Chevron wins case against Ecuador's indigenous people over oil spill

August 12, 2016
Rafael Correa
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa: “Anybody can come here to the Ecuadorean Amazon and dip their own hands in the lagoons of oil left by Texaco more than 20 years ago and their hands will come out full of oil.”

A United States federal appeals court ruled on August 8 in favour of the oil giant Chevron in a case that dates back more than 20 years. The ruling blocks an Ecuadorean indigenous community from collecting a judgement of nearly US$8.6 billion for environmental damage to the Amazon rainforest.

The decision from the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan dismissed claims by lawyer Steven Donziger on behalf of Ecuador's Lago Agrio region, that is most impacted by the dirty legacy of Chevron's Amazon drilling.

Donziger had requested that the court enforce an earlier ruling by an Ecuadorean court. This ruling awarded the plaintiffs nearly $9 billion in damages for water and soil contamination to the Amazon between 1964 and 1992 when Texaco, acquired by Chevron in 2001, drilled in the region.

But instead, the US court let stand a lower court decision that concluded that Donziger corrupted the Ecuadorean case by submitting fraudulent evidence, coercing the judge, bribing an expert witness and paying a consulting firm to write the expert's report. Donziger denies the allegations.

Chevron no longer has assets in Ecuador, forcing the plaintiffs to petition the US to collect damages. The August 8 ruling applies only to the multinational corporation's holdings in the US. It does not apply to the plaintiff's efforts to collect on the judgment in other countries where Chevron has extensive holdings, including Canada, Argentina and Brazil.

Billions of gallons of toxic waste left behind by Chevron in the oil-rich area of Lago Agrio — one of the world's largest environmental disasters — has impacted as many as 30,000 people, mostly Indigenous.

Ecuador's Supreme Court ordered Chevron in 2013 to pay $9.5 billion in damages and cleanup costs, but the oil giant has refused to comply, dragging out the lengthy court battle.

Activists have criticised as biased a 2014 decision by US District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan asserting that the $9.5 billion compensation package had been won fraudulently and involved a bribery offer.

In a recent interview with TeleSUR, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa described Chevron as a “corrupt company” that has long used its vast resources to systematically delay justice in the Amazon oil spill pollution case.

“These people believe that they are above states, above justice,” Correa said of Chevron. “They created a series of legal incidents and started a nasty PR campaign against our government.”

“Anybody can come here to the Ecuadorean Amazon and dip their own hands in the lagoons of oil left by Texaco more than 20 years ago,” Correa continued. “And their hands will come out full of oil.”

[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]

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