Chevron Plays Musical Chairs with Ecuadoran Lives
Chevron, the second largest U.S. oil company, is embroiled in a lawsuit brought by 30,000 Ecuadoran indigenous people and campesinos for devastating pollution the oil giant wreaked in their rainforest home. In response, the company is engaging in dubious legal maneuvers and public relations dirty tricks campaigns to avoid responsibility for its activities.
The lawsuit against Chevron (then Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2001) originated in U.S. courts, but years of petitioning by the oil company forced the case to relocate to Ecuador in 2003. Now facing a potential $27 billion judgment, Chevron this week filed suit in The Hague contending that the Ecuadoran government, and not the people directly affected, should be forced to respond to binding arbitration there, based on a 1997 U.S-Ecuador trade pact.
Writing about the latest in Chevron’s legal strategy, the Los Angeles Times noted that if successful, the company’s tactics “could have a chilling effect on people all over the world who are engaged in legal battles with multinational corporations.”
Legal shenanigans are just one prong of Chevron’s dirty tricks efforts. Chevron also recently announced it had video evidence that the Ecuadoran judge in its case was prejudiced and was involved in a scheme to bribe the company. The announcement turned out to be nothing more than a public relations exercise designed to create confusion about the Ecuadoran situation. In fact, the video offered no such evidence, but did show failed attempts to entice the judge and some muffled and unclear statements about the trial schedule.
Over nearly 30 years, Texaco extracted more than 1.5 billion barrels of oil from the Ecuadorian Amazon and dumped 18.5 billion gallons of toxic waste and 17 million gallons of oil — more than the Exxon Valdez oil spill — into the rainforest, making the area the equivalent of a “Rainforest Chernobyl.” Like radiation in Chernobyl, the ongoing devastation from Texaco’s pollution in Ecuador has created a public health crisis for people still living in the contaminated areas.
The pollution in Ecuador was entirely avoidable, as cleaner practices that were in use in U.S. oil operations at the time were ignored by the oil giant in Ecuador, in order to save the company about $3 per barrel. Chevron claims its profits from the decades in Ecuadoran were less than $500 million, but supporters of the Ecuadoran people report documents suggesting the profits were closer to $30 billion.
Now in theaters, CRUDE is an award-winning documentary film that chronicles the epic battle to hold Chevron accountable for its systematic contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon.