Thursday, May 27, 2010

More on Yesterday's Outrage at Chevron Shareholders Meeting

Yesterday, Chevron's annual shareholders meeting erupted into outrage and arrests, as the company barred twenty concerned community leaders from attending the meeting, despite the fact that they came as legal proxies for Chevron shareholders large and small. Chevron management systematically denied entry to community members negatively affected by Chevron's operations in Ecuador, Nigeria, Burma, the Philippines, Canada and several other nations around the world.

Five people were arrested, including Amazon Watch corporate campaigns director Mitch Anderson and myself (coordinator of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign) alongside environmental justice leaders Juan Parras of Houston and Rev. Ken Davis from Richmond, California. After being barred from the meeting, the four of us refused to leave the site of the meeting, demanding to be allowed in. Before long, we were taken into custody at the direction of Chevron security personnel.

Amazon Watch's Mitch Anderson (L) and Han Shan (R) under arrest outside Chevron's Houston headquarters, before being taken to Houston City Jail.

The fifth person– Antonia Juhasz, coordinator of the 'True Cost of Chevron' coalition– was arrested while inside the shareholder meeting. Amazon Watch's Mitch & Han, and the other two men were released after posting bail around 4am on Thursday morning, while Antonia was bailed from Houston County Jail only minutes ago [Thursday, 1:15pm].

In an unprecedented move which shocked many shareholders, Chevron barred 20 out of 27 community members who arrived at the meeting as valid and legal proxy shareholders, according to existing corporate governance rules.

Indigenous Kichwa leader Guillermo Grefa (L) from Ecuador, and Debora Barros Fince (R), an Indigenous Waayu leader from Colombia, sit outside Chevron's shareholders meeting after being denied access even though they both held legal proxies.

Read a press release about yesterday's outrage.

Quite simply, Chevron's Board of Directors has been asleep at the wheel while the company's management silences critics and lies about its responsibility for a massive human and environmental tragedy in Ecuador.

Please TAKE ACTION NOW to send an message to Chevron's Board of Directors, and tell them that it's time for the lies to end, and the clean-up in Ecuador to begin!

– Han

Han Shan is the Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Update on Arrested Activists

Four of the five activists arrested yesterday at the Chevron shareholders' meeting (Mitch Anderson, Han Shan, Juan Parras, and Reverend Ken Davis) were released on bond last night at about 3 am Houston time. Antonia Juhasz is currently still in custody, but we hope that she will also be free this morning. The four men were arrested when they sat in at the entrance to protest the delegation's exclusion from the meeting, while Antonia was forcibly removed from inside the meeting, apparently for trying to exercise her right as a shareholder proxy to speak.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Breaking News: Activists Arrested at Chevron Shareholders' Meeting

At least five activists have been arrested at the Chevron annual shareholders' meeting in Houston, Texas. Activists and people from affected communities from across the US and countries such as Ecuador, Angola, Kazakhstan and Canada had traveled to Texas to make their voices heard. Despite the fact that they arrived holding valid proxy passes to attend the meeting, nearly the entire delegation was denied entry.

Several activists from the delegation were arrested for refusing to leave the entrance to Chevron's headquarters after being unfairly barred from the meeting. At least one activist who was able to attend the meeting was arrested when she was trying to make a statement, despite this being permitted of shareholders. Nearly all of the affected community members who had traveled great distances to state their cases to the Chevron board and shareholders were prohibited from attending.

We will post more information as we have it.

Photos and video of activists and arrests
Photos of the attendees from Ecuador and other countries

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Report & Photos: 'True Cost of Chevron' Coalition Press Conference in Houston

Representing diverse communities around the world that have come together to challenge the impact of oil giant Chevron's operations on their lives, the 'True Cost of Chevron' coalition is unprecedented.

This morning, several dozen people – from Angola, Burma, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, and several communities across the U.S. – gathered together to briefly plan our press conference on the day before Chevron's annual shareholders meeting. The room was buzzing with organizers, community leaders, and people with powerful stories of devastation, as well as resistance, against one of the largest companies in the world.

Soon, we headed downtown to Chevron's Houston headquarters, a tall, gleaming glass building in an urban area eerily devoid of foot traffic. A local told me that with the sweltering heat, many people choose to use underground, air-conditioned tunnels to move from parking lot to building and between buildings.

Reporters and camera people set up as our group organized themselves as we found our places. Antonia Juhasz, editor of the 'True Cost of Chevron' Alternative Annual Report – and author of the must-read muckraking book The Tyranny of Oil – kicked off the event with some context and introductions. With that, a succession of powerful speakers recounted stories of Chevron's impact in their community.

Guillermo Grefa, profiled here yesterday, spoke powerfully about the devastation that followed in the wake of Chevron subsidiary Texaco's arrival in the Ecuadorean Amazon.

Grefa implored the gathered crowd not to be deceived by Chevron: "I've seen the contamination the company brought and experienced it first hand."

At one point he emphatically said, "Chevron lies, lies, lies!"

More people told their powerful stories of the cost of Chevron to their communities before the press conference wrapped up and some speakers stepped aside for brief interviews with reporters on hand.

The assembled group then walked up the steps to the headquarters, intent on demanding an opportunity to deliver a copy of the Alternative Annual Report to new Chevron CEO John Watson.

As the community members gathered in the lobby, a public relations representative refused to allow the group to join him or any other representative for a conversation.

Police and Chevron security officials stood close to the group as individuals took a moment to demand answers from the oil giant. Read the coalition press release here.

While the stories of Chevron's abuse of communities and the environment from Ecuador to Nigeria to Louisiana to Kazakhstan is tragic, it has been impossible not to be inspired by the power of this group that is coming together to challenge the company and pave a path to a future – in the words of our friends at RAN's Change Chevron campaign – in which energy doesn't cost lives.

Speaking of which, thanks to Jonathan Mcintosh from the Change Chevron campaign for use of his photos. See more of Jon's photos here.

– Han

Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Well, That Was Predictable: Chevron Peddles New Ecuador Lies Ahead of Shareholders Meeting

Yesterday, only 48 hours before its annual shareholders meeting in Houston tomorrow, Chevron showed their desperate concern about the company's liability for toxic contamination in the Ecuadorean Amazon. Chevron issued a press release full of lies and misleading statements.

Their hook? Chevron lawyers filed a long rambling letter to Ecuador's courts re-stating a litany of complaints that have already been rejected by the courts multiple times, and then listed those complaints in the press release, claiming to have "uncovered new evidence" when they had not.

The company is simply recycling one of its favorite tropes. Chevron says that Richard Cabrera, the independent court-appointed expert that reviewed, verified, and summarized the massive trial record, and wrote a report assessing damages of $27 billion, is corrupt and has colluded with the plaintiffs. In the recent past, Chevron has turned its attention away from the evidence in the trial to the trial itself, playing the victim and crying out that it hasn't received due process in one of the most litigated cases in history.

An oil-contaminated soil sample during judicial field inspections during the trail over Chevron's contamination in Ecuador.

And with that, we see what's on Chevron's mind. With community leaders from Ecuador's Amazon, campaigners from Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network, and a large group of our allies from around the world all gathered in Houston, it's understandable.

Chevron's management knows the evidence is stacked against them and they're afraid members of the Board of Directors may suddenly pull their heads out of the sand and see the gross negligence with which they're handling the Ecuador disaster. Or shareholders may hear the truth from the Ecuadoreans and begin asking some questions they don't want to answer.

Unfortunately, this new favorite play in Chevron's corporate playbook worked and Reuters and Dow Jones both ran stories that might as well have been written through a collaboration of Chevron's legal and public relations departments.

Both media outlets filed 'updates' later yesterday that included responses from the plaintiffs, like this from Karen Hinton, a spokesperson for the Amazon Defense Coalition which represents the plaintiffs:

"Since evidence at trial has indisputably shown Chevron is responsible for extensive contamination, the company has done everything within its power to attack the judicial process at its last hope of evading liability."

The Amazon Defense Coalition sent out their own press release yesterday to respond to Chevron's attacks. In it, they counter the lies that Chevron is peddling about what they claim to be inappropriate conduct by court expert Richard Cabrera and the plaintiffs attorneys and their experts:

  • Chevron misrepresentation: Plaintiffs inappropriately provided information to Cabrera.

    FACT: It was appropriate for the parties to furnish information to Cabrera. Cabrera solicited information from both parties, in accordance with his court-ordered mandate to provide the best possible estimate of the damage caused to the region. While the plaintiffs complied with Cabrera's information requests, Chevron chose not to participate.

  • Chevron misrepresentation: Chevron has uncovered "new evidence" that plaintiffs submitted documents to the court expert. 

    FACT: Chevron has not "uncovered" any new evidence. Contrary to its statements, Cabrera requested information from both parties in compliance with various court orders. In fact, court records indicate Chevron knew all along that plaintiffs had submitted documents to Cabrera.

  • Chevron misrepresentation: Sections of Cabrera's report are tied directly to Plaintiffs.

    FACT: It is completely appropriate for experts in Ecuador to adopt materials submitted by the parties. Several court experts in the Ecuador trial have adopted Chevron's materials in their reports, while others have adopted materials provided by the plaintiffs. This is also standard practice in the U.S. and in courts around the world.
  • During the trial, Chevron repeatedly tried to obstruct the court-appointed Cabrera from carrying out his mandate, and attacked him in the press even during the proceedings. The company had every opportunity to submit materials to Cabrera and he in fact repeatedly requested information that Chevron refused to provide. It seems that Chevron knew that a summary of the evidence – in a trial with hundreds of field inspections and thousands of soil samples – would not go well for them. So they simply made a tactical legal decision to boycott the whole process with Cabrera before it even began and then complain after the fact about it, and try to discredit the court expert's findings.

    Chevron will surely continue its abhorrent pattern of deception at tomorrow's shareholders meeting. But we'll be there in force to speak truth to power and let the company know that we will continue to turn up the heat until they clean up Ecuador.

    – Han

    Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign.

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    Indigenous Kichwa Leader Guillermo Grefa in Houston to Confront Chevron at Shareholders Meeting

    Guillermo Grefa arrived in Houston, Texas yesterday, a few days ahead of oil giant Chevron’s annual shareholders meeting. Along with another person from Ecuador, Mariana Jimenez, who we profiled on this blog last week, he is in Houston to confront Chevron for its devastating impact on his community.

    In 1964, an oil consortium led by American oil companies Texaco and Gulf Oil, both now part of Chevron, began oil exploration in Ecuador’s rainforest region called the Oriente—the east. In 1967, the companies struck black gold.

    The one million hectare oil concession operated by Texaco was overlaid upon the ancestral lands of five indigenous nationalities—the Cofan, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa, and Huaorani. Two nomadic groups living in voluntary isolation—the Tetetes and the Sansawari—disappeared completely after Texaco began what it dubbed “the largest civilian airlift in history” in search of the crude lying beneath Ecuador’s rainforests.

    Guillermo Grefa is from the Kichwa tribe, and is a leader from a community called Rumipamba in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. Born in 1970, today he is a father of seven, and serves as the community coordinator and director of its school system. Grefa has long been a staunch advocate for the Kichwa people and the thousands of other indigenous peoples that have been severely affected by Chevron’s former operations.
    Guillermo Grefa stands at left as Humberto Piaguaje from the Secoya tribe addresses supporters at a protest in 2008. Photo by Lou Dematteis.

    Rumipamba was once a paradise. A several day hike from the larger Kichwa communities that line the riverbanks of the Napo River, the area was naturally blessed with an abundance of game, fruit trees, fish, and clean water. Several Kichwa families migrated and established the Rumipamba community in the 1940s, with much of their traditions intact. Families hunted in the plentiful forests, planted the crops of their ancestors, drank and fished from the rivers of the headwaters of the mighty Amazon River.

    All of that changed with Texaco’s arrival.

    As Texaco began to penetrate the forest homelands of indigenous groups, Grefa recalls the company had help. In 1972, General Guillermo Rodriguez Lara put an end to the country’s democratic rule and began a seven-year period of military dictatorship, which Grefa says was a tremendous boon to the company’s drilling plans. “The military would come, threaten us, threaten to take our land if we didn’t allow the company to drill. We were persecuted by the military on Texaco’s behalf.”

    Aided by the military, Texaco set up shop in the middle of the pristine rainforest region. The company arrived by helicopter, cutting seismic lines, detonating dynamite, and sinking a wildcat exploratory well known as Auca Sur 1. To transport the oil, Texaco built the Via Auca, a 60-mile road that cut a swath through Huaorani and Kichwa territory, opening up previously impenetrable forest, and bringing the oil industry to the Kichwa’s doorstep. Grefa witnessed first-hand Texaco’s drill and dump operations, and the community bore the brunt of its impacts.

    “There were frequent spills, and permanent pools—lagoons really—of oil in the open air,” explains Grefa. “We didn’t know what it was, and it was everywhere. So, unfortunately, we did what kids and young people do—we played with it.”

    Life for the members of his family and community began to change. Relatives became sick with unfamiliar illnesses, children were born with birth defects, animals they traditionally hunted for sustenance became scarce, and their crops failed.

    The origins of the landmark environmental lawsuit against Chevron—Aguinda v. Chevron—began in Rumipamba. Maria Aguinda, the first named plaintiff in the lawsuit, is Grefa’s mother-in-law and a long time resident of Rumipamba. Today, nearly 17 years after the lawsuit was originally filed, the trial continues, while Chevron spreads lies and disinformation, and tries to shift blame for its devastating impact on Grefa’s community and others in the Amazon.
    Maria Aguinda, with her family on the oil-soaked Via Auca in the village of Rumipamba in 1993. Photo by Lou Dematteis.

    While much of what the Kichwa and the other Indigenous groups have lost is irreplaceable, the people of the Oriente continue to organize tirelessly for justice. Guillermo Grefa and Mariana Jimenez have traveled from deep in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest to Houston to represent their communities, and demand that Chevron finally accept responsibility for the cultural and environmental damage it has caused.

    The company has turned a deaf ear for too long but they’ll be hearing directly from Guillermo and Mariana in their Houston headquarters on Wednesday. Stay tuned for updates.

    – Kevin Koenig, with editing by Han Shan

    Kevin Koenig is the Quito-based Northern Amazon program coordinator for Amazon Watch. Han Shan is coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

    Friday, May 21, 2010

    Profile of Mariana Jimenez from Ecuador's Amazon- Grandmother Will Confront Chevron at Houston Shareholders Meeting

    Next week at Chevron's 2010 annual shareholders meeting in Houston, members of communities that have been adversely affected by the oil giant's operations will come from around the world to demand justice from the company.

    Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign is helping to bring two community members from the Amazon rainforest region devastated by Texaco, now Chevron. They are among 30,000 plaintiffs in a monumental class-action lawsuit against Chevron demanding environmental clean-up and compensation for the impacts of the company on their lives and livelihoods.

    One of those attending the shareholders meeting is 71-year-old Mariana Manuela Jimenez. Amazon Watch's Quito-based Northern Amazon program director Kevin Koenig spoke to SeƱora Jimenez and produced the following profile:

    Born in 1939 in the southern Ecuadorian province of Loja, Mariana Jimenez has twenty-seven grandchildren from her seven children. Seeking to escape a devastating multi-year drought in Loja and hoping for a better fortune, Mariana and her family moved in 1971 to ‘Nueva Loja’, an emerging boom-town in Ecuador’s northern Amazon region.

    But what they found in Nueva Loja (dubbed Lago Agrio, Spanish for Sour Lake after Texaco’s mega-reserve in Texas) was worse than any drought– it was ground zero for what would become the country’s largest oil operation and what experts believe may be the worst oil-related environmental disaster in the world.

    Settling on a parcel of land near Texaco’s first well site, they were soon surrounded by oil wells and open-air toxic waste pits. Within a couple of years, they had intimate experience of the impacts of oil contamination.

    “We asked what this black stuff was, and whether it might have any impact on our health. The only people who knew were Texaco engineers. They told us it wouldn’t do anything, that in fact, it was actually a remedy for ailments like rheumatism or gastritis,” recalled Jimenez.

