Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Don't Buy Chevron's Big Lie!

Don't Buy Chevron's Big Lie!
Global Warming is a Myth
The NSA is Not Really Spying on Americans
The CIA Doesn't Torture Prisoners
Chevron Has Been Exonerated from Ecuador Disaster

These are all headlines you often see in U.S. media that are obviously false. Yet why do they even get traction? The answer, of course, is that they serve powerful interests who promote them incessantly in whatever space they can find or that money can buy in the mediasphere. But that doesn't mean that people buy into them, or that they should.

The Real Story

Chevron's "Big Lie" about its contamination in Ecuador is a prime example. Not only has Chevron been found guilty in a court of law of dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest, but the decision has been confirmed unanimously by two different appellate courts in Ecuador where Chevron fought to have the trial held. Dozens of independent journalists have also confirmed the existence of Chevron's massive pollution, most recently in this article published just last week.

Chevron likes to point to a recent court decision by a federal judge in New York who "determined" after a one-sided trial with no jury that the trial in Ecuador was marred by fraud. The judge based his decision on the clearly corrupt testimony of an Ecuadorian man to whom Chevron paid well over $350,000, or 20 times his annual salary. Yes, it is offensive to our sensibilities as U.S. citizens to think that such a sting would fly in a U.S. courtroom. But think again about the current state of our democracy, the massive and growing corporate power, and the daily exposure of injustices that read like the script of the next Jason Bourne movie. And then read on – Hollywood's best couldn't make this stuff up.

Let's dispel the myths outright:
  1. Chevron was in no way exonerated from responsibility in the recent decision by Judge Lewis Kaplan in its RICO case.
  2. Kaplan did not even review the evidence of contamination in Ecuador that the Ecuador trial court determined was the basis for Chevron's liability.
  3. The decision is not the least bit binding in any of the fora where Ecuadorian plaintiffs are now pursuing enforcement (currently Canada, Argentina and Brazil).
  4. An objective review of the facts presented in the case shows that with respect to the actual fraud claim – that the Ecuadorian verdict was ghost written – the ONLY evidence is a hearsay statement by a disgraced judge, a chevron PAID witness and an admitted liar. That kind of flimsy case would be laughed out of Judge Wapner's court.
  5. The decision in Ecuador was based almost completely upon scientific evidence submitted by Chevron itself, including internal documents ordering the destruction of records related to oil spills.
So despite sensational headlines, Chevron still owes $9.5 billion to the communities in Ecuador and no court has found otherwise. Indeed, Chevron has openly admitted its predecessor company Texaco deliberately dumped billions of gallons of oil waste into the rivers and streams relied on by indigenous groups and entire communities for sustenance. The company never denied that it engineered and exclusively operated for decades an oil extraction system that was designed to pollute. Chevron's contamination in Ecuador was not an accident; it was a corporate decision designed to sacrifice human health and well being in the name of greater profits.

Eventually, Chevron CEO John Watson is going to have to answer to his shareholders as to why he spent millions upon millions of their money on a legal strategy that offers no actual legal remedy for the company. What he actually spent their money on was a talking point – and a false one at that.

Anatomy of a #BigLie

As is widely known, Chevron bought itself a disaster unlike any other when it merged with Texaco in 2001. For years, it has tried everything, literally sparing no expense, to wash off the filth of its ADMISSION of deliberately poisoning the Ecuadorian Amazon over decades. To that effort it tried pushing its case in any forum it could that would give a favorable verdict – including now more than 30 federal courts throughout the U.S. When you have 60 law firms and 2,000 legal personnel and are spending over a billion dollars to fight, that opens up a lot of options. But Chevron has fundamentally failed. In fact, "18 different U.S. federal trial courts and all four federal appellate courts have either rejected Chevron's claims outright, or refused to adopt them. The U.S. Supreme Court also denied a Chevron petition to review a decision denying it the right to arbitrate the issue of liability."

Yet Chevron finally found two venues working for it – Kaplan's court and an International Investor Tribunal of the Hague (to learn more about how anti-democratic and biases that venue is, read this release from Public Citizen). So, in crude yet sadly accurate terms, Chevron threw all the sh*t it could at the wall to see what would stick. That's how it found Judge Kaplan. Kaplan actually invited Chevron to file the RICO case against the Ecuadorians and their counsel, and then assigned the case to himself rather than go through the random selection process as is the normal custom in the federal judiciary.

The whole process stunk from the beginning.

