33 Caught in the Amazon

This article celebrated the conviction of Chevron by an Ecuadorian court in February 2011 over their extreme oil pollution in that country[1]

The people of the Amazonian region of Ecuador could not have wished for a better Valentine Day’s gift as a court there slammed a US$8 billion fine on Chevron for heavily polluting the area through serial oil spills.

Texaco spewed the spills into the fragile ecosystem between 1964 and 1990. You may be wondering why Chevron should be caught in the mess left behind by Texaco. Chevron bought Texaco in 2001, although if you should trace their pedigree, you would find that they were already close relatives.

The case against Chevron was first fought in a New York court, but they succeeded in getting the court to agree that the legitimate place to try the case was Ecuador. And so to Ecuador the case went. Perhaps, the oil mogul banked on wearing the plaintiffs out or it may have considered that they could run over the Ecuadorian legal system and come out unscathed, with clean oily hands.

Well, the plaintiffs were tenacious and the lawyers pressed on with the case. In a statement issued soon after the judgement was delivered, Chevron declared that, ‘The Ecuadorian court’s judgment is illegitimate and unenforceable,’ and that it was ‘the product of fraud and is contrary to the legitimate scientific evidence.’[2] And, of course, Chevron plans to appeal.

Interestingly, corporations such as Chevron are always keen to avoid liability even when caught in the act with a smoking gun still in their hands. The oil spills they left behind in Ecuador are as evident today as they were decades ago.

Indeed, anyone who makes a pollution tour of the Sucumbios, the region where these environmental disasters are easily visible, will not have to search before seeing the pools of crude Chevron left behind. There are cases of polluted streams, forests, and farmlands. It is like another Niger Delta across the ocean.

The people of the region suffer the impacts of the pollution on their health through diverse cancers, blood disorders, and other such diseases. The corporation also left behind pipelines that often run above the ground and at places people have to stoop beneath them to get into their homes.

One of the more atrocious acts of corporate ‘responsibility’ was the alleged practice of using toxic drilling muds to make building blocks for schools in the area. Reports also abound of toxic wastes from oil activities being spread on community roads as a social service. Sad thing is that after the operations were taken over by the national oil company, Petro Ecuador, there does not appear to be significant respect for the environment or the people in the region.

Meanwhile, Chevron is kicking and screaming against the judgment. It argues that they have earlier rulings by US and international courts that they can depend on to make the enforcement of Monday’s ruling impossible. Their statement is laced with open threats: ‘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.’

The company has loads of money and plenty of time. The poor indigenous people and the campesinos in the Amazon forest have neither of those. To the poor people, it is a fight for survival. For the oil mogul, it is a struggle to avoid responsibility.

When they bought Texaco, it should have been obvious that they purchased both the assets and the liabilities. And when a case is about environmental pollution, pray how do you hide the evidence of several barrels of crude oil in the open environment? It would take particular credulous judges to avoid the physical evidence that cry for justice even before the peoples speak.

The Ecuadoran Amazon communities initially filed a suit in New York City against Chevron in 1993 for polluting their water and soil and sought a settlement in the sum of 27 billion US dollars. After years of struggle and prevarications, the gavel has come down on the table, and Chevron is screaming blue murder.

The company was even reported to have filed complaints against the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the USA before the judgment was delivered. Why are these powerful transnational corporations unable to accept guilt and show some respect for local peoples who suffer the impacts of their massive footprints?

The Ecuadorian situation should be a lesson to those who are plucking up Shell’s oil fields in the Niger Delta. Someone will pay, one day, somehow.


  1. http://nigeriang.com/money/oil-politics-caught-in-the-amazon/7780/ (accessed 31 May 2016)
  2. See Chevron’s press statement, February 14, 2011, on the judgement titled Illegitimate Judgment Against Chevron in Ecuador Lawsuit. https://www.chevron.com/Stories/Illegitimate-Judgment-Against-Chevron-in-Ecuador-Lawsuitaccessed on 31 May 2016

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