    Having confidence in Texaco’s words, Jimenez and her family drank the water, bathed in it, and used it to wash their clothes. Before long, the problems began.

    Jimenez recalls “infinite” oil spills, some of which covered her farm in crude and salty ‘produced water’– the chemical-laced toxic water pumped from underground formations during oil drilling. Poorly constructed waste pits overflowed under heavy rains, and others were simply set on fire.

    Photo by Maria Cristina Criollo

    “Our clothes hung out to dry would stain from the drops of black rain, and our pants would be covered in oil from walking along roads that Texaco covered with crude to keep the dust down. When it was sunny, it was like you were stepping in a hot, sweet pie. And all that oil went into the streams.”

    Their crops of cacao, yucca, plantain, and coffee dried up. Their animals fell in the crude, and, attracted to the salt of the produced water, drank from the spills. Jimenez estimates they lost some 65 pigs. She recalled, “We would open them up, and their stomachs were full of crude.”

    It wasn’t long until her family discovered that oil was the source, not salve, of their health problems. Her family began to experience skin rashes, headaches, and pain. One of her daughters needed extensive and costly treatment for throat problems that doctors associated with ingesting petroleum. But she was lucky. Another sister died of cancer, as did her husband, a former Texaco worker.

    Jimenez appears in a brief video that Amazon Watch released in January, 2010. In the video, indigenous people and campesino settlers from the Amazon region polluted by Chevron/Texaco speak out directly to John Watson, who became new CEO of Chevron corporation on January 1st.

    In a few days, Mariana Jimenez will be at Chevron's shareholders meeting in Houston hoping to appeal to John Watson in person to do the right thing and lead his company to clean up its mess.

    “Texaco did whatever it wanted—drilled wells where every they wanted, put pipelines where they wanted, and dumped waste wherever they wanted. They didn’t care at all about us. We’re only asking for a little bit of justice that’s been denied to us for so long.”

    Chevron Tries to Silence Critics of Its Ecuador Environmental Disaster

    Cross-posted from The Chevron Pit blog:

    Chevron is exhibiting some awfully thin skin lately over its Ecuador environmental disaster.

    A clear pattern is emerging where the company, its lawyers, and its public relations firms try to intimidate critics of its Ecuador problem into silence. Award-winning filmmaker Joe Berlinger, who recent made a movie documenting the company's abuses in Ecuador, is the latest victim. That has gotten Chevron on the bad side of prominent journalists and filmmakers such as Bill Moyers, Trudie Styler and Michael Moore.

    Chevron has admitted to dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into Ecuador's Amazon to cut costs, decimating indigenous groups and creating an outbreak of cancer that affects thousands of people. For years, the company has engaged in abusive litigation to evade accountability for a clean-up.

    Unlike the BP disaster in the Gulf, Chevron (via its predecessor company Texaco) discharged this waste on purpose. And unlike BP, Chevron's executives have buried their heads in the sand and refused to accept responsibility for the clean-up.

    The increased pressure on Chevron – 60 Minutes did a highly unflattering segment on the company recently – seems be taking a toll.

    Take look at Chevron's attacks on Free Speech just in the past year:

  • Filing frivolous lawsuits to "punish" critics: Chevron, via its new law firm Gibson Dunn, initiated a "malicious prosecution" lawsuit in a California federal court to punish a 75-year-old lawyer, Cristobal Bonifaz. Bonifaz had brought a separate lawsuit against Chevron on behalf of a handful of individuals for health claims related to the company's Ecuador disaster in San Francisco federal court. A federal judge turned the tables on Chevron, finding the Chevron action violated a California law that bars nuisance lawsuits designed to suppress Free Speech. The judge dismissed virtually all of Chevron's claims against Bonifaz. The California law (called Anti-SLAPP) used by the court against Chevron was created to prevent legal attacks brought to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of defending a frivolous lawsuit. The decision was a tremendous setback for Gibson Dunn, which has a reputation for being paid millions to protect companies like Chevron from being held accountable for their human rights abuses.

  • Attempting to intimidate journalists and gain access to their files: Chevron recently launched an unprecedented legal attack on award-winning documentarian Joe Berlinger to force him to allow the company to rummage through 600 hours of video footage Berlinger shot for the documentary, CRUDE. The movie – which has won 22 awards from film festivals -- chronicles the struggle of the 30,000 residents of the Ecuadorian rainforest to hold Chevron accountable for systematically polluting their lands. Chevron's lawsuit prompted a group of filmmakers that includes 20 Academy Award winners and many more nominees to write an open letter in support of Berlinger stating that Chevron's effort "will have a crippling effect on the work of investigative journalists everywhere." Filmmaker Michael Moore has stated, "The chilling effect of this is, someone like me, if something like this is upheld, the next whistleblower at the next corporation is going to think twice about showing me some documents if that information has to be turned over to the corporation that they're working for."

  • Barring critics from public events: At the Chevron-sponsored Houston Marathon, a team of runners was barred from participating in the event, and threatened with arrest, for attempting to distribute materials critical of Chevron's human rights record in Ecuador. The race manager told the runners that "higher ups at Chevron were freaking out." At the time, runner Maria Ramos stated: "It is sad that the Chevron Houston Marathon – which raises awareness and money for many important causes – would deny the rights of participants to appease a corporate sponsor that is clearly ashamed of its human rights record."

  • Attempting to pressure news outlets to silence critics: Chevron has used pressure tactics to force major media outlets to prevent advertisements critical of the company from being published. Chevron responded to an ad campaign from the Rainforest Action Network by directing its lawyers and public relations firms to leverage the company's influence and demand that the New York Times and Washington Post pull the ads. Despite Chevron's complaints, the New York Times ran the advertisements. However, the Washington Post initially succumbed to Chevron's pressure and pulled the ads temporarily. Of course, the fact Chevron was contemporaneously paying for the publication of advertisements attacking its critics was of no small irony.

  • Taking out advertisements attacking critics: Chevron has taken out multiple paid advertisements in Ecuador, in the United States, and across the internet accusing the Amazon community leaders suing Chevron of being liars, frauds, and con men. Chevron has also taken out ads attacking the independent court-appointed expert in Ecuador, the judge, and other participants in the lawsuit. The use of paid public advertisements to attack and intimidate court officials is unethical and would result in sanctions against the company's lawyers if it were done in the United States.
  • Chevron's "scorched earth" approach to its critics is pathetic, to say the least. But that's what happens when some of Big Oil's corporate leaders don't want to be reminded that they are responsible for the discharge of more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon Rainforest.

    But the facts are the facts. While we can understand Chevron's desire to forget about the mess it made in Ecuador, and to wish that its critics would go away, it's time for the company to stop trying to silence the opposition.  

    For more information, visit

    Friday, May 14, 2010

    Prominent Filmmakers Rally To Fight Chevron's 'CRUDE' Attack on the First Amendment

    By now, the threat posed by Big Oil's stranglehold on our political leadership should be as obvious as the oil slick spreading on the Gulf. With oil companies ranking as seven of the top ten largest corporations on the planet, and the fossil fuels industry spending colossal amounts of money to disrupt meaningful efforts to combat climate change, people are waking up to the peril represented by what oil analyst and author Antonia Juhasz calls 'The Tyranny of Oil."

    Last week I wrote about the latest threat posed by Big Oil– this time, an attack by oil giant Chevron against the First Amendment.

    Chevron is going after acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger, the director of 'CRUDE', which tells the story of the company's toxic legacy in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador. Journalists, filmmakers, and civil libertarians – along with supporters of the campaign to hold Chevron accountable for its devastation of the Amazon – were appalled when Chevron went to court to demand that Berlinger turn over all of the 600+ hours of footage he shot during the making of CRUDE.

    Chevron is hoping to mine the footage for any material that might help its relentless public relations schemes to try to discredit the plaintiffs, their attorneys and the courts in Ecuador.

    Late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan sided with Chevron, sending shock waves through the documentary film community.

    But now, filmmakers – including the most prominent documentary filmmakers in the world – are rallying behind Joe as he appeals the misguided judgment.

    On Wednesday, Dave Itzkoff wrote on The New York Times' Arts Beat blog:

    The International Documentary Association and a group of filmmakers that includes 20 Academy Award winners and many more nominees have issued an open letter in support of Joe Berlinger, the director of “Crude,” and objecting to a judge’s ruling that Chevron could subpoena Mr. Berlinger’s footage from that film.

    The letter is signed by some twenty Oscar-winning filmmakers, as well as the Board of Directors of the International Documentary Association. Signatories include Michael Moore, who had already railed against the potential "chilling effect" on investigative journalism that the ruling could have, as well as Louie Psihoyos, director of this year's Academy Award-winning documentary film The Cove, about dolphin slaughter in Japan.

    Entitled 'An open letter in support of Joe Berlinger and the documentary filmmaking team of "Crude"', the letter reads in part:

    While we commend Judge Kaplan for stating "that the qualified journalists' privilege applies to Berlinger's raw footage", we are nonetheless dismayed both by Chevron's attempts to go on a "fishing expedition" into the edit rooms and production offices of a fellow documentary filmmaker without any particular cause or agenda, and the judge's allowance of said intentions. What's next, phone records and e-mails?

    At the heart of journalism lies the trust between the interviewer and his or her subject. Individuals who agree to be interviewed by the news media are often putting themselves at great risk, especially in the case of television news and documentary film where the subject's identity and voice are presented in the final report. If witnesses sense that their entire interviews will be scrutinized by attorneys and examined in courtrooms they will undoubtedly speak less freely. This ruling surely will have a crippling effect on the work of investigative journalists everywhere, should it stand.

    In addition to those mentioned above, the signatories read like a veritable who's who of documentary filmmaking (and a few non-doc-makers too) in the late 20th and 21st centuries– Morgan Spurlock, Alex Gibney ('Taxi to the Dark Side', Oscar Winner), Davis Guggenheim ('An Inconvenient Truth, Oscar Winner), Ken Burns, Joel Cohen, Barbara Kopple, Nick Broomfield, D.A. Pennebaker, James Longley, Jehane Noujaim, and many, many more.

    The letter concludes:

    This case offers a clear and compelling argument for more vigorous federal shield laws to protect journalists and their work, better federal laws to protect confidential sources, and stronger standards to prevent entities from piercing the journalists' privilege. We urge the higher courts to overturn this ruling to help ensure the safety and protection of journalists and their subjects, and to promote a free and vital press in our nation and around the world.

    Today, another of the signatories, respected journalist and commentator Bill Moyers, raised his voice even louder in defense of Joe. Moyers and co-author Michael Winship – president of the Writers Guild of America, East – have an article on Huffington Post today, which is sure to make waves. In 'Chevron's "Crude" Attempt to Suppress Free Speech', Moyers and Winship write:

    This is a serious matter for reporters, filmmakers and frankly, everyone else. Tough, investigative reporting without fear or favor -- already under siege by severe cutbacks and the shutdown of newspapers and other media outlets -- is vital to the public awareness and understanding essential to a democracy. As Michael Moore put it, "The chilling effect of this is, [to] someone like me, if something like this is upheld, the next whistleblower at the next corporation is going to think twice about showing me some documents if that information has to be turned over to the corporation that they're working for."

    The film community is rallying to support Joe and the team behind his powerful documentary CRUDE. They have appealed the ruling granting access to his raw footage, and have filed a motion to stay the District Court's ruling while they file an appeal with the Circuit Court of Appeals.

    Supporters of the communities working to hold Chevron accountable are also rallying to support Joe and highlight this attack as part and parcel of the oil company's abusive legal and PR strategy to evade responsibility for its toxic legacy in the Amazon.

    In the meantime, one simple thing you can do is to watch CRUDE (buy the DVD) if you haven't already, and if you have, spread the word about this critically-acclaimed, award-winning film. Email your friends, post about it on Facebook, hold a screening party at your home with friends and stream it on Netflix.

    And stay tuned for more ways to help Joe, and the communities in Ecuador who continue to suffer as Chevron finds ever more creative ways to change the subject.

    – Han

    Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    BP's Accidental Disaster in the Gulf & Chevron's Deliberate Disaster in the Amazon

    Environmentalists and clean energy advocates are hoping that BP's disaster in the Gulf of Mexico will serve as a wake up call – or, as activists who marched on the White House on Tuesday called it, a 'Crude Awakening' – for the oil industry and our political leaders.

    But while people across the U.S. are pointing out the need for serious international action on climate change and the urgency of ending our addiction to fossil fuels, much of the media has framed the debate arising from the Gulf spill narrowly: How much offshore drilling? How deep? What kinds of safety measures? Who should regulate it?

    Thankfully, activists continue to make noise for real energy solutions.

    A handful of people have drawn a direct link between BP's accidental spill in the Gulf, and Chevron's deliberate dumping of billions of gallons of toxic wastewater and oil into Ecuador's Amazon rainforest.

    Here are a few articles doing just that. Read & share:

    Today, the Chevron Pit blog has a new post up entitled, 'Obama, Ecuador, and Chevron: Big Oil’s Hypocrisy'

    Twelve days after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama, visited Venice, Louisiana, to meet with local fishermen, industry representatives and local leaders. President Obama made it clear BP was to blame for the spill:

    "BP is responsible for this leak — BP will be paying the bill," he said.

    President Obama’s press secretary said the White House would "keep a boot to the throat of BP" to ensure that it fulfilled its responsibilities.

    In 2007, six months after his election as President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa visited the former concession area of Texaco, now owned by Chevron, to see firsthand the contamination and destruction left behind by the oil company after almost three decades of oil exploration. President Correa expressed support and concern for the residents who suffer from cancer, respiratory illness and other diseases as a result of living near toxic materials. He lifted soil from the ground and stated the obvious, “Soil with oil, friends.”

    He was the first President of Ecuador to visit the contaminated sites since Texaco left Ecuador in 1992.

    Chevron’s new attack-dog law firm, Gibson Dunn, points to this moment as evidence that Ecuador is a corrupt and backwards country and that Chevron cannot get a fair trial there -- even though Chevron pleaded with a U.S. court to move the lawsuit to Ecuador in the first place.

    When President Correa visited several of over 900 unlined oil pits where Texaco left its toxic sludge, Chevron said it was "sorry" the President had gotten involved by expressing concern for the people living in the contaminated area.

    Is Chevron sorry the President of the United States did the same thing on the Gulf Coast? Does Chevron think the United States is a corrupt and backwards country?

    Chevron is drowning not only in a multi-billion liability in Ecuador, but also in its own hypocrisy.

    Read the rest >>

    You can also check out a previous post from the Chevron Pit, whose title says it all: 'BP: 200,000 gallons per day by accident. Chevron: 4 million gallons per day on purpose.'

    Environmental journalist Starre Vartan has an article on Huffington Post entitled 'Chevron's Terrestrial Oil Spill: Less Media, More Insidious Than Gulf Slick'.

    Vartan, editor of Eco-Chick writes an account of her friend Beth's recent tour of the Amazon rainforest region devastated by Chevron's oil operations.

    At length, she quotes Beth Doane, founder of t-shirt company Rain Tees whose proceeds benefit Amazonian communities:

    "I visited with the Cofan tribe outside Lago [Agrio] who have been hurt dramatically by the contamination and oil pits left on their land. I saw children in their village swimming in water so polluted with oil that it gleamed iridescent purples and greens as it floated around them. I wanted to scream at them to get out of the water but was told not to say anything as they have no other places to bathe."

    Read the rest >>

    Also on Huffington Post, Becky Tarbotton, Executive Director of Rainforest Action Network, wrote on Tuesday about the Senate Hearings happening on Capitol Hill in an article called 'BP Oil Disaster: A Crude Awakening for Washington'

    Senator Cardin, who is co-chairing one of today's hearings, put it perfectly in the Baltimore Sun:

    "The catastrophic oil spill ravaging the Gulf of Mexico and bearing down on coastal states is another reminder: America's current energy policy is a disaster. We need to break our dangerous addiction to oil and promote safe and clean sources of power and fuel -- and we need to begin today."

