Monday, December 21, 2009

Clean Up Ecuador: Letter to New Chevron CEO, John Watson

(Cross-posted from Amazon Watch's "Clean Up Ecuador" campaign website,

ChevronToxico | Letter from Atossa Soltani to New Chevron CEO, John Watson

On January 1st, John Watson will become the new Chairman and CEO of Chevron Corporation. Within the first few months of his tenure, a judgment is expected on a monumental environmental lawsuit for cleanup of oil contamination affecting tens of thousands of people living in an Amazon rainforest region of Ecuador called the Oriente.

Following is an open letter to Mr. Watson from Atossa Soltani, the founder and Executive Director of Amazon Watch, an organization that works to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. The letter references a confidential corporate memo that provides shocking insight into the reckless practices employed by Texaco (now Chevron) in Ecuador.

Click here to add your name to a petition to Mr. Watson supporting clean-up in Ecuador.

December 17, 2009

Mr. John S. Watson
Incoming Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Chevron Corporation

Dear Mr. Watson:

I write to you on behalf of Amazon Watch to express our hope that as Chief Executive of Chevron Corporation you will have the fortitude and vision to genuinely address the most painful and immediate challenge facing your company - the Ecuador disaster.

Our hope is that you will not miss this critical opportunity to resolve the human and environmental tragedy in Ecuador and transform Chevron into the responsible 21st century energy company professed in 'The Chevron Way' and in your 'Human Energy' advertising campaigns.

Your company is currently facing a $27.3 billion financial liability in Ecuador. We ask that you reflect on Chevron's handling of the Ecuador situation over the course of the last decade. You should remember Chevron's Annual General Shareholder Meeting in April 2001 - on the eve of the Texaco acquisition - when I delivered to your company a binder, titled "El Dorado," with more than 500 pages of comprehensive evidence documenting Texaco's massive environmental contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. At that meeting, I warned Chevron that by acquiring Texaco the company would not only take on the moral responsibility of rectifying the tragedy in the Amazon, but also assume a very costly financial liability.

Despite increasing shareholder and analyst concern, the growing public demand that Chevron take responsibility for its actions in Ecuador, and the resulting multi-billion liability they have spawned, Amazon Watch has witnessed your company pursue an expensive, ethically questionable, and counterproductive policy with regard to the Ecuador case.

Mr. Watson, as you surely know, the situation on the ground is dire. Thousands of acres of once pristine rainforest have been devastated by oil pollution. More than 30,000 indigenous peoples and campesinos have been left without clean water to drink. Children play beside toxic waste pits. Young women have been ravaged by stomach and uterine cancer due to poisoned water. As you are well aware, Texaco has admitted to having deliberately released 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the waterways of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and to having left hundreds of abandoned unlined pits filled with crude oil and poison sludge over the course of more than two decades of oil operations. And now, as a direct result, a devastating public health crisis has consumed the region.

We are keenly attuned to Chevron's public relations strategy with respect to this matter. The basic approach is to consistently blame the contamination of the Amazon on Petroecuador, Ecuador's National Oil Company. Petroecuador's poor record of environmental stewardship - largely because it has used an oil production system built by Texaco and designed to pollute - does not diminish Texaco's responsibility for catastrophic contamination from 1964 to 1990. Texaco's deliberate dumping dwarfs any subsequent pollution. Rather than continuing to shift the blame to Petruecuador, it is time for Chevron to assume the responsibility for Texaco's legacy in Ecuador.

To remind you of Texaco's unethical practices in the 1970's, we have attached here a confidential memorandum from the Chairman of the Texaco Board of Directors to the Acting Manager of Texaco in Ecuador in 1972. The memo instructs the staff only to report "major events as per Oil Spill Response Plan" if they attract "the attention of press and/or regulatory authorities" and goes on to instruct: "no reports are to be kept on a routine basis and all previous reports to be removed...and destroyed." We trust that as the incoming CEO of Chevron, you do not condone this kind of denial, neglect and obfuscation made plain in the 1972 Texaco memo. We are interested in hearing your position on the matter.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, it is our understanding that you have never been to Ecuador, Mr. Watson. It is of great concern to us, and should be to you, that the information and advice provided to Chevron senior management since the Texaco acquisition has lacked integrity and independence. We do not believe that a well-informed and responsible senior management team could reasonably pursue the current "blind fight" legal and public relations strategy if it indeed possessed accurate information. Consequently, and with the best intentions, we would like to invite you to visit the affected region of Ecuador in the sincere hope that seeing the abandoned toxic waste pits and poisoned waters and hearing the innumerable stories of human suffering will move you to do the right thing.

Until Chevron takes meaningful steps to resolve this case, it will continue to play out in the courts of Ecuador, as well as in the global court of public opinion. You have a choice between allowing the ongoing suffering and environmental devastation in Ecuador to tarnish your company's reputation, or providing a bold example of 'The Chevron Way,' which states "We respect the law, support universal human rights, protect the environment, and benefit the communities where we work."

