A court in Ecuador has fined US oil multinational Chevron US$ 8.6 billion for polluting a large part of the country’s Amazon region. Speaking to the BBC, company spokesperson Kent Robertson said the case was an “extortion scheme”, blaming Ecuador’s state-run firm Petroecuador for ongoing problems.
“Justice does exist,” said Guillermo Grefa, a Kichwa representative to the Assembly of Affected Communities who brought the class action suit on behalf of 30,000 residents of the Amazon region. “I can now dream of drinking clean water, water with no oil residue, and that the earth will begin to clean and heal.”
The oil firm Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, is accused of dumping toxic waste into local streams and rivers between 1972 and 1992. Campaigners say crops were damaged and farm animals killed, and that local cancer rates increased. Chevron says Texaco spent US$ 40 million cleaning up the area during the 1990s and spent US$ 5 million on community projects. In 1995 Chevron negotiated a settlement with the Ecuadorian government absolving the company of any further responsibility.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadoreans, and their lawyer Pablo Fajardo described the court ruling as “a triumph of justice over Chevron’s crime and economic power”.
But he said the damages were not enough, and pledged to appeal.
Environmentalists hoped the case would set a precedent, forcing companies operating in developing countries to comply with the same anti-pollution standards as in the industrialised world.
US-based lobby groups Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network said in a joint statement that the decision was “historic and unprecedented”.
In response to the ruling, Chevron issued the following statement:
“The Ecuadorian court’s judgment is illegitimate and unenforceable. It is the product of fraud and is contrary to the legitimate scientific evidence. Chevron will appeal this decision in Ecuador and intends to see that justice prevails.
“United States and international tribunals already have taken steps to bar enforcement of the Ecuadorian ruling. Chevron does not believe that today’s judgment is enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law.
“Chevron intends to see that the perpetrators of this fraud are held accountable for their misconduct.”
At the beginning of February 2011, Chevron took its case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which ordered Ecuador to suspend enforcement of any judgement against the company to allow arbitration to continue.
See below a Real News video (21 December 2010) about the environmental lawsuit in Ecuador
Related web sites:
- Rainforest Action Network – Chevron
- Change Chevron
- Amazon Watch – Clean Up Ecuador Campaign
- Chevron – Ecuador