    He took the words right out of my mouth -- America's current energy policy is a disaster. Big Oil and King Coal assert tremendous power in Washington, operating unchecked and unregulated, and wreaking havoc on our environment, public health and our climate. The oil spill in the Gulf is a tragedy, but it is not the only horrifying dirty oil disaster local communities are facing. From the devastating tar sands projects in Alberta to the oily mess Chevron left in Ecuador, across the globe the price of oil is too high.

    Read the rest >>

    I'm not sure I can add anything to Becky's last paragraph above so I'll leave it there. Tomorrow, news about the film community rallying to support CRUDE filmmaker Joe Berlinger in his fight against Chevron's legal attacks.

    – Han

    Han Shan is the Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign.

    Friday, May 7, 2010

    Chevron's Court Win to Get Filmmaker's Ecuador Footage: Another Victory for Lies & Swiftboat Tactics

    For decades, the indigenous and campesino communities living in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest region have suffered an epidemic of cancer, miscarriages, and premature deaths caused by oil giant Chevron's horrific contamination of their once-pristine lands.

    Now, in its belligerent and well-resourced quest to evade responsibility for its toxic legacy in Ecuador, Chevron's actions pose a grave threat to a new victim that all Americans hold dear; the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

    Yesterday, Judge Lewis Kaplan of the U.S. District Court in New York granted a motion by Chevron to issue a subpoena to acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger, demanding more than 600 hours of footage shot during the making of the award-winning documentary 'CRUDE.' The film, as many readers here know, chronicles the David vs. Goliath battle by some 30,000 Ecuadorean plaintiffs to hold Chevron accountable for widespread devastation caused by the company's deliberately substandard operations while drilling for oil over nearly four decades.

    In response to the ruling, Joe Berlinger said:

    "We will appeal today's unfortunate decision. The filming and production of Crude – which presents both sides of this compelling and important story – is precisely the type of investigative journalism that the First Amendment was designed to protect."

    And Maura Wogan, attorney for Berlinger and his production company had this to say:

    "Today's extremely broad decision will cause grave harm to journalists, investigative reporters and documentary filmmakers. The court has shown an unprecedented lack of sensitivity to the journalist's privilege and the First Amendment."

    Director Michael Moore has spoken out as well. He told The New York Times 'Arts Beat' blog:

    “The chilling effect of this is, someone like me, if something like this is upheld, the next whistleblower at the next corporation is going to think twice about showing me some documents if that information has to be turned over to the corporation that they’re working for.

    “I’ve never had to deal with any corporation suing me to find out how I gather this information. Obviously the ramifications of this go far beyond documentary films, if corporations are allowed to pry into a reporter’s notebook or into a television station’s newsroom.”

    The post continues:

    Mr. Moore said he hoped the judge’s ruling would be overturned on appeal, and said that if it is not Mr. Berlinger should resist the subpoena “if he can.”

    “I think that he’ll find that he’ll have the support of hundreds of filmmakers who will back him in this,” Mr. Moore said.

    Chevron claims that a scene in one version of the film shows inappropriate collaboration between the plaintiffs' counsel and an independent court expert. Chevron lawyers used this scene as justification for wanting to sift through the rest of the footage, and see if there was "additional" misconduct captured by Berlinger.

    But in a statement from Ilann Maazel, an attorney for the plaintiffs, he explains:

    “Chevron’s lawyers refer to a scene where they believe a court-appointed expert attended a 'focus' group with the plaintiffs. The individual in question had not even been appointed as an expert when the scene was shot. The scene depicted a meeting — not a focus group — with Ecuadorians who live in the contaminated area, many of whom suffer from cancer, respiratory disease and other illnesses as a result of the toxins left behind by Chevron in the soil and water."

    As I explained in a previous post, Chevron and its high-powered lawyers at international corporate law behemoth Gibson Dunn are hoping to mine the footage for any material that they might find useful for their relentless public relations schemes to try to malign the plaintiffs, smear their attorneys and discredit the courts in Ecuador. All the while, of course, Chevron has engaged in its own dirty tricks campaign to corrupt the trial.

    In addition to a cadre of high-powered DC lobbyists and some of the largest, most expensive law firms in the world representing them, Chevron has at least six corporate public relations firms working for them, including Hill & Knowlton, which represented the tobacco industry and – as it attempted to do with tobacco and cancer – has tried to deny a link between oil contamination and cancer in Ecuador.

    Of course, witnessing Chevron's increasingly hostile and dishonest tactics in its fight to avoid responsibility, it's not surprising that the oil company also works with CRC Public Relations, the DC-based firm that spearheaded the 'swiftboating' of presidential candidate John Kerry, and more recently, misleading attacks on health care reform.

    Speaking about the firm, Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster "who has worked with CRC for years" according to the Washington Post, told the paper:

    “They are among the most powerful and consequential people you’ve never heard of, and they like it that way."


    So now, much like the right wing (with CRC Public Relations' expertise) smeared John Kerry with lies and introduced blatant falsehoods into the health care reform 'debate,' Chevron has amassed an ugly cabal of law firms, lobbyists, and PR spin-masters to corrupt the legal process in Ecuador, punish anyone who dares stand up against the oil giant, and spread disinformation about the company's toxic legacy in the Amazon.

    I wish it was just some sort of political chess game but it never is. These things have real consequences, for people like Maria Garofalo, whose heartbreaking story is told in CRUDE. She and her husband Luiz and her daughter Silvia have all been diagnosed with cancer, after living downstream from Chevron's toxic waste pits.

