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Chevron Whistleblower Leaks ‘Smoking Gun’ in Case of Ecuadorian Oil Spill April 9, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Ecuador, Environment, Imperialism, Latin America, Whistle-blowing.
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Roger’s note: who is more likely to face legal consequences: Chevron or the whistleblower?  And how does this relate to our capitalist political/economic reality where the distinction between corporate wealth and government becomes smaller by the day?

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Videos sent to Amazon Watch described as ‘a true treasure trove of Chevron misdeeds and corporate malfeasance’

‘The videos are a true treasure trove of Chevron misdeeds and corporate malfeasance,’ said Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch. ‘And, ironically, Chevron itself proved their authenticity.’ (Screenshot from The Chevron Tapes)

In what is being described as “smoking gun evidence” of Chevron’s complete guilt and corruption in the case of an oil spill in the Ecuadorian Amazon, internal videos leaked to an environmental watchdog show company technicians finding and then mocking the extensive oil contamination in areas that the oil giant told courts had been restored.

A Chevron whistleblower reportedly sent “dozens of DVDs” to U.S.-based Amazon Watch with a handwritten note stating: “I hope this is useful for you in your trial against Texaco/Chevron. [signed] A Friend from Chevron.”

The videos were all titled “pre-inspection” with dates and places of the former oil production sites where judicially-supervised inspections were set to take place. The footage was recorded by Chevron during an earlier visit to the site to determine where clean samples could be taken.

According to Amazon Watch’s description of the tapes:

Chevron employees and consultants can be heard joking about clearly visible pollution in soil samples being pulled out of the ground from waste pits that Chevron testified before both U.S. and Ecuadorian courts had been remediated in the mid-1990s.

In a March 2005 video, a Chevron employee, named Rene, taunts a company consultant, named Dave, at well site Shushufindi 21: “… you keep finding oil in places where it shouldn’t have been…. Nice job, Dave. Give you one simple task: Don’t find petroleum.”

In other videos, local villagers interviewed about the pollution recount how “that company” never actually cleaned the waste pits and instead covered them with dirt to try to hide the contamination.

“This is smoking gun evidence that shows Chevron hands are dirty—first for contaminating the region, and then for manipulating and hiding critical evidence,” said Paul Paz y Miño, Amazon Watch’s director of outreach.

In February 2011, an Ecuadorian court found the oil giant guilty and ordered Chevron to pay $8 billion in environmental damages, a ruling the company called “illegitimate” and vowed to fight. In 2014, a U.S. federal court judge sided with Chevron and threw out that ruling, arguing that it was obtained through “corrupt means.” On April 20, a federal appellate court in Manhattan will hear oral argument in the appeal of those charges.

“While its technicians were engaging in fraud in the field, Chevron’s management team was launching a campaign to demonize the Ecuadorians and their lawyers as a way to distract attention from the company’s reckless misconduct,” Paz y Miño added.

Chevron never turned over any of the secret videos to the Ecuador court conducting the trial. Nor did the company submit its pre-inspection sampling results to the court.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Amazon Watch Ecuador program coordinator Kevin Koenig explains how, after receiving the tapes, his organization turned them over to the legal team representing the affected Indigenous and farmer communities.

“The videos are a true treasure trove of Chevron misdeeds and corporate malfeasance,” he writes. “And, ironically, Chevron itself proved their authenticity.”

Koenig continues:

When the plaintiffs’ lawyers tried to use the videos in court to cross-examine a Chevron “scientist”, the company objected.

A letter sent by Chevron’s legal firm Gibson Dunn to counsel for the communities states, “These videos are Chevron’s property, and are confidential documents and/or protected litigation work product. Chevron demands that you provide detailed information about how your firm acquired these videos and your actions with respect to them… In addition to providing this information, Chevron demands that you promptly return the improperly obtained videos and all copies of them by sending them to my attention at the above address.”

Chevron is now free to view them on YouTube.

“These explosive videos confirm what the Ecuadorian Supreme Court has found after reviewing the evidence: that Chevron has lied for years about its pollution problem in Ecuador,” Koenig added.

Chevron has admitted to dumping nearly 16 billion gallons of toxic oil drilling wastewater into rivers and streams relied upon by thousands of people for drinking, bathing, and fishing. The company also abandoned hundreds of unlined, open waste pits filled with crude, sludge, and oil drilling chemicals throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon.

 

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Please vote for YASunidos October 7, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Latin America.
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YASunidos is an Ecuadorian youth movement which collected 750 000 signatures to prevent oil drilling in Yasuní national park in Ecuador.
They have been nominated for “The Human Rights Tulip” award, a prize worth €100 000.
This money could be used perfectly to further expand and deepen their campaign to save the Yasuní national park and protect the rights of the indigenous people whose existence is threatened by the oil exploitation.
Yasuní is a worldwide symbol – if we achieve to stop the oil exploitation in the Ecuadorian amazon, we are one step further towards saving the amazon, saving our climate, and creating a post-oil society in Ecuador and beyond.
Please vote and share this!
http://www.humanrightstulip.nl/candidates-and-voting/yasunidos

Ecuadorian Victims’ Struggle for Justice Against Chevron October 16, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Ecuador, Energy, Environment, Human Rights.
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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.
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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.

2013-10-15-ScreenShot20131015at8.59.51AM.pngBianca 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.

2013-10-15-ScreenShot20131015at9.00.08AM.pngEcosystems 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.

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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.

Bianca Jagger

Bianca Jagger is a prominent international human rights and climate change advocate. She is the Founder and Chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador, Member of the Executive Director’s Leadership Council of Amnesty International USA, Trustee of the Amazon Charitable Trust, and on the advisory board of the Creative Coalition. For over 30 years, Bianca Jagger has campaigned for human rights, social and economic justice and environmental protection throughout the world.

Chevron Pollutes, Here’s What the People Did Back September 16, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Energy, Environment.
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The oil giant is becoming notorious as shareholders, mayors, and indigenous people criticize its actions.

 

 

 

Bay area Summer Heat. Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood.

Marchers participate in a “Summer Heat” march in Richmond, Calif., on August 3. Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood / Survival Media / Flickr.

 

The heat is on for Chevron. The oil giant has for decades shirked responsibility for a multitude of toxic transgressions. Now, a diverse coalition of stakeholders burned by the oil giant’s dirty business is using people power to push back.

 

Last month, 3,000 protesters marched on Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, Calif., to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the explosion and toxic cloud that sent 15,000 residents to local hospitals with respiratory problems.

 

A lawsuit by Richmond’s mayor accuses Chevron officials of ignoring public safety concerns.

 

Seventy activist groups, as well as labor unions, nurses, and city residents, took to the front gates of the refinery, expressing outrage at Chevron for ignoring its own inspectors’ recommendations to replace the corroded steel piping and calling out the company for its continued refusal to make safety improvements.

 

Sunflowers in hand as symbols of soil detoxification, protesters like Doria Robinson of Urban Tilth, a local group that operates more than a dozen community gardens in Richmond, spoke about the devastating effects of the toxic plume on the local ecology.

 

“We had to tear out all of the food we were growing because we didn’t know if it was contaminated or not,” Robinson recalled. “It was absolutely devastating.”

 

A day earlier, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin announced that the city had filed a lawsuit against Chevron, listing 14 other toxic gas releases since 1989 and accusing officials of maximizing profits and executive pay while ignoring public safety concerns.

 

Putting additional pressure on one of the biggest extractors of fossil fuel in the world, 350.org brought its Summer Heat campaign to the rally. They also brought author and activist Bill McKibben, who addressed the crowd and encouraged civil disobedience. More than 200 activists were arrested—including a 90-year-old grandmother. The arrests stopped only when the police ran out of zip cuffs.

 

Summer Heat came on the heels of another recent rally at the company’s Annual General Meeting, where Chevron shareholders got an earful at corporate headquarters in San Ramon, Calif.

 

“Just how many shareholders wish to be dragged to hell by the company’s lawyers?”

 

Concerned with issues ranging from its response to the $19 billion environmental disaster in the Ecuadorian Amazon, to the company’s unprecedented election-related spending, to its refusal to invest in renewable energy, several hundred protesters gathered to urge Chevron to clean up its act.

 

Servio Curipoma, who lost both his parents to cancer caused by billions of gallons of toxic wastewater Chevron/Texaco illegally dumped in the Amazon rainforest, told his tragic story to shareholders and presented Chevron CEO John Watson with a large, symbolic “pink slip.” Watson’s pledge to fight the Ecuador judgment “until hell freezes over” elicited a strong response from Simon Billenness, representative of Investor Voice and Zevin Asset Management. “Just how many shareholders wish to be dragged to hell by the company’s lawyers? This shareholder certainly does not.”

 

Chevron’s possibly illegal contribution to a conservative SuperPac during the 2012 election, the largest single contribution by a publicly traded company in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, received a lot of attention. Public Citizen arrived with 26,000 petition signatures and Green Century Management filed a shareholder resolution calling on Chevron to stop spending on elections.

 

The corporation’s refusal to become a responsible twenty-first-century business has awoken a sleeping giant.

 

“It is concerning that Chevron’s board of directors insists on spending unprecedented and increasing amounts in the election process,” said Lucia von Reusner, shareholder advocate for sustainable investment firm Green Century. “Chevron is rolling the dice with its spending and the losers are our democracy and shareholders.”

