one of the biggest oil companies in South America, originally offered the village a new school, university places for village children and better healthcare, but dropped those provisions before the chief of the village signed away the rights to the land for $40 per hectare.
But the community secretary, Klider Gualinga, said 80 percent of the village opposes the deal, which he says has not yet been finalized. He told The Guardian, “People think it is dishonest and the oil company is treating them like dogs. … They’re very upset and worried. We have decided to fight to the end. Each landholder will defend their territory. We will help each other and stand shoulder to shoulder to prevent anyone from passing.”
“If there is a physical fight, it is certain to end tragically,” Shaman Patricio Jipa said. “We may die fighting to defend the rainforest.”
It makes me feel sad and angry. Sad because we are indigenous people and not fully prepared to fight a government. And angry because we grew up to be warriors and have a spirit to defend ourselves. I wish we could use this force to fight in a new way, but our mental strength is not sufficient in this modern world.
There is huge concern the oil company will move quickly to clear the land. When that happened elsewhere, they used armed troops, beatings and abductions to remove those who stood in their way.
Jipa and his wife, Mari Muench, a British businesswoman, are fighting the plan.
Scientists say a single hectare in this part of the Amazon contains a wider variety of life than all of North America. The Amazon rainforest and other tropical forests are also among the earth’s best defenses against climate change, absorbing some 20 percent of carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels.
“Protecting the Amazon basin, which contains the largest tropical rainforest on the planet, is critical to our planet’s climate stability,” according to Amazon Watch.
The Uprising in the Amazon Is More Urgent Than Iran’s: It Will Determine the Future of the Planet June 23, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, First Nations, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: alan garcia, amazon ecology, amazon ecosystem, amazon environment, amazon indigenous, amazon massacre, amazon oil, amazon rainforest, APRA, chevron amazon, ecuador oil, ecuadorian amazon, Free Trade, indigenous rights, johann hari, occidental petroleum, peru free trade, peru government, peru massacre, peru protest, Rafael Correa, roger hollander, texaco amazon
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Columnist, London Independent
While the world nervously watches the uprising in Iran, an even more important uprising has been passing unnoticed — yet its outcome will shape your fate, and mine.
In the depths of the Amazon rainforest, the poorest people in the world have taken on the richest people in the world to defend a part of the ecosystem none of us can live without. They had nothing but wooden spears and moral force to defeat the oil companies — and, for today, they have won.
Here’s the story of how it happened — and how we all need to pick up this fight.
Earlier this year, Peru’s President, Alan Garcia, sold the rights to explore, log and drill 70 percent of his country’s swathe of the Amazon to a slew of international oil companies. Garcia seems to see rainforest as a waste of good resources, saying of the Amazon’s trees: “There are millions of hectares of timber there lying idle.”
There was only one pesky flaw in Garcia’s plan: the indigenous people who live in the Amazon. They are the first people of the Americas, subject to wave after wave of genocide since the arrival of the Conquistadors. They are weak. They have no guns. They barely have electricity. The government didn’t bother to consult them: what are a bunch of Indians going to do anyway?
But the indigenous people have seen what has happened elsewhere in the Amazon when the oil companies arrive. Occidental Petroleum are currently facing charges in US courts of dumping an estimated nine billion barrels of toxic waste in the regions of the Amazon where they operated from 1972 to 2000. Andres Sandi Mucushua, the spiritual leader of the area known to the oil companies as Block 1AB, said in 2007: “My people are sick and dying because of Oxy. The water in our streams is not fit to drink and we can no longer eat the fish in our rivers or the animals in our forests.” The company denies liability, saying they are “aware of no credible data of negative community health impacts”.
In the Ecuadorian Amazon, according to an independent report, toxic waste allegedly dumped after Chevron-Texaco’s drilling has been blamed by an independent scientific investigation for 1,401 deaths, mostly of children from cancer. When the BBC investigator Greg Palast put these charges to Chevron’s lawyer, he replied: “And it’s the only case of cancer in the world? How many cases of children with cancer do you have in the States?… They have to prove it’s our crude, [which] is absolutely impossible.”
The people of the Amazon do not want to see their forests felled and their lands poisoned. And here, the need of the indigenous peoples to preserve their habitat has collided with your need to preserve your habitat. The rainforests inhale massive amounts of warming gases and keep them stored away from the atmosphere. Already, we are chopping them down so fast that it is causing 25 percent of man-made carbon emissions every year — more than planes, trains and automobiles combined. But it is doubly destructive to cut them down to get to fossil fuels, which then cook the planet yet more. Garcia’s plan was to turn the Amazon from the planet’s air con into its fireplace.
