Oil giant Chevron sues cartoonist in Ecuador case

February 10, 2014

United States oil giant Chevron has filed a suit for damages against a cartoonist who ridiculed its legal antics in its ongoing case against Ecuador.

The oil giant is using the US court system to seek to avoid paying US$9 billion that an Ecuadorian court ruled it owed in environmental compensation for dumping oil waste in the Amazon Basin.

Mark Fiore, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist with The San Francisco Chronicle, has now been included in the ongoing legal dispute.

Making use of US RICO laws designed to target the mafia, Chevron is claiming that Fiore is working with lawyer Steven Donziger, scientists, activists from groups such as AmazonWatch and indigenous Ecuadorians affected by the pollution to carry out “an extortionate scheme” of “ongoing racketeering and fraud”.

In a New York court, Chevron is seeking a ruling to “prevent defendants from initiating any recognition and enforcement action in the United States, where Chevron’s assets are located”. It is claiming damages for “the loss of goodwill and reputational damage by the defendants’ public-pressure campaign”.

Where do you even start with this? Who is really responsible for the damage to Chevron’s reputation generated by the “public-pressure campaign” against it?

Is the blame those who bring this to the world’s attention and fight for compensation for the people affected, or is it possible the oil giant’s fault for dumping toxic waste to the detriment of the local population in Ecuadorian Amazon?

It seems we are seeing a repeat of the approach taken by the powerful to likes of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Those who reveal the illegal actions of governments and corporations are threatened, while the actions themselves go unpunished.

Leaving aside the absurdity of claiming an opposing legal team are racketeering extortionists, the RICO laws also limit the burden of proof that needs to be levelled. The “injuries” felt by Chevron need only be “fairly traceable” to the defendants.

This reflects the history of these laws, introduced to target secretive mafia organisations. In the words of the fictional legal advisor Donny Rico in Fiore’s cartoon, “We can go after them the same way the Feds go after the mob”.

Where does this leave reporters? Is Green Left Weekly, as well as many other alternative media publications around the world, now “fairly traceable” to the “defamatory” public-pressure campaign against Chevron?

Texaco, which Chevron acquired, operated oil wells in the Ecuadorian Amazon from 1964 until 1990. Dr Suzana Sawyer wrote in 2004’s Crude Chronicles: “Texaco used deteriorating and outmoded equipment (technologies long illegal in the US).

“Employing substandard technologies greatly increased Texaco's profits, but they also contaminated sizable segments of the surface and subterranean water and soil systems.”

Ecuadorian media has reported that 80,000 tonnes of crude oil residue were dumped into the Amazon during this period. This is 87 times greater than the oil spilled by BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. The contamination affects the health and livelihood of 30,000 people.

The results today are very high rates of cancer and birth defects. Local Kichwa people report it is not uncommon for people to lose their hair, including women and children. It has been estimated that 1041 people have died of cancers caused by the spill, Telegrafo.com.ec said.

The $9 billion compensation sought from Chevron to clean up the communities gravely damaged by the dumping of toxic waste represents 4.5% of Chevron’s annual revenue. This was listed by Business Insider in 2011 as $196 billion. The GDP of Ecuador is about $84 billion according to the World Bank.

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