In the extraordinary history of the campaign to hold Chevron accountable for despoiling Ecuador's rainforest, numerous outsiders have traveled to the affected area to bear witness. Few have been more eloquent upon return than Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts.
That's a good thing given that Rep. McGovern remains the only elected member of Congress ever to visit an area that locals call the Amazon Chernobyl.
A longtime champion of human rights, Rep. McGovern traveled to Ecuador in 2008 at the invitation of the affected communities. That was just days after President Obama was elected to his first term. After years of stonewalling by Chevron, it is worth revisiting how the Congressman described what he saw at the time.
Here is an excerpt from a letter from Rep. McGovern to President-elect Obama sent two weeks after the presidential election. It describes the impacts of Chevron's contamination and seeks White House help in providing technical assistance to those affected:
I just returned from a trip to Ecuador. I witnessed firsthand the terrible humanitarian and environmental crisis that has resulted from the decades-long failure to properly clean the contamination left by oil drilling and production. Specifically, the sites I visited were those that were under the control of Texaco, now Chevron. As an American citizen, the degradation and contamination left behind by this U.S. company in a poor part of the world made me angry and ashamed.
I visited "oil pits" that were poorly constructed; poorly remediated; or remediated not at all. This has left a toxic legacy for poor campesinos and indigenous peoples. I also saw the infrastructure Texaco/Chevron created that allowed for the wholesale dumping of formation water and other highly toxic materials directly into the Amazon and its waters.
The drinking water for thousands of poor people is horribly unfit -- even deadly. Children are drinking and bathing in water that reeks of oil. In one village, San Carlos, I couldn't come across a family that hadn't been touched by cancer. Mothers brought their children to show me the terrible rashes and sores that covered their bodies. At an oil well site known as Yuca-4, I talked with a farmer who lost many head of cattle because of the polluted water near the site and its pits -- robbing his family of what little food and assets they had.
The full letter from Rep. McGovern can be read here.
As far as we know, President Obama did not respond to the request for assistance. As a newly-elected Senator in 2006, President Obama did intervene along with Sen. Patrick Leahy to protect the villagers when Chevron tried to lobby the Bush Administration to quash their legal claims.
Chevron executive Rodrigo Perez Pallares admitted during an eight-year trial in Ecuador that the company discharged billions of toxic waste water into rivers and streams relied on by local communities for drinking water, fishing, and bathing. When Chevron left Ecuador in 1992, it abandoned roughly 1,000 open-air toxic waste pits filled with oil sludge that continue to foul groundwater and soils.
What Chevron did in Ecuador was not an accidential disaster like BP's 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a premeditated act of dumping-for-profit that has posioned the ecosystem for decades. The aftershocks are still reverberating across the forest in devastating fashion.
Cancer rates in the local communities have skyrocketed. One scientist predicts at least 10,000 additional cases of cancer in the coming decades even with a comprehensive clean-up. For photos and the stories of some of the victims, see this essay in the Huffington Post.
Eight appellate judges in Ecuador -- including all five justices of Ecuador's Supreme Court to hear the matter -- have affirmed the finding of liability against Chevron. Watson ignores it all while Chevron uses its big bucks to play hokey pokey with courts around the world.
Unlike BP, Chevron has not paid even one dollar directly to the people it harmed. Nor will it talk to them about a resolution. For background on Chevron's jurisdictional shell game to evade the Ecuador judgment, see this recent blog.
Unlike the rest of us, Chevron apparently believes it is above the law and therefore can dump its trash for free.
As we enter yet another year of Chevron's stonewalling, we salute Rep. McGovern for reminding the world of the truth. We also again demand that judges stand up to Chevron's shell game and ensure a final resolution of the claims of the affected communities.