Rather than continue to battle the communities that have already paid a heavy price to enrich Chevron, we believe you have an opportunity to help bring an end to their decades of needless suffering.

We don't make these suggestions lightly or symbolically; we appeal to you to resolve this human and environmental tragedy, and lead Chevron into a new era of meaningful corporate social responsibility.

We look forward to your response.


Atossa Soltani

Executive Director
Amazon Watch

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chevron's Blogger Propagandists: Accuse First, Ask (No) Questions Later

(Originally posted by Amazon Watch over at

Chevron's Blogger Propagandists: Accuse First, Ask (No) Questions Later

We've written before about the motley crew of bloggers who fervently defend Chevron in its ongoing effort to run from a multibillion dollar liability for environmental disaster in Ecuador. Chevron is certainly not an easy company to stick up for, given its long and sordid history in Ecuador. Chevron's predecessor, Texaco, showed up in the pristine Amazon rainforest in 1964 and left a huge swath of it devastated and polluted by 1990. Chevron acquired Texaco, and its liability in Ecuador, in 2001 and is now the third largest U.S. corporation, with a 2008 profit of $24 billion. And yet this behemoth of an oil company loves to, ludicrously, play the victim card, and when it does, these are the bloggers who fall in line with PR-brushes in tow.

Chevron's blogger allies went into overdrive mode in September, trumpeting Chevron's claims when the oil major announced it had uncovered a $3 million bribery scandal that would implicate the Ecuadorian judge in corruption and, they claimed, prove government interference in the lawsuit. When the news hit, the pro-Chevron bloggers ran wild, crying foul, and trumpeting the Chevron line that a fair trial in Ecuador was impossible.

The only problem was, the smoking gun backfired. Instead of revealing a scandal, the videos themselves–and Chevron's role in presenting them to the media–became the scandal. As my colleague Han Shan documents in his thorough deconstruction of the company's allegations on Huffington Post, the whole "scandal" was nothing but a bizarre set up. By the end of October, it was clear that there was no actual bribe and no actual government officials were involved. Instead the videos merely document what appears to have been a plan to entrap judge Juan Nuñez and get him removed from the case. The man who presents himself as a businessman isn't, though he is a convicted drug-trafficker. The man he purports to bribe in the video is a phony government official (actually a car salesman). And the contracts they discuss were never signed and were proposed for a business that doesn't exist. Nice try, Chevron, but...

Since the bribery scandal imploded, there's been a curious silence from Chevron's merry band of bloggers. This isn't surprising. They're following a well-known propaganda strategy: make dramatic accusations with little supporting evidence, spread those accusations far and wide, then offer no retraction or apology when your claims are later proven to have been wildly off base...

More after the jump

Twenty-Six Members of Congress Ask USTR to Reject Chevron Interference in Landmark Ecuador Legal Case

House Members Express "Concern" About Oil Giant's Effort to Use Trade Policy to Deny Due Process in Environmental Lawsuit

WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Chevron has been dealt a major setback in the Congress as more than two dozen representatives, led by Rep. Linda Sanchez and including powerful senior members, have signed a letter urging that the United States Trade Representative reject efforts by the oil giant to cancel Ecuador's trade preferences. Chevron has pressured the USTR and Congress for years to revoke or curtail Ecuador's preferences in retaliation for a lawsuit brought by 30,000 Ecuadorian citizens alleging that Chevron dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest over a period of more than 20 years.

Separately, a one-year extension of the trade preferences for Ecuador were approved in the House on Dec. 14 on a voice vote – the fourth consecutive year Chevron's lobbying effort against Ecuador appears to have failed. The Senate is expected to formally approve the measure by the end of the year.

The letter to the USTR, sent December 15, expresses concern about Chevron's efforts to influence a private litigation which originally was filed in 1993 in U.S. federal court by several Ecuadorian indigenous tribes and farmer communities, but was sent to Ecuador at Chevron's request in 2002.

"We urge you to reject Chevron's request and reaffirm that U.S. trade agreements will not be used as leverage to interfere in private claims progressing through Ecuador's legal process," the representatives wrote in the letter.

Among the 26 Members taking this strong stand with Rep. Sanchez were: the Chief Democratic Deputy Whip and Vice-Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee's Trade Subcommittee, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); the Chairman of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA); eight Members of the Ways & Means Committee, including the chairman of its Oversight Subcommittee, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA); and eight members of the Appropriations Committee, three of whom also oversee State Department matters and Foreign Operations. Judiciary and Rules Committee Members also were among those lending their support.

Other members signing the letter were Reps.: Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), James McGovern (D-MA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Danny Davis (D-IL), Sam Farr (D-CA), Steve Israel (D-NY), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Phil Hare (D-IL), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Michael Michaud (D-ME), Jim McDermott (D-WA), James Moran (D-VA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Mike Quigley (D-IL), John Olver (D-MA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Betty Sutton (D-OH), and Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-CA).