 

Before the end of the annual meeting, activists holding “Corporations are not people” and “Get big money out of politics” signs were greeted by a cheering group of cyclists descending on Chevron’s front gate with flags that read “Go Renewable” and “Free America from the tyranny of oil.”

 

While there are no signs that Chevron is going to give an inch, it’s safe to say that the corporation’s refusal to become a responsible 21st-century business has awakened a sleeping giant: the people. Keeping the heat on a corporation that made $26 billion in profits last year alone is no small task, but all the money is worth a little less if it no longer buys a polluter’s most coveted assets—public silence and apathy.

 


 

Sven EberleinSven Eberlein wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media project that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Sven is a San Francisco-based freelance writer.

Court Ruling Backs Ecuadorian Effort to Hold Chevron Accountable for Amazon Pollution September 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
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www.democracynow.org, September 21, 2011

A U.S. appeals court has ruled oil giant Chevron cannot escape an $18 billion fine for massive pollution of the Amazon rain forest. Amazonian residents won the damages in an Ecuadorian court earlier this year, and Chevron says it will appeal the decision. It is the latest development in a complex, 18-year legal battle that has gone before judges not just in Ecuador and the United States, but also The Hague. We speak with Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch, which has worked closely with the Amazon residents suing Chevron. Atossa Soltani is in New York City this week to draw attention to environmental causes in the Amazon in conjunction with two major gatherings, the Clinton Global Initiative and the United Nations General Assembly.

AMY GOODMAN: The oil giant Chevron has been dealt a setback in its bid to escape responsibility for massive pollution in Ecuador’s rain forest. On Monday, a U.S. appeals court vacated a ruling that allowed Chevron to avoid enforcement of a fine of up to $18 billion. Amazonian residents won the damages in an Ecuadorian court earlier this year. Chevron is appealing the decision in Ecuador, and in March won a U.S. court order blocking the plaintiffs from claiming their damages abroad, including in the United States. Monday’s ruling freezes that judgment until the appeals court is able to weigh in on the case.

It’s the latest development in a complex, 18-year legal battle that’s gone before judges not just in Ecuador and the United States, but also at The Hague. Chevron has also filed counter-suits in the case, accusing the plaintiffs and their attorneys of fraud. In a statement, Chevron said, quote, “[We] remain confident that once the full facts are examined, the fraudulent judgment will be found unenforceable and those who procured it will be required to answer for their misconduct.”

Well, we’re joined right now by Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch, which has worked closely with the Amazon residents suing Chevron. Atossa Soltani is in New York this week to draw attention to environmental causes in the Amazon in conjunction with two major gatherings, the Clinton Global Initiative and the United Nations General Assembly.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Atossa.

ATOSSA SOLTANI: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this ruling that just came down.

ATOSSA SOLTANI: Well, I think this ruling affirms what we’ve been saying and what the plaintiffs have been saying for a decade, that—for over a decade, that Chevron is guilty of massive environmental contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. A decision was handed down in February against Chevron, ruling that Chevron is guilty and ordering the company to pay $18 billion in damages. And what Chevron did is run to find a sympathetic venue—in this case, Judge Kaplan’s court here in New York—that would protect it from justice. And what we saw yesterday was a decision that blocks the injunction against the Amazonian communities and their legal team to be able to enforce this judgment against Chevron.

And I think what it says is that it’s really time—it sends a message. It’s a legal victory. It’s a victory for rule of law. It’s a victory for the communities that are fighting against Chevron for the last two decades, that Chevron needs to stop its abusive PR tactics and deceitful PR and its legal fireworks, and address the health and environmental catastrophe that it created in the Amazon, and pay up. And, of course, this is not yet—you know, it’s not yet ready for—we have one more hurdle to go, which is the appeals court, the appeal—Chevron’s appeal of the decision in the Ecuadorian court. So we’re still waiting for that decision. But really, this is a—you know, wipes off two years of, you know, legal—backhanded legal maneuvering by Chevron in the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened. Chevron bought Texaco, so this is when Texaco was in the rain forest.

ATOSSA SOLTANI: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what actually took place. What areas are we talking about?

ATOSSA SOLTANI: We’re talking about the northern Ecuadorian Amazon, where Texaco arrived in the late ’60s and started drilling for oil in a way that would have been illegal to do in the United States, dumping huge amounts of production waters and drilling waste and causing a significant area—18 billion gallons of toxic waste and over 20 million gallons of crude waste that was spilled in this area. Some 30,000 people live here, including five indigenous tribes, who have been systematically poisoned over the last 30 years. And there is a public health crisis. There’s epidemics of cancer, birth defects, all kinds of health problems related to the oil pollution. People here don’t have drinking water, so every day they’re drinking the water from the rivers and streams and poisoning themselves in the process.

