Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Multinational Oil Company: the Real Victim?

Chevron is looking for something new from America: sympathy. According to a blog following Latin American issues – The Latin Americanist – Chevron has issued a new press release claiming that the company is the true victim in the long-running dispute between it and 30,000 indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest region. Forget the fact that the people in the area are living in conditions similar to a toxic waste dump after more than 25 years of shoddy and unsafe oil drilling. And forget the fact that the people are dealing with a huge health impact from incredibly high cancer rates. And forget the fact that Chevron abandoned its responsibility to clean up the toxic waste it left behind. No, Chevron, a company that just booked a record $23.8 billion profit in 2008, is the victim – because the court-appointed independent expert thinks that it may cost $27 billion to repair the damage that the company left behind.

This isn't the first time Chevron has played this card. They first tried claiming they were the victim after two of the organizers for the plaintiffs – Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajardo – won the Goldman Award (basically the Nobel Prize for the environmental industry). And it didn't fly anymore than then it does now. Sourcewatch captured some of the public reaction to the last time chevron tried to play victim:

"For shame! Caught red handed perpetrating one of the worst environmental disasters in history, Chevron now goes on the offensive, calling itself the "victim" and blaming everybody but itself: the Ecuadoran government and courts, the indigenous people themselves, other oil companies, and "trial lawyers" (an irony for a hatchet job written by the company's general counsel, who oversees a huge litigation budget),"

"Scapegoating activists who won an international prize for pointing out the pollution you swept under your rugs and stacked in your closets is poor form and unworthy of the company your advertising insists you are,"

"Public relations can save you for the moment but you will end up as just another chapter in the history books of Corporate Criminality. Hope your grandchildren are better than you are."

But this reaction didn't stop Chevron from claiming that it was a victim again, this time whining that the court-appointed expert, Prof. Richard Cabrera, was unfair because his report found that the evidence supported what the plaintiffs were alleging. Chevron's infamous chief lawyer Charles James even has the gall to say that Cabrera has an "undeniable disdain for science." Pretty rich coming from a guy who hires the scientists who did the Tobacco industry stuff as his main advisors (Exponent Consulting is an infamous "product defense" science and engineering firm – but more on this another day). Not to mention the fact that Cabrera, the 14 other scientists on his team, the university where he is a tenured professor of geology, the 10 American scientists who have reviewed and confirmed the findings of the report, and the Court itself, may take issue with James' assertions that he has a disdain for science.

It seems clear that Chevron has taken the tact that anyone who thinks they did anything wrong in Ecuador is victimizing them – no matter how much evidence they have backing them up.