Chevron is charged in the lawsuit with dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways and abandoning more than 900 unlined waste pits when it operated a large oil concession in Ecuador's Amazon from 1964 to 1990. A team of independent, court-appointed experts has estimated that at least 1,401 individuals have died from cancer related to exposure to the contamination and determined that damages could reach as high as $27.3 billion, according to a 4,000-page report turned over to the court last year.

The members of Congress write: "We do not prejudge the outcome of the case, nor do we take a position on the litigation. We do believe, however, that tens of thousands of indigenous residents of Ecuador who have brought this case deserve their day in court. We further believe that the USTR should not interfere in an ongoing judicial matter, particularly when this case involves environmental, health, and human rights issues that have a regional, and even global, importance."

Even though Chevron filed 14 expert affidavits in U.S. federal court praising Ecuador's court system to get the case transferred, once the evidence in the Ecuador trial pointed to the company's culpability it began a lobbying campaign in Washington to have Ecuador's preferences canceled. Chevron's lobbyists have made misleading assertions to the Congress that the company was granted a release from claims after a limited environmental clean-up in the mid-1990s, even though the release does not apply to the private claims in the lawsuit and the clean-up itself was fraudulent, according to the plaintiffs.

The ultimate goal of Chevron's Washington lobbying campaign was to pressure Ecuador's President, Rafael Correa, to interfere in his country's judiciary and quash the case as a way to maintain more than 300,000 jobs in Ecuador that are dependent on the preferences, according to Steven Donziger, an American legal advisor to the plaintiffs in the legal case.

"Chevron was trying to pressure Ecuador's President to violate his own Constitution and interfere in a private litigation to benefit the company in its battle with indigenous groups decimated by Chevron's pollution," said Donziger.

Chevron's lobbying campaign has sparked strong reactions across Capitol Hill and in the media.

On November 17, in testimony before the trade subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Sanchez called Chevron's lobbying "extortion" and said, "Apparently, if it can't get the outcome it wants from the Ecuadorian court system, Chevron will use the US government to deny trade benefits until Ecuador cries uncle."

A recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times editorial blasted Chevron, noting that "If ... Chevron has its way, Congress will instead punish Ecuador because its government refuses to halt a private lawsuit against the oil giant.... to force a favorable outcome in a private claim would justly generate international outrage."

In 2006, then-Senator Barack Obama and Sen. Patrick Leahy wrote a similar letter to the USTR asking it to reject Chevron's petition, which it did.

Experts believe the Ecuador contamination – which covers an area the size of Rhode Island -- is the worst oil-related disaster on earth and would take at least two decades to properly clean. A final judgment in the case is expected next year.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wood’s Private Life Questioned, But His Public Choices Raise Real Questions

For the first time in Tiger Woods' career his private life is being closely scrutinized and his unwillingness to discuss what happened in his home criticized. Much ink has been used to debate what impact this scandal is having on his corporate partners, specifically Chevron, who entered into a five-year contract with the Tiger Woods' Foundation last year and had expected him to attend its golf tournament this week.

But, greater attention should be paid to Tiger's willingness enter into a relationship with Chevron itself, and the impact its had with the oil giant has had on the countries and people suffering from Chevron's abuse of the environment and human life across the globe.

This moment of media chaos may be the perfect time for Woods to reassess his relationship with this particular multinational for about 18 billion good reasons. That's the number of gallons of toxic waste that Texaco, now Chevron, intentionally dumped into the Ecuadorian rainforest from 1964 to 1990, contaminating the food and water supplies of the indigenous groups and farmer communities living there. Texaco built over 900 gigantic, unlined oil pits to store toxic waste permanently. The pits continue to seep into the groundwater and leech into the rivers and streams used by the 200,000 people living in the region.

This humanitarian crisis created by Woods' partner decimated the pristine rainforest in the Ecuadorian Amazon, one of the most bio diverse regions on earth and continues to contaminate to this day.

Kerry Kennedy, human rights activist and daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, recently visited the area and called it "Chevron's Chernobyl." [See]

Experts estimate over 1,000 people have died from cancer, and thousands more suffer from respiratory illnesses, skin disease and other medical problems. Women living near the oil sites are 2.5 times as likely to have spontaneous abortions than women in other parts of Ecuador and incidents of childhood leukemia are three times higher than the national average. Children are born with deformities and, upon bathing in the contaminated water, develop painful skin rashes over their entire bodies.

Yet Chevron refuses to take responsibility for the deliberate contamination of the region designed to maximize profit at the time of its operation.

Chevron has a long history of human rights abuse across the globe and has shown no remorse for the Toxic legacy it inherited in Ecuador. EarthRights International has called on Woods to no longer partner with Chevron as a result of the company's criminal environmental practices and human rights abuses abroad. [See]

Looks like Tiger's relationship with Chevron may actually be the most harmful one for the mega-athlete's reputation. At a time when Tiger might need to do a bit of rehab on his public image, he should be cutting ties with an oil-giant that is embroiled in a rising tide of human rights problems around the globe. If Chevron insists on continuing to do business in a way that violates the environmental integrity of the communities in which it operates around the world, than Tiger should insist that his foundation disassociate itself with the oil company in every way.