Witnessing the trial myself last fall and consulting with lawyers in the field, I can attest that things went on in Kaplan's courtroom that raise disturbing questions around his own ethics and the U.S. judiciary. The list is long but includes: allowing Chevron to pay its witnesses in violation of rules barring the same; degrading treatment of a foreign judge from Ecuador who testified that he wrote the judgment; threats and outright hostility to Ecuadorian witnesses and permitting absurd lines of questioning in open court while acknowledging their inappropriateness at sidebar, among many other problems. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals (which oversees Kaplan) will most likely strike down most – if not all – of Kaplan's ruling. Click here to read the Ecuadorian legal team's analysis of why Kaplan's decision is "fatally flawed" and will likely be overturned on appeal and backfire against Chevron abroad. In the meantime, Kaplan's judgment still carries no legal authority outside the U.S. and it decidedly will not stop the seizure of Chevron assets.

So then, why did Chevron pay through the nose to get the verdict?

Setting a Precedent: A Clear and Present Danger

Let's be clear: Chevron's main "victory" (if you want to call it that) is not in the actual verdict – since it has no legal impact on enforcement – but the SALE of the message that it brings. And that was its primary goal in the first place. Chevron knows that its case looks pathetic the moment anyone actually looks beyond the surface. They're counting on most people NOT to look. And they are counting on most members of the U.S. media to swallow the story as it is fed to them by Chevron's deep-pocketed public relations team. Some journalists have paid passing mention to the glaring injustices of Kaplan's court, like the fact that Guerra – the key witness upon which the fraud claims lie – completely lacks credibility. However, almost all continue to promote false Chevron talking points. And everyone knows the famous expression about repeating the same lie over and over.

Ironically, the grave danger here is not to the Ecuadorians seeking justice. In fact, they're not dissuaded in the least by a U.S. judge acting in an overtly racist manner, with the gall to pass judgment on their legal system without knowing the first thing about it nor even trying to educate himself. No, the real danger is the precedent this sets for our work to hold Chevron and other U.S. corporations accountable. Kaplan's ruling, if allowed to stand, tries to criminalize the critical First Amendment activity of watchdog groups like ours. It would allow any corporation to bring SLAPP lawsuits against human rights and environmental activists and their lawyers and force them to spend millions of dollars in time and legal costs defending themselves. Faced with the risk of turning over all their information to their very targets of their campaigns or possibly being fined if they refuse to comply with sweeping subpoenas, many groups will be cowed into submission before their cases even get to court.

If our government – spurned on by pressure from civil society – does not step in and prevent this heinous attack on justice and the First Amendment, then we might as well start waving the white flag in the face of growing corporate power in America. That's why the Sierra Club, Greenpeace USA and 40 other human rights and environmental NGOs (most of which have never even been involved in this campaign) condemned Chevron's actions and well over 100,000 people have sent messages to the U.S. Senate demanding that they investigate this company that has gone off the rails.

We cannot permit Chevron's Big Lie that it is off the hook in Ecuador to take hold and grow.
It threatens every action we take to challenge corporate crimes at home and abroad. The first step to fighting back is not permitting the "Big Lie" to permeate our body politic any further. Chevron can spend untold millions touting this verdict but DO NOT BUY IT – and don't let anyone else buy it either.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Trudie Styler on Seeking Justice in Ecuador

Along with her husband Sting, Trudie Styler founded the Rainforest Fund 25 years ago, and as a longtime advocate for the rights of the indigenous communities of the Amazon, she has supported the legal efforts to hold Chevron accountable for its human rights and environmental abuses in Ecuador.

Today, Trudie posted a powerful article on Huffington Post. We encourage you to read and share this thoughtful piece. Thank you, Trudie.

Seeking Justice in Ecuador
Originally posted on The Huffington Post.

Let us begin with a common understanding; let's start with what is not in dispute. The Amazon rainforest is one of the world's most important ecosystems and is home to the largest remaining area of tropical rainforest on the planet. Its watershed is the largest river system in the world, covering 40 percent of the South American continent and carrying 20 percent of the world's flowing fresh water. The rainforest is also the ancestral home of nearly 200 indigenous cultures; people who have demonstrated sophisticated ecological stewardship of their rainforest territories for thousands of years. And the Amazon rainforest -- our climate's regulating heart-pump, key to the fight to stem global climate change -- is in peril, under increasing threats from our global economy's unsustainable demand for finite resources: timber, minerals, hydrocarbons.