Why is he doing this? He was responding to intense pressure from the US, whose new Free Trade Pact requires this “opening up”, and from the International Monetary Fund, paid for by our taxes. In Peru, it has also been alleged that the ruling party, APRA, is motivated by oil-bribes. Some of Garcia’s associates have been caught on tape talking about how to sell off the Amazon to their cronies. The head of the parliamentary committee investigating the affair, Rep. Daniel Abugattas, says: “The government has been giving away our natural resources to the lowest bidders. This has not benefited Peru, but the administration’s friends.”
So the indigenous peoples acted in their own self-defense, and ours. Using their own bodies and weapons made from wood, they blockaded the rivers and roads to stop the oil companies getting anything in or out. They captured two valves of Peru’s sole pipeline between the country’s gas field and the coast, which could have led to fuel rationing. Their leaders issued a statement explaining: “We will fight together with our parents and children to take care of the forest, to save the life of the equator and the entire world.”
Garcia responded by sending in the military. He declared a “state of emergency” in the Amazon, suspending almost all constitutional rights. Army helicopters opened fire on the protesters with live ammunition and stun-grenades. Over a dozen protesters were killed. But the indigenous peoples did not run away. Even though they were risking their lives, they stood their ground. One of their leaders, Davi Yanomami, said simply: “The earth has no price. It cannot be bought, or sold or exchanged. It is very important that white people, black people and indigenous peoples fight together to save the life of the forest and the earth. If we don’t fight together what will our future be?”
And then something extraordinary happened. The indigenous peoples won. The Peruvian Congress repealed the laws that allowed oil company drilling, by a margin of 82 votes to 12. Garcia was forced to apologize for his “serious errors and exaggerations”. The protesters have celebrated and returned to their homes deep in the Amazon.
Of course, the oil companies will regroup and return — but this is an inspirational victory for the forces of sanity that will be hard to reverse.
Human beings need to make far more decisions like this: to leave fossil fuels in the ground, and to leave rainforests standing. In microcosm, this rumble in the jungle is the fight we all face now. Will we allow a small number of rich people to make a short-term profit from seizing and burning resources, at the expense of our collective ability to survive?
If this sounds like hyperbole, listen to Professor Jim Hansen, the world’s leading climatologist, whose predictions have consistently turned out to be correct. He says: “Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. We would set the planet on a course to the ice-free state, with a sea level 75 meters higher. Coastal disasters would occur continually. The only uncertainty is the time it would take for complete ice sheet disintegration.”
Of course, fossil fools will argue that the only alternative to burning up our remaining oil and gas supplies is for us all to live like the indigenous peoples in the Amazon. But next door to Peru, you can see a very different, environmentally sane model to lift up the poor emerging — if only we will grasp it.
Ecuador is a poor country with large oil resources underneath its rainforests — but its president, Rafael Correa, is offering us the opposite of Garcia’s plan. He has announced he is willing to leave his country’s largest oil reserve, the Ishpingo Tmabococha Tiputini field, under the soil, if the rest of the world will match the $9.2bn in revenues it would provide.
If we don’t start reaching for these alternatives, we will render this month’s victory in the Amazon meaningless. The Hadley Center in Britain, one of the most sophisticated scientific centers for studying the impacts of global warming, has warned that if we carry on belching out greenhouse gases at the current rate, the humid Amazon will dry up and burn down — and soon.
The Amazonian rainforest is likely to suffer catastrophic damage even with the lowest temperature rises forecast under climate change. Up to 40 percent of the rainforest will be lost if temperature rises are restricted to 2C, which most climatologists regard as the least that can be expected by 2050. A 3C rise is likely to result in 75 percent of the forest disappearing while a 4C rise, regarded as the most likely increase this century unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed, will kill off 85 perfect of the forest.
That would send gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere — making the world even more inhabitable.
There is something thrilling about the fight in the Amazon, yet also something shaming. These people had nothing, but they stood up to the oil companies. We have everything, yet too many of us sit limp and passive, filling up our tanks with stolen oil without a thought for tomorrow. The people of the Amazon have shown they are up for the fight to save our ecosystem. Are we?
