Today in New York Ecuadorian villagers from the Amazon rainforest region ravaged by Chevron's oil contamination were joined by supporters for a rally in Foley Square across from the courthouse where a trial opened in the California-based oil giant's retaliatory RICO lawsuit against the Ecuadorians and their U.S.-based legal advocates.
The Ecuadorians are representing 30,000 plaintiffs who won a landmark judgment against Chevron in an Ecuadorian court in 2011 in which the company was ordered to pay more than $18 billion for cleanup of widespread contamination, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. The case holding Chevron accountable for toxic dumping by its predecessor company, Texaco, has been upheld by appellate courts in Ecuador.
After nearly 20 years since the case was filed in 1993, Chevron still refuses to pay for a cleanup and is waging a scorched earth legal, PR, and lobbying campaign to crush its victims and their advocates and supporters. The oil giant stripped its assets from the country, forcing the Ecuadorians to pursue enforcement of the judgment in countries where the company maintains assets.
While Secoya indigenous community leader Javier Piaguaje continues to contest that the New York court can assert Personal Jurisdiction over him, he has traveled to New York to represent the tens of thousands of Ecuadorian plaintiffs who couldn't be there and defend them against Chevron's insulting allegations. He had this to say outside the courthouse in Foley Square today:
Forty-seven "named plaintiffs" – all of them indigenous rainforest residents and rural villagers – have been named in Chevron's lawsuit, which alleges that the entire case is a conspiracy to extort the company. Two of the Ecuadorian villagers, while rejecting the New York court's jurisdiction over them, have nonetheless appeared in the case in order to fight the allegations. Fearing a public backlash for suing victims of its pollution, Chevron has focused its smear campaign on New York-based human rights attorney Steven Donziger, who has advised the Ecuadorians in their efforts since first visiting the contaminated region in 1993.
The Ecuadorians and their supporters have called for an end to Chevron's retaliatory lawsuit, and are calling this latest effort a "rigged show trial" before a federal judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, who has displayed outright hostility to the Ecuadorians' legal efforts to demand a cleanup. Judge Kaplan has also made repeated disparaging on-the-record comments about Ecuador's judicial system.
Texaco operated in Ecuador until 1992, and Chevron absorbed the company in 2001, assuming all of its predecessor's assets and liabilities. Chevron has admitted to dumping nearly 16 billion gallons of toxic wastewater – the byproduct of oil drilling and pumping – into rivers and streams relied upon by thousands of people for drinking, bathing, and fishing. The company also abandoned hundreds of unlined, open waste pits filled with crude, sludge, and oil drilling chemicals throughout the inhabited rainforest region. In other countries at the same time as it was operating with no environmental controls in Ecuador, the company re-injected wastewater and used other easily-deployed technologies to deal with the toxic byproducts of its activities.
Multiple independent health studies have shown an epidemic of oil-related birth defects, cancers, and other illness. It is estimated that the contamination has directly led to at least 1,400 deaths.
More Information:For more on the campaign to hold Chevron accountable for its abuses in Ecuador: ChevronToxico.com
For more on the impending trial in Chevron's retaliatory lawsuit: StevenDonziger.com