Friday, May 1, 2009

Interesting Story on NPR

While Juan Forero does a nice job of recounting the horrific environmental contamination in Ecuador's Amazon, his reporting of President Rafeal Correa's comments on the humanitarian crisis afflicting the region wrongly imply that President Correa has somehow influenced the trial in Ecuador. This is an inaccurate and misleading construction of Correa's comments, which were taken out of context, and buys directly into Chevron's propaganda about the case.

Politicians comment about trials all the time in countries around the world for a variety of political reasons. It doesn't mean they are "interfering" with the trial which takes in the judicial branch, independent of the executive branch. President George W. Bush's administration commented frequently about ongoing trials, from issuing statements on the lawsuits against insurance companies in the aftermath of the Katrina disaster to commenting on the urgency of intervention in the Terry Schiavo "right to life" cases. President Obama comments all the time about the behavior of banks and insurance companies in the economic crisis, while many of those institutions are targets of litigation. No serious person alleges that public comments of either of these Presidents somehow has biased those legal actions and made the judiciary incompetent. Any suggestion from Chevron that Correa's comments make the courts in Ecuador partial underlies a certain colonial-tinged racism regarding the competence of the Ecuadorian judiciary, despite the fact that U.S. courts have frequently found Ecuadorian courts to be perfectly competent courts to hear these cases. In fact, the exact case against Chevron started in a U.S. court and was only transferred to Ecuador at Chevron's request, over the objection of the plaintiffs, after the U.S. judge found Ecuador's courts to be a competent venue for hearing the case.

Beyond offering a few statements by Correa that express sympathy for the victims of this environmental crime, and outrage at the perpetrators of it, neither Forrero nor Chevron can point to a single instance of executive interference with the court hearing the case. In fact, every piece of evidence points to the opposite: Correa has personally, on several occasions denied any interference in the Aguinda trial, and has continually reasserted that the Ecuadorian courts are free from interference by the Executive or Legislative branches. The Attorney General of Ecuador has repeatedly and publicly defended the independence of the judiciary in Ecuador against attempts to interfere in the lawsuit against Chevron by – surprise – Chevron itself, which has lobbied government officials in Quito and Washington to quash the case via political pressure. Evidence has emerged that the very first day of the trial in Ecuador – October 21, 2003 – Chevron pressured Ecuador's then Attorney General to request that the trial judge illegally dismiss the case. Perhaps most telling, Chevron itself, as recently as 2006 (after Correa came to power) has asked U.S. courts to transfer other, unrelated cases about the health impact of oil contamination to the very same courts in Ecuador that they claim are so biased against them.

A comment by a President expressing sympathy for a group of his constituents suffering from a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions is entirely appropriate. These expressions of support have are entirely appropriate, and have nothing to do with an ongoing litigation that deals with complex factual and legal matters. Don't be fooled by Chevron's propaganda – the company is getting the fair trial they said they would when they argued to have the case transferred out of U.S. federal court and into Ecuador.