You can email him at johann -at- johannhari.com
Chevron, Shell and the True Cost of Oil May 27, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Environment, Human Rights, Nigeria.
Tags: Amnesty International, amy goodman, burma, chevron, Condoleezza Rice, denis moynihan, ecuador oil, environment, human rights, james jones, jeremy scahill, ken saro wiwa, myanmar, niger delta, nigeria oil, nigerian dictatorship, nigerian military, ogoni, oil contamination, oporoza, roger hollander, san suu kyi, shell, waterboarding, william haynes
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The economy is a shambles, unemployment is soaring, the auto industry is collapsing. But profits are higher than ever at oil companies Chevron and Shell. Yet across the globe, from the Ecuadorian jungle, to the Niger Delta in Nigeria, to the courtrooms and streets of New York and San Ramon, Calif., people are fighting back against the world’s oil giants.
Shell and Chevron are in the spotlight this week, with shareholder meetings and a historic trial being held.
On May 13, the Nigerian military launched an assault on villages in that nation’s oil-rich Niger Delta. Hundreds of civilians are feared killed in the attack. According to Amnesty International, a celebration in the delta village of Oporoza was attacked. An eyewitness told the organization: “I heard the sound of aircraft; I saw two military helicopters, shooting at the houses, at the palace, shooting at us. We had to run for safety into the forest. In the bush, I heard adults crying, so many mothers could not find their children; everybody ran for their life.”
Shell is facing a lawsuit in U.S. federal court, Wiwa v. Shell, based on Shell’s alleged collaboration with the Nigerian dictatorship in the 1990s in the violent suppression of the grass-roots movement of the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta. Shell exploits the oil riches there, causing displacement, pollution and deforestation. The suit also alleges that Shell helped suppress the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and its charismatic leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa had been the writer of the most famous soap opera in Nigeria, but decided to throw his lot in with the Ogoni, whose land near the Niger Delta was crisscrossed with pipelines. The children of Ogoniland did not know a dark night, living beneath the flame-apartment-building-size gas flares that burned day and night, and that are illegal in the U.S.
I interviewed Saro-Wiwa in 1994. He told me: “The oil companies like military dictatorships, because basically they can cheat with these dictatorships. The dictatorships are brutal to people, and they can deny the human rights of individuals and of communities quite easily, without compunction.” He added, “I am a marked man.” Saro-Wiwa returned to Nigeria and was arrested by the military junta. On Nov. 10, 1995, after a kangaroo show trial, Saro-Wiwa was hanged with eight other Ogoni activists.
In 1998, I traveled to the Niger Delta with journalist Jeremy Scahill. A Chevron executive there told us that Chevron flew troops from Nigeria’s notorious mobile police, the “kill ‘n’ go,” in a Chevron company helicopter to an oil barge that had been occupied by nonviolent protesters. Two protesters were killed, and many more were arrested and tortured.
Oronto Douglas, one of Saro-Wiwa’s lawyers, told us: “It is very clear that Chevron, just like Shell, uses the military to protect its oil activities. They drill and they kill.”
Chevron is the second-largest stakeholder (after French oil company Total) of the Yadana natural gas field and pipeline project, based in Burma (which the military junta renamed Myanmar). The pipeline provides the single largest source of income to the military junta, amounting to close to $1 billion in 2007. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, popularly elected the leader of Burma in 1990, has been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years, and is standing trial again this week. [On Tuesday the government said it had ended the house arrest of Suu Kyi, but she remains in detention pending the outcome of the trial.] The U.S. government has barred U.S. companies from investing in Burma since 1997, but Chevron has a waiver, inherited when it acquired the oil company Unocal.
Chevron’s litany of similar abuses, from the Philippines to Kazakhstan, Chad-Cameroon, Iraq, Ecuador and Angola and across the U.S. and Canada, is detailed in an “alternative annual report” prepared by a consortium of nongovernmental organizations and is being distributed to Chevron shareholders at this week’s annual meeting, and to the public at TrueCostofChevron.com.
Chevron is being investigated by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo about whether the company was “accurate and complete” in describing potential legal liabilities. It enjoys, though, a long tradition of hiring politically powerful people. Condoleezza Rice was a longtime director of the company (there was even a supertanker named after her), and the recently hired general counsel is none other than disgraced Pentagon lawyer William J. Haynes, who advocated for “harsh interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding. Gen. James L. Jones, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, sat on the Chevron board of directors for most of 2008, until he received his high-level White House appointment.
Saro-Wiwa said before he died, “We are going to demand our rights peacefully, nonviolently, and we shall win.” A global grass-roots movement is growing to do just that.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
© 2009 Amy Goodman
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 700 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
In Ecuador, Resentment of an Oil Company Oozes May 15, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment.
Tags: amazon contamination, amazon rainforest, chevron, clifford krauss, Ecuador, ecuador oil, ecuador oil exploration, environment, environment contamination, environmental cleanup, juan nunez, lago agrio, oil contamination, oil waste, petroecuador, Rafael Correa, roger hollander, simon romero, texaco
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SHUSHUFINDI, Ecuador – Mention to Anita Ruíz the name of the giant oil company Chevron, and she trembles with rage. At her wooden hut here in the Amazon forest, where oil-project flares illuminate the night sky, she points to a portrait of her youngest son, who died seven years ago of leukemia at age 16.
“We believe the American oilmen created the pollution that killed my son,” said Ms. Ruíz, 58, who lives in a clearing where Texaco, the American oil company that Chevron acquired in 2001, once poured oil waste into pits used decades ago for drilling wells.
Texaco’s roughnecks are long gone, but black gunk from the pits seeps to the topsoil here and in dozens of other spots in Ecuador’s northeastern jungle. These days the only Chevron employees who visit the former oil fields, in a region where resentment against the company runs high, do so escorted by bodyguards toting guns.
They represent one side in a bitter fight that is developing into the world’s largest environmental lawsuit, with $27 billion in potential damages.
Chevron is preparing for a ruling by a lone judge in a tiny courtroom on the top floor of a shopping center in Lago Agrio, a town rife with slums that Texaco founded in the 1960s as its base camp in the Amazon.
Chevron faces claims for an era when oil companies were less purposeful about protecting the environment than they are today. It also faces potentially huge damages in a country where American corporations once wielded strong influence but are now treated with discourtesy, if not contempt.
The sympathies of the judge, a former military officer named Juan Nuñez, are not hard to discern, and he appears likely to rule against Chevron this year. “This is a fight between a Goliath and people who cannot even pay their bills,” Mr. Nuñez, 57, said in an interview in his office, where more than 100,000 pages of evidence were stacked to the ceiling.
But his ruling is not likely to end the case. Already, the dispute is the subject of intense lobbying in Washington, which could apply pressure to Ecuador on Chevron’s behalf. If the company loses, it is ready to pursue appeals in Ecuador and, if necessary, to seek international arbitration.
Texaco laid down stakes here in the 1960s, and began producing oil in the early 1970s when Ecuador was still under military rule. Before the oil began to flow, the region was inhabited by forest tribes, including the Cofán and the Siona-Secoya.
Political tension permeated Texaco’s presence in Ecuador much of the time it operated here in a partnership with the government, and by the time it was prepared to leave, in the early 1990s, a cleanup of its operations was needed.
So Texaco reached a $40 million agreement with Ecuador to clean a portion of the well sites and waste pits in its concession area, absolving it of future liability. But that cleanup, carried out in the 1990s, was far from the bookend Texaco hoped to achieve.
Instead, villagers in Ecuador became convinced they were getting sick from the pollution left behind. They filed suit in 1993 in the United States, and later claimed that their grievances were not covered by Texaco’s settlement agreement.
As the case snaked its way through American courts, Ecuador seemed to fall to pieces, going through 10 presidents in a decade by 2006. The American lawsuit was eventually thrown out, on grounds the case should not be tried in the United States, and the plaintiffs reformulated it and filed it here.
Today, Chevron has absorbed Texaco, and Ecuador has gone through a metamorphosis under the leftist President Rafael Correa. He has repeatedly sided with the plaintiffs, calling Chevron’s Ecuadorean past “a crime against humanity.”
Such sentiment holds strong appeal to those who claim that people here, like Ms. Ruíz’s 16-year-old son, are dying from the pollution that Texaco spawned. Citing scientific studies, the plaintiffs claim that toxic chemicals from Texaco’s waste pits, including benzene, which is known to induce leukemia, have leached for decades into soil, groundwater and streams. A report last year by Richard Cabrera, a geologist and court-appointed expert, estimated that 1,400 people in this jungle region – perhaps more – had died of cancer because of oil contamination.