I am no stranger to the struggles of indigenous people in the Amazon to protect their ancestral territories from the short-sighted and exploitative "development plans" of governments, or from the unchecked greed of the global extractive industry. My husband Sting and I founded the Rainforest Fund 25 years ago, and have worked for decades -- at times with great success, and at times with heartbreaking failure -- in support of indigenous people, such as the Kayapo who live along the legendary Xingu river of the Brazilian Amazon, in their fights for self-determination and protection of their pristine lands.

Over the last six years I have been working in Ecuador's northern Amazon, a region of unparalleled biological and cultural diversity that has been decimated by decades of reckless oil extraction. It has been an honor to work in support of, and to learn from, the Cofan, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa and Waorani peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon on a water project -- www.GiveClearWater.org -- which is building a movement for clean water, cultural survival and rainforest protection. But it would be dishonest for me not to admit that I wish such a project was unnecessary. I wish that history was not so cruel as to demand the need for a project to provide life's basic necessity -- clean water -- to the ancestral guardians of the rainforest. And yet, the region's rivers and streams are today poisoned, necessitating rainwater catchment systems and cultural renewal for these forest guardians, who for millennia relied upon the water flowing through their boundless backyard for drinking, cooking, bathing, and fishing.

You may be familiar with the tragic story of oil drilling in northern Ecuador: Chevron (formerly Texaco) deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic wastewater and spilled roughly 17 million gallons of oil ("cost-cutting measures") in the rivers and streams of the once-pristine forest. The consequence: a severe public health crisis amongst the indigenous people and farmers of the region. Cancer, birth defects, disease, and poverty for those unlucky enough to live above an American oil company's underground rivers of liquid gold.

A lawsuit was filed 20 years ago to hold the American oil company accountable, and in February 2011 Chevron was found guilty of environmental crimes in Ecuador, and was fined $19 billion by Ecuadorian courts. Ecuador's Supreme Court recently upheld the verdict, but cut the damages to $9.5 billion, a figure which would allow for environmental remediation, provision of health care and clean water, and cultural restoration, but removed the punitive damages ordered by the lower courts.

And we hoped that was the end of it. That Chevron would recognize its historical wrongs, pay the fine, and pledge to repair the damages that it caused. But instead, it has fought with alarming intensity to evade responsibility. Unfortunately, it seems, corporate impunity is the theme of our days.

Chevron has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lawyers, public relations firms, private investigators in order to impugn the verdict in Ecuador, assault the entire Ecuadorian judicial system, discredit the human rights lawyers, and humiliate the indigenous people and farmers, who are guilty of nothing more than living in the forest and drinking the water poisoned by oil and the byproducts of its excavation.

Sting and I had the unfortunate opportunity to spend several days over the many weeks in October and November attending a trial in U.S. federal court in New York, where Chevron accused Steven Donziger, a human rights lawyer and friend of mine, along with the indigenous peoples and farmers of Ecuador, of having a waged a multi-decade racketeering conspiracy against the company. Filed under the RICO statute -- designed originally to prosecute organized crime syndicates -- Chevron's racketeering lawsuit is the oil giant's alarming and cynical attempt to destroy a two decades-long effort to hold the company accountable. And tragically, they have succeeded.

Instead of owning up to its grave responsibility in Ecuador, Chevron instead has spent millions of dollars creating what appeared to me a modern Kafkaesque drama in the courtroom, where suddenly the victims of Chevron's contamination in Ecuador have become the accused, and the polluter has become the victim; an absurd theatre where justice has been turned on its head.

It is not my place, nor my expertise, to opine on the legal matters involved. I am nonetheless compelled, principally because of the suffering of humble, dignified people I have witnessed in Ecuador at the hands of an American company, to say that Chevron's legal and public relations tactics in this case constitute a grave injustice. That the affected indigenous peoples and farmers, and the human rights lawyers who have advocated for them, should find themselves in a New York courtroom, accused by its abusers of conspiracy and fraud is a preposterous, humiliating, and distracting sideshow. The victims of a terrible environmental crime have become the guilty parties, and the grave wrongs perpetrated against them are brushed aside, apparently no longer relevant or worthy of note.

One should always ask questions in life. Among the greatest and most pressing questions of our time, indeed of all times, must be: What is the nature of justice? And: How can justice be attained? What kind of world are we living in when a farmer from northern Ecuador, Donald Moncayo, a kind and generous man whom I know and admire; who lost family members and friends to the sickness produced by oil contamination; who has worked tirelessly to bring attention to the plight of his community and surrounding communities now stands accused of conspiracy and racketeering only because he has dedicated his life to holding a corporation accountable?