    Maria Garofalo, who lives in San Carlos, suffers from uterine cancer. Photo by Lou Dematteis

    After nearly 17 years in the courts, there is a mountain of incontrovertible evidence that Chevron (in the form of its wholly-owned subsidiary Texaco) poisoned the water and forests depended upon by tens of thousands of people in Ecuador. And so without a fact-based argument to make, Chevron has resorted to shifting the blame, sowing confusion, attacking advocates for the affected people, and crying "corruption!"

    Going back to Ilann Maazel, an attorney for the Amazon communities:

    “The corruption is not in some 600 hours of videotape. It’s in the ground and water of the rainforest for anyone to see and smell. Chevron's quest for the footage is just another last-minute sideshow to divert attention from the intentional dumping of billions of gallons of toxic sludge in the Amazon. Notwithstanding Chevron's smoke and mirrors campaign, at the end of the day, we believe Chevron will ultimately be held accountable for its indefensible and unconscionable conduct in the Amazon.”

    In concluding his decision to allow Chevron to subpoena Berlinger's footage, Judge Kaplan wrote:

    The Court expresses no view as to whether the concerns of either side are supported by proof of improper political influence, corruption, or other misconduct affecting the Ecuadorian proceedings. As [Supreme Court] Justice [Louis] Brandeis once wrote, however, “sunshine is said to the best of disinfectants.” Review of Berlinger’s outtakes will contribute to the goal of seeing not only that justice is done, but that it appears to be done.

    In many cases, I am all for 'sunlight' – Brandeis was presciently referring to transparency and openness in government and regulation of the financial system. But in this context, the judge is DANGEROUSLY wrong.

    If the judge's ruling – which went against abundant legal precedent in the United States – is allowed to stand, it could indeed endanger the critical work of people like filmmaker Joe Berlinger, who explore under-reported issues of profound social and ecological importance. In that way, it would have the exact opposite effect from what Brandeis was suggesting.

    And while the Judge is wrong, Brandeis' principle is right. While Chevron tries to muddy the waters and deceive the world as to its responsibilities for massive suffering in Ecuador, we need the efforts of journalists like Berlinger – and social justice activists, human rights lawyers, environmentalists, and supporters like you – to expose Chevron and its Chernobyl in the Amazon to the cleansing power of sunlight.

    Only then will justice be done. Spread the word.

    – Han

    Han Shan is the coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010

    BP: 200,000 gallons per day by accident. Chevron: 4 million gallons per day on purpose.

    *Cross-posted from 'The Chevron Pit,' a blog maintained by the legal team representing the plaintiffs suing Chevron for environmental clean-up in Ecuador:

    Try comparing the environmental disaster that Chevron created in Ecuador's Amazon to the oil slick that now threatens the Gulf Coast states.

    The disaster at "Deepwater Horizon" is causing an oil well to bleed some 200,000 gallons of oil a day into the ecosystem. And this was a horrible accident.

    If you can believe it, this is only a fraction of what Texaco (now Chevron) deliberately dumped in Ecuador's rainforest when it operated hundreds of oil wells there from 1964 to 1990.

    Chevron has admitted that Texaco dumped toxic "produced water" into the Ecuadorian rainforest and into the streams and rivers that 30,000 people used for their bathing and drinking water. "Produced water" can contain a toxic mixture of chemicals, including benzene and other components of crude oil. Some believe that approximately 2% of produced water is pure crude oil.

    Over the course of 26 years, Chevron has acknowledged that it dumped more than 18.5 billion gallons of the industrial waste into the waterways of the populated and sensitive ecosystem, or 4 million gallons per day at the height of its operation. Put another way, Chevron's dumping of 18.5 billion gallons of produced water is the equivalent of discharging 332 million gallons of crude directly into the rainforest.

    Without taking anything away from the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico, at the rate that the Deepwater Horizon spill is going, it will have to discharge 200,000 gallons per day for 1,660 days to dump as much oil as Chevron deliberately dumped into the Ecuadorian rainforest. That is a little over 4.5 years.

    And that only accounts for the pure crude oil Chevron dumped – not the oil it spilled from shoddy operation practices, or the 98% of the "produced water" that isn't pure crude, but encompasses a toxic "cocktail" of industrial runoff, salty water, and other chemicals. If you want to start comparing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to the entirety of Chevron's dumping in Ecuador (all the produced water it has admitted to dumping, not just the crude oil), consider this: at a rate of 200,000 gallons a day, the Deepwater Horizon spill would have to go on for 92,500 days to spill 18.5 billion gallons into the environment. 92,500 days. 253 years. And no, that isn't a typo.

    The worst part? Deepwater Horizon was an accident. But Chevron's actions in Ecuador, through its predecessor company Texaco, were the product of a system designed to dump toxic waste directly into the environment to keep production costs to a bare minimum.

    Since the Deepwater Horizon incident happened, BP has taken full responsibility for the spill. More than 2,500 people have been mobilized to respond to the disaster, and the company has insisted that it will pay for a full clean up. Of course, we will see what ultimately happens – but at least it's a good start.

    Chevron's response to their disaster in Ecuador? The opposite. Chevron has launched a full-scale litigation war to cover up the disaster and the company's own fraud in a purported remediation in the mid-1990s. It has committed fraud on the court by engaging in deceptive sampling practices and by controlling a laboratory that it represented as independent, according to audio recordings of one of Chevron's longtime contractors involved in the fraud, Diego Borja.

    If the Ecuador disaster happened within the U.S., Chevron would be pressured and shamed into cleaning it up. In Ecuador, where the company disregarded the rights of the local indigenous groups on its way to ever higher profits, we see nothing of the sort.