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Injustice in the Amazon

John McDonald Mar 11, 2011

“Irreparable Harm.” This is the reason given by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan as to why the attorneys of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs should not be able to enforce the $8.6 billion judgment against Chevron for its abject degradation of their environment in pursuit of oil profits from 1964 to 1990 – because the company faced irreparable harm if they were able to do so.

Furthermore, Chevron challenged, “the fairness and integrity of the judicial system of Ecuador” and Judge Kaplan concluded in his judgment handed down on Monday, 7 March, as summarized by Law.com, that the attorneys for Chevron, “were able to show a likelihood that they’d succeed on the merits of their claim that the Ecuadorian courts did not provide Chevron due process.”

The plaintiffs in the case contend that Texaco, which became a Chevron subsidiary in 2001, polluted the lush, tropical rain forests of Ecuador with blatant disregard for the environment and its indigenous population for over twenty-five years. According to Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights organization, in an article found here, Texaco, “unleashed a toxic ‘Rainforest Chernobyl’ in Ecuador by leaving more than 600 unlined oil pits in pristine northern Amazon rainforest and dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic production water into rivers used for bathing water.”

Global Exchange continues:

“The toxic crude oil and formation water seeped into the subsoil, contaminating surrounding freshwater and farmland. As a result, local communities have suffered severe health effects, including cancer, skin lesions, birth defects, and spontaneous abortions. Indigenous communities have been dispossessed of their lands, and millions of hectares of rainforest have been destroyed to make way for the company’s pipelines and oil wells.”

 A number of other notable NGO’s have been working in support of the indigenous population in Ecuador, including Acción Ecológica, Amazon Watch, Amazon Defense Front, Amnesty International, Center for Constitutional Rights, Earth Rights International, Human Rights Watch, Oil Change International, Oil Watch International and Richmond Greens.

Another NGO, Mongabay, in an article found here, describes the extent of the degradation in Ecuador as follows:

“In the 25 years that Texaco operated in the Oriente region of the Western Amazon, the oil company spilled 17 million gallons of crude oil into the local river systems (by comparison, the Exxon Valdez only spilled 11 million gallons in Alaska in 1989), dumped more than 20 billion gallons of toxic drilling by-products, and cleared forest for access roads, exploration, and production activities.”

Mongabay continues:

 “In August 1992, a pipeline rupture caused a 275,000-gallon spill which caused the Rio Napo to run black for days and forced downstream Peru and Brazil to declare national states of emergency for the affected regions.”

When one considers the history of Chevron’s involvement in the region, and other developing regions, it is hard to imagine how such a ruling could be reached. Chevron has had similarly abusive relations with Nigeria, another oil rich nation in a developing region.  In December 2008, for example, Chevron was found not liable for allegedly killing and torturing activists opposing their activities in Nigeria. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, in an article found here, regarding that suit:

“The lawsuit is based on a 1998 incident in which Nigerian soldiers shot nonviolent protesters at Chevron’s Parabe offshore platform. The soldiers were paid by Chevron, ferried to the platform by Chevron and supervised by Chevron personnel. Two protesters were killed in the brutal attack –one shot in the back– and others were injured, including some who were tortured while in custody.”

The Ecuadorian suit was originally filed in New York in 1992 but Chevron fought to have the trial moved to Ecuador. This makes the position of Chevron today – that the company was unable to get a fair trial in Ecuador – even more dubious. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, however, agreed granting a preliminary injunction, which essentially renders the previous $8.6 billion settlement award moot since the plaintiffs are unable to go after the assets of the company outside of Ecuador, where it no longer has any assets.

Judge Kaplan ordered that Chevron faced “imminent” and “irreparable” harm to its reputation and business relationships. In his 131 page ruling, Judge Kaplan states, “There is a significiant [sic] risk that assets would be seized or attached, thus disrupting Chevron’s supply chain, causing it to miss critical deliveries to business partners, damaging ‘Chevron’s business reputation as a reliable supplier and harm the valuable customer goodwill Chevron has developed over the past 130 years,’ and causing injury to Chevron’s ‘business reputation and business relationships’.”

This is a determination that cannot be easily proven. Even if it was, however, it might be an appropriate punishment, a strong deterrent to future corporate malfeasants and suitable for a company found guilty of wanton destruction of the indigenous land, culture and lives in Ecuador. What is clear, however, is the “irreparable harm” that has been caused to the 1,700 square miles of landscape in Ecuador in exchange for the enormous profit of Texaco and later Chevron, a company with an annual net income of over $10 billion.

 Incidentally, on 1 February 2011, Chevron filed a racketeering suit against the plaintiffs of the case, claiming the plaintiffs were simply attempting to wrongfully extort money from the company by bringing their suit, seeking damages incurred defending itself in the trial.

A detailed assessment of Chevron’s exploitative behaviors around the world can be found at TrueCostofChevron.com.

This article was originally published on Cogent Politics.

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