What kind of world are we living if it has been shown that only 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of man-made climate-endangering emissions. And among those, we know that but a few companies -- like Chevron, Exxon and BP -- are primarily responsible for climate change since the dawn of the industrial age, and yet we have made no progress in holding them to account, or forcing them to change course? With a stranglehold on government and resources that frequently dwarf that of the vast majority of nation-states, these companies continue to operate with absolute impunity.

These are huge questions. Our shared future depends on asking them, and relentlessly seeking answers. And I suspect that how we confront, and ultimately dismantle, corporate impunity may be the greatest challenge of our time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Court Ruling in Chevron’s RICO Case: Violates First Amendment and Will Backfire In International Courts

This morning, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan delivered his ruling in Chevron's retaliatory RICO case against the Ecuadorian villagers living amidst the company's contamination, and their long-time legal advocate Steven Donziger.

Donziger, his appellate counsel Deepak Gupta, and Han Shan, U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorians issued a press release earlier today with the headline:

Chevron’s Flawed RICO Decision in Ecuador Case Violates First Amendment and Will Backfire In International Courts, Defendants Say

The release contains brief statements from the three people listed above, as well as an informative background document with additional analysis on the ruling.

An excerpt from Steven Donziger's statement: 
“With all due respect to the court, this is an appalling decision resulting from of a deeply flawed proceeding that overturns a unanimous ruling by Ecuador’s Supreme Court. We believe Judge Kaplan is wrong on the law and wrong on the facts and that he repeatedly let his implacable hostility toward me, my Ecuadorian clients, and their country infect his view of the case. This decision is full of vitriol, is based on paid evidence from a corrupt former judge, and ignores the overwhelming evidence that Chevron committed environmental crimes and fraud in Ecuador. Through this decision, we now have the spectacle of a Manhattan trial judge purporting to overrule Ecuador’s Supreme Court on questions of Ecuadorian law. All of these factual and legal issues will be addressed in due course on appeal. We are confident we will be fully vindicated in the U.S., as we have been in Ecuador."
Donziger's statement concludes:
"I will continue my efforts on behalf of my clients consistent with the law. I also will pursue an immediate and expedited appeal so that a panel of impartial judges can review this decision.”
Deepak Gupta, the appellate attorney for Donziger, said:
“Today’s decision should be extremely troubling for anybody who cares about the rule of law. This court has taken the extraordinary and unprecedented step of appointing itself a worldwide fact-finding commission and issuing what is in effect a global anti-collection injunction that would preclude enforcement of a judgment from another country in every jurisdiction... This decision also effectively outlaws core activity protected by the First Amendment such as bringing lawsuits, holding protests, issuing press releases, and engaging public officials. This is particularly appalling given that this case is about holding a corporation accountable for refusing to clean up decades of toxic pollution in the Amazon.”
And Han Shan, U.S. spokesman for the Ecuadorian villagers had this to say:
“While the Ecuadorians respect the rule of law in all countries, they do not accept this court’s jurisdiction nor this ruling. The affected communities long ago gave up hope that a U.S. court would provide them relief from Chevron’s contamination, which has taken their loved ones, poisoned their lands, and imperiled their cultures.

Their focus now is on enforcing their judgment in countries where they can receive a fair hearing about Chevron’s pollution of the rainforest and refusal to abide by a legitimate ruling from the courts in Ecuador, where the company demanded the case be heard. It is time for Chevron to end its abusive efforts at evading justice, and restore the indigenous people and villagers who suffer from the company’s terrible legacy.”
Read the entire press release here.

Amazon Watch, a US-based human rights and environmental organization that has long supported the Ecuadorian communities, issued a press release as well, stating:
Amazon Watch stands with Ecuadorian communities in rejecting a misguided judgment delaying justice for some 30,000 indigenous people and farmers who continue to suffer from the company's toxic legacy in the Amazon rainforest. The decision – handed down today by New York District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan – also underscores the threat that well-financed corporations pose to justice and the rule of law with their ability to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on efforts to attack victims and their allies.
Today's verdict is an example of Chevron buying and bullying its way to a verdict with 60 law firms and thousands of legal professionals hell-bent on exhausting the Ecuadorians and their allies. Such a verdict will ultimately prove useless in Chevron's efforts to evade justice.