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The price of wealth. The Chevron Texaco Case

Pablo Fajardo Mendoza
Attorney representing the Victims of Ecuadorian Amazon in the trial against Chevron Corporation
Pablo Fajardo

Pablo Fajardo

In the mid 1960`s the worst environmental disaster ever caused by an oil company took place in the northern region of Ecuador. The victims; indigenous nations of people, Siekopai (Secoya), Siona, Cofan, Waorani, Teteté and Sansahuari and later on, the Shuar, Kichwa communities, as well as thousands of settlers; the aggressor; Chevron Corporation, formerly Texaco. The overall consequences include more than 30,000 people affected, hundreds of cancer related deaths, a miscarriage rate 2.5 times higher than the rest of Ecuador, two indigenous communities completely wiped out and extreme poverty in the region. These are just some of the main consequences.

Initially, the Ecuadorian Government granted a license to the Texaco company for approximately 1.5 million hectares to explore and extract oil. Nevertheless, in addition to exploration and extraction, the oil company contaminated an area of forest of over 450,000 hectares, which had been granted under license to Texaco (now, Chevron). The fragile Amazonian land suffered a brutal invasion, breaking down the delicate ecosystem balance and severely affecting local communities and subsequently, Ecuador and the rest of the planet, given the extent of the damages inflicted on one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Its importance in producing oxygen and its role as the principal source of fresh water on the planet is an indisputable fact.

Levelling of forests, the use of heavy machinery, the arrival of oil workers, as well as the seismic activity, were just the beginning of a criminal displacement of the communities settled in the region. Moreover, these events gave rise to significant migration of animal species and the extinction of important plant families which were used by Amazonian communities living in the region as a major source to satisfy their medicinal and nutritional needs.

Social violence, racism, rape and alcoholism, became common place in what used to be a peaceful system of human coexistence where the relationship between local communities and their natural surroundings was a harmonious one.  The culture shock began undermining the basis for the livelihood of these ancestral cultures, forced into joining a new structure of dependence, the majority of which was derived directly from income they received as oil industry workers.

356 wells and 22 production centres were the basis for a profitable business, marked by a cost cutting policy implemented by the oil company, thereby causing one of the largest contaminations ever recorded and which can be directly traced back to the systematic use of inadequately cheap technology not used in any other country in the world.

16 billion gallons of toxic water flowed into estuaries and rivers, still the principal source of vital water supply resources for the local population today; the premeditated dumping of 650,000 barrels of crude oil directly into the forest.

880 open pools leaking toxic waste; the installation of gooseneck systems in order to release the crude oil, together with contaminated water used in fracking, allowing these to flow into nearby rivers and estuaries. These events have had a major impact on the environment and the communities living in the region, who today are still suffering from illnesses related to the contamination.

The most serious and palpable consequence of the contamination is the health issues and their effects, Disease directly associated with chemicals used in the oil industry have developed among local communities. The region has a miscarriage rate 2.5 times greater than the national average, the rate for leukaemia in children between 0 and 4 years of age is three times the national index; there has been a 150% rise in cancer rates and a mortality rate 130% higher than other regions.  Added to this, the human and collective rights violations, growing poverty levels due to the unproductive land, the death of farm animals and damage caused to the native flora and fauna.

These facts explain the reasons behind what is the largest environmental lawsuit in history. It is the largest in history in environmental terms, the magnitude of the contamination, as well as the duration of the court proceedings. It has taken over 20 years since the first lawsuit got underway in New York. In Ecuador, proceedings were established in 2003 and on February 14, 2011, the Supreme Court of Justice handed down an initial sentence. 

230,000 pages of data analysed, witness statements from over 40 of the victims of Texaco´s operations, 106 expert reports, 60 of which were paid for entirely by Chevron, more than 80,000 chemical test results from the soil, water and sediment samples collected, several independently drafted health impact studies prepared by foreign experts, in addition to the on-site inspection and verification by the Judge at 54 sites operated by the oil company. These were the foundations for the court's decision to sentence the oil company to make compensation to the tune of 19 billion dollars, in reparations for the damage inflicted.

The verdict was ratified in second instance by the Sitting of the Sucumbios Provincial Court, which ruled that the plaintiffs should initiate proceedings to secure payment of the reparations. However, Chevron, in a manoeuvre to protect its interests, withdrew all its assets from Ecuador. As a result, the plaintiffs have been forced to resort to international judicial proceedings. In every country where the plaintiffs instigate lawsuits to secure payment, Chevron, just as it did in Ecuador, uses a series of mechanisms including the application of economic and political pressure and even procedural malpractice, to avoid honouring payment as per the sentence. As of the date of writing, the actors have considered three sentence execution initiatives abroad. The three countries are Canada, Brazil and Argentina. Nevertheless, we are also planning further action in different regions where Chevron possesses interests, including countries in South America, Asia, Oceania and Europe. The aim of the plaintiffs is to pursue Chevron's assets until we receive payment of every last cent of the debt owed to us by Chevron.

Finally, after 20 years of judicial fight the decision of the Justice Supreme Court of Ecuador has arrived. The sentence ratifies the condemn against Chevron for environmental crime committed in Ecuadorian Amazonia. The sentence, 222 pages long, strongly confirms the condemnation.

However, in the absence of adequate legal support, the Justice Supreme Court of Ecuador sentences Chevron for bad behaviour and legal abuse. Both past sentences had ordered Chevron to make public apologies, and in case of not doing so, the economic reward of the sentence would be doubled. The excuses and the duplication of the sentence have not been done.
The abuse of the law, the moral and psychological damage caused to the victims after 20 years of trial and the use of artifices to delay a process, are not sanctioned. Hopefully soon the countries will adopt rules that punish these unsuitable behaviours for the humanity.

When facing economic power and the political influence of the transnational Chevron Corporation justice partially continues refusing affected populations.