Indigenous Ecuadorian groups this week called on US Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who is currently visiting the South American country, to demand that US oil giant Chevron pay the $9.5 billion USD judgment handed down against the company nearly four years ago for pollution in the Amazon region.
In 2011, an Ecuadorian court held Chevron responsible for extensive pollution of water and soil caused by Texaco, which had operated in the region for decades. Chevron purchased Texaco in 2001.
The Ecuadorian court found that Texaco had intentionally dumped 16 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in an area of Amazon rainforest called the Orient between 1964 through 1990. The company then tried to cover up the disaster by covering the oil pits with soil in order to obtain a cleanup agreement from the Ecuadorian government in 1995.
Chevron has refused to pay any compensation, claiming that the proceedings were illegitimate and that the cleanup agreement releases it from any further liability.
The Ecuadorian villagers are also calling on Jacobson to halt the practice of lobbying Ecuadorian officials in favor of Chevron, according to Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for dozens of rainforest communities.
“We are respectfully calling on Ms. Jacobson to abide by the rule of law in Ecuador during her visit and not interfere in the community-based lawsuit that has been used to hold Chevron accountable for its poisoning of our ancestral lands,” he said in a press release.
“Any effort by the State Department to bypass court proceedings and help Chevron via political or diplomatic means would be completely inappropriate, violate human rights norms, and be contrary to the US foreign policy goals of promoting democracy and civil society institutions.”
Fajardo also accused Chevron of trying to sabotage the Ecuadorians’ efforts to obtain payment by filing frivolous motion and threatening judges.
“Through this historic case, the US government now has the opportunity to signal to the people of Latin America that it stands for the rule of law rather than on the side of one of its mighty oil conglomerates that has repeatedly violated the law in our country by dumping toxic waste,” he said. “It can do this by demanding that Chevron and all US companies meet their legal obligations in Latin America and cease efforts to undermine local courts that are the only place impoverished persons can go to access justice."
The Ecuadorian plaintiffs have also filed lawsuits in Argentina, Brazil and Canada in attempt to get them to seize Chevron’s assets within their borders. Canada’s Supreme Court will hear arguments on enforcement action next month.