In the latest skirmish in the long-term battle over oil giant Chevron’s alleged pollution of the Ecuadorian rainforest, campaigners have highlighted an essay by environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. detailing his observations on the devastation.
The Ecuador-based Amazon Defense Coalition, which represents the plaintiffs, said Kennedy “saw scenes that looked like war,” when he visited the remote section of the Amazon in the early 1990s.
"Nothing in my experience prepared me for the scenes I saw in the Ecuadorian Amazon," Kennedy stated, adding: "The industry's practice [in Ecuador] of burying highly toxic drilling muds virtually assures the destruction of ... groundwater aquifers, while the region's surface water is being destroyed by pipeline spills and ... pit discharges.”
The coalition’s statement on May 7 holds Texaco, which is now owned by Chevron, responsible for the damage. Kennedy’s description also made up his foreword to the 1991 book Amazon Crude.
Kennedy described hundreds of wells and production stations across the rainforest and their effects on the “quarter million forest people, including members of eight indigenous tribes who rely on the natural resources ... for their survival....”
Interviews by Kennedy with local people exposed scenes of “sick and deformed children, adults and children affected with skin rashes, headaches, dysentery and respiratory ailments, cattle dead with their stomachs rotted out..."
Ecuador’s Judicial Council has hit Chevron with an $18 billion USD judgment as a result of the damage. The Amazon Defense Coalition has sought to keep the pressure on the oil giant with a dedicated media campaign, while Chevron continues to staunchly defend itself.
In a recent legal success for the petroleum company, two judges involved in the $18 billion USD judgment have been suspended. The Andean country’s Judicial Council ratified the decision to sack Nicolas Zambrano and Leonardo Ordonez because they had committed an “inexcusable error,” the Wall Street Journal reported on May 10.
In the United States, Chevron has gone after the bank records of an independent expert who was employed to investigate the environmental claims made against it. The company believes Richard Cabrera received $360,000 USD in “illicit payments” that went through Ecuador’s Banco Pichincha, which has a branch in Miami.
The oil firm alleges the money was a bribe to present anti-Chevron evidence in the lawsuit.
"Evidence already obtained by Chevron shows that these accounts were likely used to secretly pay the supposedly independent court-appointed expert Richard Cabrera in furtherance of the plaintiffs' scheme to obtain a corrupt judgment against Chevron," said Chevron Corp. spokesman Kent Robertson.
Amazon Defense Coalition spokeswoman Karen Hinton discounted these allegations. Hinton said the money represented payment to Cabrera to cover his costs, as both the plaintiffs and Chevron were required by the court to do.
On May 14, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan allowed racketeering claims in Chevron's suit, although he dismissed three other claims including fraud and tortious interference.
Kaplan also ruled separately to deny Chevron’s bid to attach $780 million USD it claims in damages.