So, the case was brought initially in the New York courts against Chevron. And for nearly a decade, Chevron argued that this case should be heard in Ecuador. And then it went to Ecuador. Once Chevron bought Texaco, it assumed the liabilities. The case was taken to Ecuador, and that’s where it’s been for the—since 2003. So now it’s ironic that after nearly, you know, a decade of arguing the case should be heard in Ecuador, Chevron is back in the New York courts looking for a sympathetic judge to block enforcement. It’s lost the first round of this historic trial. And we believe that Chevron needs to, you know, stop its tactics of trying to allege fraud, and address the real health crises that are facing the communities in the region.

AMY GOODMAN: During arguments on Friday, U.S. Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch asked a Chevron lawyer, quote, “Are you saying that a New York court is in charge of deciding that we will not tolerate a South African judgment, procured by fraud, and enforced in Russia?” What does that mean?

ATOSSA SOLTANI: Well, basically, you know, Judge Kaplan was giving a global injunction to prevent lawyers for the communities in the Amazon to enforce this decision that the Ecuadorian judge made against Chevron. So it’s basically legal imperialism, preventing—basically saying that a U.S. district court could—you know, a U.S. district court could prevent a sovereign court in another country from finding an American company guilty of crimes. And that is legal imperialism, and I think that’s what the district court—the court of appeals found yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Brazil. You’re here at the United Nations. What is happening in Brazil? Talk about your work there?

ATOSSA SOLTANI: Well, two-thirds of the Amazon rain forest is in Brazil. And currently, there’s a triple threat in Brazil coming initially from the Belo Monte Dam, which would be the third-largest dam in the world, planned for the Xingu River. You have also a big debate happening in the Brazilian congress over the forestry code, which rules how much a landowner can clear of its forests, under law. And there’s a backsliding. There’s a proposed law that would, you know, rule back the forest code. And then you have a rise, a significant rise, in murders and death threats against activists. So this is a triple threat. It is a critical moment for the Amazon. And the Amazon is important to the entire planet. It is really the engine of the global weather system. It’s the rain machine for the planet. And we cannot afford to lose the Amazon at the rate that it’s going. We’re approaching the tipping point of ecological collapse.

So you have President Dilma Rousseff, who’s the first woman president of Brazil. She’s actually opening up the General Assembly here tomorrow for the first time a woman head of state has done that. And under her, you know, current administration, we’re seeing a significant rise in deforestation rates, in crimes against activists. And now, with the—in June, the license for the Belo Monte Dam was issued, and this is causing significant environmental damage. This dam would be—would destroy 60 miles of the Xingu River. It would displace some 40,000 people. The bulldozers have started to arrive in the city of Altamira. There is chaos ensuing. People are being displaced from their land without compensation or even consent. Their homes are being destroyed. Actually, just recently, there have been people whose houses have been burned by the police. And you have a situation of significant conflict in an area that already has the highest deforestation rate, and crime is up. You know, there’s literally chaos ensuing in the cities and the towns around this dam. And there are many promises the government made that this dam—the environmental impacts of this dam would be addressed, that haven’t been met, and those promises haven’t been met. So, just yesterday, the municipality of Altamira called on the Dilma government to suspend this dam project. And this is a municipality that was previously in favor of the dam. So what we have is, you know, we have a crisis. We have—in this area, which is Pará, the state of Pará, you also have the heightened—where the activists were murdered a few months ago. Six people have already been murdered in recent months.

AMY GOODMAN: Atossa, I wanted to break in, because we’ve just gotten this breaking news from Georgia. Clemency has been denied for Troy Davis. The Board of Pardons and Parole has denied clemency, which means, unless anything changes, he will be executed on September 21st—that’s Wednesday night—7:00 Eastern Standard Time in Jackson, Georgia. Again, clemency has been denied for Troy Anthony Davis.

We’re going to wrap the show right now. I want to thank you very much, Atossa Soltani, for joining us. Latest news out of Brazil is that Brazilian authorities have arrested two brothers in connection with the murders of two Amazon environmental activists, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo. He predicted he would be killed when he went back to Brazil. He said, “I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment.” Those are the words of José, who was executed.

That does it for our broadcast. Again, the latest news in this country, Troy Anthony Davis’s appeal for clemency has been denied. He is set to be executed September 21st, Wednesday, at 7:00 p.m. in Georgia.

The Uprising in the Amazon Is More Urgent Than Iran’s: It Will Determine the Future of the Planet June 23, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, First Nations, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Johann Hari

Columnist, London Independent

Posted: June 23, 2009 06:57 PM

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.

Their study earlier this year explained:

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?

Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent. To read more of his articles, click here or for an archive of his writings about environmental issues, click here.

You can email him at johann -at- johannhari.com