Chevron rejected the claims, contending that Mr. Cabrera had no medical evidence to back up his conclusion that the company should pay $2.9 billion just to compensate for excess cancer deaths.
The lawsuit here focuses more on environmental cleanup than cancer deaths, but the issue remains hotly disputed, particularly after a judge in California dismissed a separate claim against Chevron for cancer deaths in 2007, finding that false claims had been put forth by the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Cristobal Bonifaz, who was instrumental in starting the fight against Texaco in the 1990s but is no longer involved in the suit.
Nearly every other detail in the case is disputed as well, save one: Chevron and the plaintiffs agree that the expansion of oil exploration in northeastern Ecuador spoiled what had once been a pristine jungle.
More than four decades later, evidence of the contamination is unavoidable at well sites near Lago Agrio and other towns in the region.
Some pools of waste dug by Texaco combining noxious drilling mud and crude oil still lie exposed under the sun, seeping into nearby water systems.
Other pits, ostensibly cleaned up by Texaco after the company handed over operations to the national oil company, Petroecuador, have varying amounts of pollutants near the surface, leading to clashes among scientists for the two sides about the exact levels and their health implications. Petroecuador has a poor environmental record of its own and faces criticism for at least 800 oil spills since 1990.
In what may be the most contentious part of the legal battle, Chevron argues that it cannot be held responsible for damage done by Petroecuador after it took over the site, or by the Ecuadorean government’s broader project to colonize its jungle frontier, which brought more than 40,000 settlers to the region by the 1970s using roads that Texaco built.
The plaintiffs claim Chevron must be held responsible for the damage where Texaco once operated, up to the present, claiming the systems put in place by Texaco allowed Petroecuador to go on polluting. If Chevron has a problem with that, said Steven Donziger, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, then it should sue Petroecuador.
“The damage caused by Texaco is still causing harm more than 18 years after Texaco ceased operating, and will continue to do so for centuries until it is cleaned up,” Mr. Donziger said.
Despite the potential size of the damages, Chevron insists its solvency is not at stake. But the legal battle is denting the company’s environmental image. Ecuador’s attorney general last year indicted two of Chevron’s lawyers, accusing them of fraudulently conspiring to prove that Texaco had cleaned up waste pits.
That maneuver infuriated Chevron. “In politicizing and corrupting the case as much as they have done, they are signing on to 10 or 20 years more of litigation,” said Silvia Garrigo, a lawyer who is Chevron’s manager of global issues and policy. “Any enforcement action is going to be met with a challenge by us.”
Chevron has fought back with trade lawyers and lobbyists, using highly paid talent like the former United States trade representative Mickey Kantor, and the former Clinton White House chief of staff Mack McLarty to push the Obama administration to strip Ecuador of trade preferences, on the grounds that it broke its agreement to absolve the oil company of liability.
“I can’t warrant what Texaco did 42 years ago or 40 years ago or 35 years ago,” Mr. Kantor said. “All I know is they spent $40 million to clean it up. They were given a release signed by the government of Ecuador and Petroecuador.”
The lobbying effort in Washington appears to be an effort to pressure Ecuador to come to the table and work out a deal. “We want to resolve this in a reasonable fashion,” Mr. Kantor said.
Texaco may be gone, but the destiny of people near Lago Agrio is still intertwined with that of the United States, and anger simmers here. Those who claim to have suffered the greatest harm face years of delay, at best, before any payout. Some may not live to see the case resolved.
José Guamán, 62, acknowledges that possibility. He lives near a well once operated by Texaco. Guiding a visitor around his property, he pointed to a covered waste pit where his late wife, María, once fell and emerged covered in black ooze. She died at 45, leaving behind their two children. Mr. Guamán said he did not know what had caused her death.
“But if I know one thing, it is that petroleum curses anyone who touches it,” Mr. Guamán said. “If that applies to us, then it should apply to the Americans as well.”
Simon Romero reported from Shushufindi, Ecuador, and Clifford Krauss from Houston.
Chevron’s Environmental Disaster in Ecuador May 9, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment.
