Ecuador pledges to keep fighting Chevron

Monday, September 30, 2013
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa raises his oil-stained hand to show the ongoing contamination Ecuador is seeking to make Chevron pay to clean up.

During a visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patino joined independent media outlet Democracy now! on September 23 to discuss his government’s involvement in two closely watched environmental legal battles.

An Ecuadorean court has ordered US oil giant Chevron to pay US$19 billion to indigenous and rural Ecuadoreans for the dumping of as much as 18.5 billion gallons of highly toxic waste sludge into the rainforest. But Chevron has refused, winning a partial victory in September when a Hague-based international arbitration panel delivered an interim ruling questioning the validity of the original 2011 verdict.

See also:
Ecuador: US denies visas to plaintiffs in Chevron case

Patino also spoke about why Ecuador recently dropped its innovative plan to preserve swaths of the Amazon rainforest from oil drilling by having wealthy countries pay them not to drill. The Ecuadorean government recently declared the project had failed to attracDuring a visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patino joined independent media outlet Democracy now! on September 23 to discuss his government’s involvement in two closely watched environmental legal battles.

An Ecuadorean court has ordered US oil giant Chevron to pay US$19 billion to indigenous and rural Ecuadoreans for the dumping of as much as 18.5 billion gallons of highly toxic waste sludge into the rainforest. But Chevron has refused, winning a partial victory in September when a Hague-based international arbitration panel delivered an interim ruling questioning the validity of the original 2011 verdict.

Patino also spoke about why Ecuador recently dropped its innovative plan to preserve swaths of the Amazon rainforest from oil drilling by having wealthy countries pay them not to drill. The Ecuadorean government recently declared the project had failed to attract sufficient funding.

Leading environmentalists, including Vandana Shiva, Naomi Klein and James Hansen, recently wrote an open letter to President Rafael Correa asking him not to forsake the initiative, saying: “Along with thousands of other world citizens, we look to the Yasuni-ITT initiative as a pioneering step in the international struggle for a post-fossil-fuel civilization.”

Below is abridged transcript from Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman’s interview with Patino.

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Between 1964 and 1990, Texaco drilled for oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon and dumped as much as 18.5 billion gallons of highly toxic waste sludge into the rainforest. The waste contaminated the streams and rivers used by local people for drinking, bathing, and fishing. For the past two decades, there’s been a legal battle over the cleanup. In 2011, an Ecuadorian court ordered the oil giant Chevron, which acquired Texaco in 2011, to pay $19 billion to indigenous and rural Ecuadoreans.

But, Chevron has refused to pay and an international arbitration panel claimed the lawsuit against Chevron lacked a legitimate legal foundation because Ecuador had released Texaco of all potential liability back in the 1990s. Ecuador has rejected the findings, saying indigenous plaintiffs should not be precluded from suing Chevron. Can you explain this latest twist in the Chevron saga?

One of the tribunal's decisions is that Ecuador, of course, never sued Texaco and can’t sue Chevron-Texaco, but it could be sued by individuals for the impacts on those individuals, though not for impacts on collectives.

The government of Ecuador considers that the Court of Arbitration lacks jurisdiction. It is important to note that Chevron has spent millions on a campaign to discredit the Ecuadorian government, arguing there were problems with the legal process.

If that is the case, then they need to address those in the Ecuadorian legal system. But, one of the things that they argue is that they cleaned up after devastating the Amazon and that they didn’t leave anything amiss. And Chevron-Texaco argues that any damages still visible were not their fault and are for the Ecuadorian government to address.

A few days ago, Correa went to an area where Chevron-Texaco was operating and the president put his hands in the toxic waste pits that Chevron-Texaco left. Correa raised his oil-stained hand up to show the world how Chevron-Texaco has destroyed the Ecuadorian Amazon, and did not use the clean-up methodologies that were available at the time to mitigate or even avoid environmental damages.

Chevron-Texaco did not care at all about the destruction of the environment it caused. That is why we are now inviting the world to come to the Ecuadorian Amazon and see for themselves the destruction it has caused.

And even though Texaco left the country in 1992, these damages are still very much evident. We have no interest in taking legal action against Texaco, we simply want to show the world that they are lying.

Ecuador recently dropped a plan to preserve large areas of the Amazon rainforest from oil drilling by having wealthy countries pay them not to drill. Correa said the plan to save parts of the Yasuni National Park had not attracted sufficient funding. UNESCO has designated the park as a world biosphere reserve because it contains 100,000 species of animals, many which are not found anywhere else in the world.
Environmentalists recently wrote an open letter to Correa calling on him not to abandon the initiative and listen to voices inside Ecuador against mining in the Amazon. What is your response?

First of all, it’s important to say that it was the Ecuadorian government that presented the initiative and we have been working on it for six years. The initiative says, basically, we would like to preserve the extraordinary biodiversity on the surface of Yasuni and we want to avoid drilling and selling and burning the oil underground and thus avoid polluting the atmosphere.

The initiative said the Ecuadorian government was willing to sacrifice 50% of the resources this oil could generate for Ecuador, resources that we need. Ecuador is not a rich country. Ecuador needs resources for its development.

There is still quite a lot of poverty. A lot has changed in the past six years [since Correa was first elected on a platform to develop Ecuador and tackle poverty]. A lot has been improved, but we need to work quickly to achieve even better conditions and we need these resources.

All over the world, natural resources are being exploited without a great deal of concern about the impacts. We appealed to the world and we said we were willing to sacrifice 50% of the income that could potentially be generated [by drilling for oil], but the world has to contribute and we said if the international community would cover the other 50%, we were willing to completely preserve the area of the Yasuni-ITT and not exploit the oil indefinitely.

But, the world’s response was negative. We only got a few million dollars. And we said if the world does not respond to our appeal, we would have to exploit this oil because we need the income.

After having appealed and appealed, Ecuador decided to exploit the oil without affecting the surface of Yasuni; this is very important. It will have some impact, but it will be minimal.

We respect the criteria expressed in that open letter. If the people who signed it could raise the awareness of the world to achieve the ends that we did not manage, we would be delighted. But, unfortunately, we did not achieve what we proposed and maybe there are other issues that the world is more concerned about.

The world spends trillions on weapons, and the rich countries and companies did not want to contribute to the fund for Yasuni. Even in very rich, wealthy, and powerful European countries, it was local authorities that contributed to the fund, but not federal governments.

We also need to try and eliminate the misery that people are suffering in Ecuador. There are a lot of people who still die from intestinal illness and a lack of drinking water, and so we need these resources.


From GLW issue 983