Monday, October 26, 2009

Chevron Sullying Reputation of American Corporations Abroad; Garrigo Sullying Chevron’s Reputation at Home

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Chevron's spokeswoman and resident "Misrepresenter in Chief" Silvia Garrigo was at it again during an interview with CNN's Rick Sanchez on Oct. 22. Garrigo, who professes to love the environment, last made headlines with her abysmal performance on CBS News' 60 minutes, where she dismissed health concerns in Ecuador's Amazon by comparing cancer-causing toxins in oil to the makeup on her face. This was Garrigo's classic line:

"I have makeup on, and there's naturally occurring oil on my face. Doesn't mean that I'm going to get sick from it."

The experts who run Chevron's embattled public affairs office either have very few options, or they apparently thought Garrigo's comparison of contamination to makeup was solid enough to put her on CNN. Garrigo was responding to Kerry Kennedy's account of her heartbreaking visit to the Ecuadorian rainforest where Texaco (now Chevron) intentionally dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste and abandoned over 900 unlined waste pits while operating a large oil concession from 1964 to 1990.

Kennedy, a mother of three and a longtime human rights advocate, described in detail the devastation she witnessed as a result of improper operating practices by Texaco (now Chevron). She told of the gasoline-like smell coming from the runoff from pipes intentionally designed by Texaco to discharge oil sludge and waste water from the pits directly into the rivers and streams used by the indigenous communities in the area for drinking, bathing, and cooking. She also recounted stories from the indigenous communities of rape and abuse at the hands of Texaco employees. This would not have occurred, she argued, if the residents were living in this country.

In response, Garrigo chided Kennedy for spending only a few days in the region -- as if it takes more than a few minutes to understand that huge open pits of oil, left untouched since Texaco abandoned them many years ago, are a mess that needs to be cleaned up. (Kennedy's trip is a few days more than any member of Chevron's management or Board of Directors has spent in Ecuador. No person with any real authority at the company – including outgoing CEO David O'Reilly, incoming CEO John Watson, outgoing General Counsel Charles James, and new General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate -- has been to the affected region of Ecuador.)

Garrigo then presented three arguments that she desperately wanted to share with the American public: 1) That Texaco had remediated its portion of the contamination and that what Kennedy saw was now the responsibility of Ecuador's government; 2) The cancer claims are false (Garrigo's apparent personal favorite); and 3) The Ecuadorian judiciary is corrupt.

All three arguments, not surprisingly, are either misleading or outright lies. The facts are as follows:

Garrigo: Any contamination Kennedy witnessed was caused by Petroecuador, Ecuador's state-owned oil company that inherited Texaco's well sites in 1992 when Texaco left the country.

Fact: Contrary to Garrigo's claim, Kennedy visited well sites built and run exclusively by Texaco. Aguarico 2 was solely operated by Texaco from 1974 to 1990 and then closed. This site was never operated by any other oil company. Kennedy dug mere inches into the ground before discovering oil in the soil, which is leaching into groundwater and ending up in the nearby stream where local residents drink the water. Kennedy saw the same contamination at Shushufindi 38, a pit opened by Texaco in 1975 and closed by Texaco in 1976. She also saw well site Aguarico 4, which was operated by Texaco from 1974 to 1984. In other words, Kennedy saw unlined waste pits built and closed by Texaco in the 1970s and 1980s that are still causing pollution today.

Texaco's so-called "remediation" cited by Garrigo involved fewer than 16% of the 916 pits that Texaco built. The remediation has been proven at trial to be either ineffective, or a complete fraud. Independent inspections of Texaco's "remediated" sites have found extensive levels of contamination, often thousands of times higher than the Ecuadorian norms that establish when human health is at risk. In fact, two Chevron lawyers and seven former Ecuadorian government officials are now under indictment for fraud connected to their involvment in the certification of the "remediated" pits. One of the Chevron lawyers under criminal indictment, Ricardo Reis Veiga, is thought of so highly by the company that he is still running Chevron's downstream operations in Latin America. (Reis Veiga also supervised Garrigo for several years on the Ecuador trial out of Chevron's office in Coral Gables.)

Garrigo: Any claims about health impacts in Ecuador from exposure to oil contamination are false.

Fact: It is well-established that exposure to any number of the chemicals and compounds that makeup oil is linked to higher instances of cancer – and numerous, peer-reviewed studies show elevated instances of cancer in the region of Ecuador which Texaco contaminated.

Is there anyone outside of Chevron who seriously believes there is no connection between consuming water and foods contaminated with oil and cancer? The independent, peer-reviewed studies measuring the impact of contamination on the health of people living in the Chevron concession area have found that cancer rates were anywhere from 1.7 to 4 times greater than for people living outside the area. One study found that the risk for spontaneous abortion was 2.34 times higher among woman living near the contamination. Based on survey data, the court Special Master calculated 1,401 excess cancer deaths resulting from the contamination. (Texaco, in the 26 years that it operated in Ecuador, never conducted a single health evaluation in the region nor took even one soil or water sample to determine if its operations were causing contamination.)

Garrigo: The courts in Ecuador are "corrupt to their core":

Fact: As Kennedy noted in her interview, the plaintiffs originally filed the lawsuit in New York Federal Court in 1993. Texaco and then Chevron fought to have the case removed to Ecuador arguing in 14 affidavits that the Ecuadorian judiciary was not only the more appropriate forum, but that the judicial system was competent and fair. Chevron won that battle, and the same case was re-filed in Ecuador in 2003. Once the trial started and evidence pointed to Chevron's culpability, Chevron changed its tune and started to attack the very courts it previously had praised. The animating principle: praise courts when you think you can win, condemn them when you think you are going to lose. But as Garrigo said on 60 Minutes when she got cornered by correspondent Scott Pelley, the reality is there is no court in the world that Chevron would agree to because Chevron is above the law and the claims relating to the pits Kennedy saw are "frivolous".

In reality, Chevron has tried to corrupt the Ecuadorian court process to derail the trial and evade a judgment – which explains why Chevron is under three separate official investigations for possible criminal violations relating to its misconduct in Ecuador. It also why Ecuador's Attorney General has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the company for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Garrigo asks about corruption? She should just walk down the hall. Garrigo's colleagues at Chevron have fabricated a false military report to cancel the Guanta judicial field inspection, have filed redundant motions to delay the trial, have threatened various judges when they refuse to rule in the company's favor, and have harassed and stalked the court-appointed Special Master to the point where he needed police protection. Just weeks ago Chevron discovered a "bribery scandal" that has all the telltale signs of a hoax perpetrated by the company to sabotage the trial. That doesn't count the numerous and anonymous death threats leveled at plaintiff's counsel during the trial – threats that don't seem of great concern to Chevron, which has remained silent on this most critical of issues.

At the end of the interview, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez asked Garrigo if contamination of the sort left by American corporations is "sullying our reputation in the world." She said she couldn't agree more but Chevron has always acted appropriately.

Chevron has always acted appropriately? From Ecuador (largest oil-related contamination on the planet), to Burma (where Chevron is partners with the repressive military junta), to the Philippines (where Chevron has caused spills, leaks, and fires in a residential area because of its oil depot), to Nigeria (where the company is accused of being complicit in an army-orchestrated killing of protesting villagers), at least some people on the receiving end of Chevron's misconduct would probably disagree with Chevron's Manager of Global Issues and Policy.

By its handling of the Ecuador case, it appears that Chevron not only doesn't mind sullying America's reputation. It also doesn't seem too concerned about its own reputation, either.