Tags: 60 minutes, amazon contamination, amazon watch, chevron, contaminated water, Ecuador, ecuador chevron, ecuador environment, ecuador oil, ecuador oil spill, ecuador rainforest, ecuador toxic waste, environmenal disaster, environment, oil spill, paul paz y mino, roger hollander, texaco, texaco contamination
Published on Saturday, May 9, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
I grew up with family tales about the unique beauty of Ecuador. My father’s family made their living on tourism in the Andes, the Galapagos, and the Amazon. Sadly, what was to us a mysterious and majestic example of the wonder of creation was merely a dumping ground to Texaco. They chose to discard 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the pristine rainforest, poisoning its people.
Texaco left Ecuador in 1992, not long after I finished college, and in their wake was left the worst oil related disaster on the planet. That damage is still there today. Mere weeks ago I stood in front of a toxic waste pit, decades old and yet only a few feet from the home of a family of campesinos. Told the area was cleaned and safe, they bought the land and built their home there. Families like that one have lost more than Chevron, or anyone else, can ever repay.
I found it impossible to witness such a horrific site in contrast to the beauty of the rainforest and not be changed. As much as the smell turns my stomach so does the knowledge that Texaco admitted to dumping it, yet refuses to accept responsibility.
Of course, the affected communities are demanding justice from the company that caused the damage. It’s actually a very simple case. There’s a massive murder weapon, 30,000 victims and a motive — profit.
Some Texaco executive, who most likely never set foot in the Amazon, nor ever met any of the indigenous people whose territory Texaco invaded with helicopters and massive machinery, made the cold calculation that saving $3 per barrel was worth the destruction of this part of the rainforest. It still gives me chills to read the 1972 memo from Texaco describing their policy of hiding spills and destroying records.
In fact, every decision that has been made from the very first one to drill has been made to choose profit over people and the environment. Decisions that took only the shortest-term impacts into consideration, yet decisions that would wreak havoc on the world’s oldest and largest forest. The toxic waste pits sit there, apparently stagnant, but all the while leaching toxins into the rivers and streams of the Amazon.
Meanwhile, Chevron’s decisions to try to cover up its liability continue unchanged, knowing all the while that the resulting inaction means the continued poisoning of entire communities.
The 60 Minutes story that aired this past Sunday has ripped another layer off of Chevron’s attempts to bury and ignore this story, like the truly festering wound that it is. The resulting publicity has wiped out much of Chevron’s efforts to deceive the financial markets and the general public. I listened to a recent Chevron shareholder call and one of the very first analyst’s questions was about the case, it was prefaced with “I know you are not going to be happy about this next question…” Have you seen the internet traffic since Sunday? Chevron is really unhappy this week.
Watching Chevron’s strategy in the face of the overwhelming facts and growing awareness is as uncomfortable as watching Chevron spokesperson Sylvia Garrigo compare drinking contaminated water with wearing makeup (a tip for Ms. Garrigo: your cosmetics may very well be harming you, please visit www.safecosmetics.org to learn more). Yet Chevron’s executives continue to deny and delay. Time is running out for them and the lies they hide behind (to read Chevron’s top ten lies about this case look here). They are learning the hard way that hiding a potential $27 billion dollar liability is just as impossible as hiding 18 billion gallons of toxic waste.
The ease at which Chevron’s CEO David O’Reilly (who also happens to be the Chair of the Board) has apparently kept his board in the dark is amazing. Yet, last year that plan came crashing down around him like Bernie Madoff’s scheme when O’Reilly was force to disclose to shareholders that it faced a potential liability in the billions in Ecuador.
How does the board of directors miss the hypocrisy of Chevron’s “Will You Join Us” ad campaign, asking others to join THEM in making sound environmental and energy efficient choices, while their CEO refuses to seek a real solution to this quagmire? I suppose that is to be expected from a company which bought Texaco without even demanding a master list of all its toxic dump sites in Ecuador (as we learned courtesy of 60 Minutes).
In this economic climate, Chevron’s board must realize that they can on longer afford to operate with such poor governance. Their wound is bleeding even more deeply into the social consciousness and Chevron is becoming the poster child for lack of corporate accountability. Today, even the Attorney General of the State of New York is asking tough questions of Chevron.
As my own son grows up I will share with him the same stories of the sacred and timeless beauty of the Amazon. I am confident he will learn from a young age the lesson with which Chevron still grapples. One can only hide from their mistakes for so long, each day you delay facing up to them brings with it a heavier cost, so don’t wait until you find that the whole world is at your doorstep demanding justice.
Paul Paz y Miño is the Managing Director of Amazon Watch which works to defend the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin.