Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chevron's Man in Ecuador: Felon, Drug-Trafficker, and Liar, Oh My!

Cross-posted from

To defend itself in a major environmental lawsuit in Ecuador, it appears that American oil giant Chevron is employing methods - and people - that are as dirty as the toxic waste pits it left scattered across the rainforest floor.

In early September, I wrote here about a dramatic last-ditch attempt by Chevron to monkey-wrench legal proceedings in Ecuador over massive oil contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Chevron is facing up to $27 billion dollars in damages to clean up what has become known as the 'Amazon Chernobyl,' where tens of thousands of indigenous people and campesinos suffer an epidemic of cancer, miscarriages, birth defects, and other ailments.

On August 31, just weeks before a final judgment had been expected in the case, Chevron posted on YouTube what at first appeared to be a 'smoking gun' spy video, which Chevron said showed the judge in the case ensnared in a bribery scandal.

Except, as I wrote before, it didn't:

The company instead revealed videos showing a former Chevron contractor named Diego Borja and an American businessman named Wayne Hansen, who appear to be trying fruitlessly to entrap the presiding Judge, Juan Nuñez. Borja and Hansen secretly shot the videos themselves using a spy-camera pen and watch they bought in a catalog.

In the videos, Borja introduced Mr. Hansen as an executive of an American groundwater remediation company willing to provide a kickback for a government contract to clean up the oil contamination left behind by Texaco, now Chevron. The California-based oil giant claimed the videos showed obvious government bias, corruption and judicial misconduct and called for an annulment of the judge's rulings in the case.
But almost immediately, the entire supposed "corruption scandal" began unraveling.

As The New York Times wrote:
The two mysterious businessmen, who used watches and pens implanted with bugging devices to make the recordings, have refused to explain their motivations for going to the furtive meetings in Quito and a jungle outpost to discuss a bribery plot. And now, with questions mounting, one of them has enlisted a lawyer who has represented Barry Bonds.

The article doesn't mention that Chevron agreed to pay for both Borja and Hansen's criminal defense lawyers, though it does explain that the company had paid Borja, its former contractor, "an undisclosed amount for moving and living expenses so he could safely move his family out of Ecuador."

And now for the latest bombshell.

"American businessman" and "remediation expert" Wayne Hansen is neither. Rather, he is a convicted felon and drug trafficker, with a "litany of legal troubles," according to the Associated Press.

From the Associated Press:

Court records show that Hansen, 62, pleaded guilty to charges of facilitating the importation of marijuana in a 1987 case in Brownsville, Texas. A co-defendant said that Hansen was in charge of buying a DC-7 that prosecutors alleged would be used to fly 275,000 pounds (124,740 kilos) of marijuana to the United States from Colombia.

Hansen, a U.S. citizen who served 19 months in federal prison in that case, also lost civil lawsuits charging him with unleashing two pitbulls on a neighbor and her golden retriever, and with tearing up the walls of another person's house with a jackhammer, according to California county court records and the plaintiffs.
And just in case you suspect that Mr. Hansen may have reformed, and is trying to make good as an honest businessman, "An AP investigation also has found no evidence that Wayne Douglas Hansen worked in his professed field of environmental remediation."

The article goes on:
In [the videos], Hansen is introduced as an American groundwater remediation executive with extensive international experience. In one of them, Borja says Hansen's company has "an exclusive franchise for Honeywell for water treatment plants."

A Honeywell International Inc. spokesman, Jake Saylor, called the claim untrue in a telephone interview from Phoenix, Arizona.

Hansen refused to respond when asked the name of his purported company in a brief telephone interview with the AP on Oct. 15.

In that interview and in another brief conversation Wednesday, Hansen told the AP that he had water-treatment projects in Mexico and Ecuador. He also claimed he was going to build a golf course in Ecuador. But when an AP reporter questioned those claims, he hung up.

When Chevron released the videotapes in August, the company described Hansen as "an American businessman." It also said it would pay for any "reasonable" legal fees Hansen might incur related to the recordings.
Steven Donziger, the main American attorney advising the communities suing Chevron says "the real Wayne Hansen bears no resemblance to the fictitious civic-minded character created by Chevron to explain how it suddenly came into innocent possession of the videos."

Ya gotta wonder, if Hansen had no chance of scoring a lucrative remediation contract, what interest did he have sticking his neck out trying to fabricate a corruption scandal? It's also hard not to wonder what Chevron might consider "reasonable" as payment to a man willing to help derail a multi-billion dollar case against the company.

A steady stream of shocking revelations suggest Chevron's involvement with the felon Hansen may be more sinister than a case of poor judgment.

Only the day before the bombshell about Hansen's shady past (and present), Chevron admitted that its lawyers met with Hansen's partner Borja in San Francisco in the midst of the sting operation, flatly contradicting Chevron's previous statements to Ecuador's Attorney General, as well as the press, that it had "no knowledge" of the meetings or taping until the videos were handed over to them.

In fact, Borja brought video of three previous meetings to Chevron attorneys in the law offices of big law firm Jones Day in downtown San Francisco and, just a few days later, attended a fourth meeting back in Quito. Only at this fourth and final meeting were details of a bribery plot ever discussed, suggesting that Chevron may have played a role in planning or shaping the scandal in an attempt to taint the trial, a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and a federal crime.

In the fourth meeting & video, the judge is not present and the "government official" who appears to talk about a bribe in return for securing remediation contracts for Mr. Hansen turns out to be a an over-zealous car salesman living in Quito who has been to some political rallies but isn't even a registered member of President Correa's ruling party.

Bloomberg writes:
According to Chevron's translation of the recordings, Garcia tells the businessmen he spoke by phone with Pierina Correa, the sister of Ecuador President Rafael Correa about "commissions" and confirms that $1 million will go to "the presidency," $1 million will go to the judge and $1 million to the plaintiffs in the case.
Garcia's lawyer said he is "the kind of person who likes to talk so he can look good in front of people, and that's what he was doing in that video. He has no connections."
In my earlier post on Chevron's sketchy ready-made scandal, I wrote that "the whole episode raises more troubling questions about Chevron than about the judge or Ecuador's judicial process that the company has spent so much time impugning." The Amazon Defense Coalition has compiled an exhaustive list of these troubling questions that I invite you to consider.

But regardless of the answers, the most important question remains: when will Chevron quit conspiring to evade responsibility and help the tens of thousands of people in the Ecuadorian Amazon who continue to suffer the horrific after-effects of operations that made the company one of the richest on the planet?

You can help.

We're building a multifaceted strategic effort to hold Chevron accountable, and set a powerful new precedent that will put oil companies' days of drill, dump, and run forever in the past. Please take action now to demand Chevron clean up its mess in Ecuador, and find out what you can do to support the Clean Up Ecuador campaign.

– Han

Born and raised in Baltimore, Han Shan is a human rights and environmental justice campaigner living in New York City. He is currently serving as an organizer with the Clean Up Ecuador campaign for Amazon Watch.

Chevron’s Ready-Made Scandal Continues to Fall Apart

A new Associated Press investigation revealed that the purported environmental remediation specialist, Wayne Douglas Hansen, who secretly filmed meetings meant to catch Ecuadorian officials in acts of corruption has never owned a remediation company—as claimed—nor does he have any relationship with Honeywell Inc. as claimed in one of the videos.

AP reporters interviewed Hansen on the phone earlier this month. When they asked him the name of his company, he refused to answer. He instead described water treatment projects he is working on in Mexico and Ecuador. When the reporters questioned him about details of these projects, he hung up.

The AP investigation also uncovered Hansen’s repeated run-ins with the law, ranging from letting his pit bull go wild on a neighbor’s dog, to conspiring to smuggle 275,000 pounds of marijuana from Colombia into the United States! (He was convicted and served time in federal prison.)

The investigation shatters Chevron’s attempt to portray Hansen as a sincere, concerned citizen who hand delivered the supposed bribery videos out of a sense of civic duty.

A parallel plaintiffs’ report on Hansen was also published today, going into exhaustive detail on the information recently uncovered.

What remains to be uncovered is: one, the extent to which Hansen’s involvement in the video scandal constitutes a federal crime for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and two, whether Chevron knowingly participated with Hansen in illegal activity to get their hands on a “smoking gun.”

– Paul

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Keeping Ecuador Front-and-Center At Incoming Chevron Chief's DC Debut

When Current Chevron CEO Dave O'Reilly announced his 'surprise early retirement' on September 30th, it didn't really surprise everyone. In fact, a lot of people couldn't help but wonder if he didn't think he was getting out just in time... before a judgment comes down in Ecuador which could find Chevron liable for up to $27 billion in damages for massive contamination of the Amazon.

Of course, supporters of the Amazonian communities pointed out that Mr. O'Reilly's legacy would forever be marred by his inability to find a solution to the horrific damage left by Texaco and inherited by Chevron when it absorbed the company in 2001.

When Chevron disclosed Mr. O'Reilly's plans to retire, it was also announced that John Watson would succeed him as CEO on January 1, 2010. Watson is the current Vice Chairman of Chevron Corporation’s Board of Directors, and was the chief architect of Chevron's deal to purchase Texaco. Here is a guy who is intimately familiar with Texaco’s oil pollution in Ecuador’s Amazon–– and knew all about it when he helped Chevron assume ownership of Texaco, and of the liability for its mess in the rainforest.

Watson made his debut in the nation's capital yesterday, with a lunchtime speech to the Chamber Foundation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, right behind the White House. There to greet Mr. Watson were activists from Amazon Watch, our allies at Rainforest Action Network, and other supporters of justice for rainforest communities in Ecuador.

As we prepared our materials and headed for the event, we worried about whether anyone would show up in the middle of a breezy, rainy Tuesday. But with outreach to local supporters and people who had recently been moved to help after seeing CRUDE – the documentary about the 'Amazon Chernobyl' which opened in DC on Friday – we managed to recruit a solid group of supporters who would brave the rain, and for a while the weather even cleared.

Mr. Watson arrived just after our group had gathered for a quick overview of our plan–– to be an obvious presence, to keep the Ecuador issue front-and-center, to educate the influential people who would be attending this event, to show Mr. Watson that we're a reasonable bunch, and invite him to turn a new page in Chevron's approach to the ongoing problem in Ecuador.

I was standing at the steps of the building with a copy of a mock Washington Times article dated a few days into Watson’s tenure in the first week of January. With the headline reading, “Chevron Announces Plan to Resolve Ecuador Oil Pollution Case,” the article imagined a new approach for Chevron under the leadership of Mr. Watson. I tried to hand one to Mr. Watson and his entourage as they swiftly moved from a dark SUV to the entrance but security brushed me aside.

We continued to hand the article to investors, media, and industry peers as they arrived, and some of our colleagues entered the event to get a seat, begin distributing our materials amongst attendees, and see how they could engage with Mr. Watson.

Meanwhile, outside, the group spelled out “Mr. Watson, What Will You Do About Ecuador?” with a few dozen big poster-boards. Mr. Watson would have to see the sign for himself on his way out but we tried to provide a big enough presence that he would be plenty aware of it.

I spoke briefly with the head of security and with some guards who shook my hand and thanked me for being polite. I explained that we wanted merely to open a dialogue with Mr. Watson, and see for ourselves whether his approach might be different from that of his predecessor. We hadn't come to raise a ruckus–– at least this time.

I slipped my stack of flyers into my belt beneath my sport coat and headed into the event, escorted by a security guard who said he just needed to "make sure I had a ticket" (I did). I milled around a bit and saw several people clutching our article, and several people obviously talking about it in hushed tones. I also watched as a red-faced man looking none-too-pleased scurried by with a handful of them. He was wearing a Washington Times badge (it was soon announced from the podium that The Washington Times was the media partner for the event).

Eventually, I took a seat, gulped some iced tea, and chatted with some of the people at my table. I told the friendly man from the Institute of Museum and Library Services exactly why I was there as I filled out the card on the table with a question to be posed to Mr. Watson.

Before long, A Chamber of Commerce executive welcomed Mr. Watson with an introduction that included knowing references to the tyranny of regulation and "resource nationalism," and the threat of meaningful climate legislation.

Mr. Watson took to the podium and began, predictably, by talking about what an incredible job current CEO Dave O'Reilly has done and essentially reassuring everyone in the room that he would do his best to continue the path laid out before he arrived.

His speech was mostly a real yawner. He said exactly the kinds of things you would expect an oil company executive to say to a conservative pro-business crowd at a luncheon in the heart of Washington. He talked about the noble engine of American free enterprise driving the global economy and the need to turn on the lights in the laboratory of innovation and lift the weights that are drowning this giant mixed metaphor so that it may launch into the 21st century, etc., etc.

Then he turned serious, and said, "There is a concern that burning fossil fuels has an impact on the climate."

Which sounded to me like, "well, perhaps climate change is real (wink, wink) but we're not exactly going to go worrying about it" and then proceeded to say that a 20% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 would lead us assuredly down a "straight path to a pre-industrial society." He also said that "we will convert away from conventional energy not over years or even decades, but over generations." He said this in a way that sounded as if it was meant to be reassuring. I drew a deep breath.

He went on to assail taxes and the threat of "resource nationalism" just as the woman from the Chamber had, and proudly noted the benefit of the "transparency" with which "American oil companies operate overseas." This is where I would have liked to guffaw. But I held it in. We weren't there to make a scene.

Finally, he concluded and received gentle and self-satisfied applause from the crowd. A moderator got up to read him the questions collected from the tables around the room.

Overall, the questions and answers provided no more insight into his and Chevron's plans than his speech had.

But the third question was mine.

Well, ours, actually. I had been looking around and noted that my four other colleagues were frantically scribbling question after question and calling over the Chamber staff who dutifully carried them to the moderator. But it sounded as if all our questions had been mashed into one.

I missed precisely how it was put but it was something along the lines of, "Chevron is involved in litigation in Ecuador [sad face] and well, what will you do to deal with this annoying problem?"

Mr. Watson took a deep breath and said, "It is important to go back and look at the history of this case." Meanwhile, I fumbled with my phone to try and get his answer down verbatim. I hit record [listen to the answer].

"At the time of [Texaco's] departure, there was an assessment of remediation work that needed to be done. The government refused to fund it and assigned Texaco a share of that remediation. Texaco did its work, got full sign-off from the government, got full sign-off from every authority available in Ecuador. Fast forward a few years, Petroecuador, who has been operating now for some 20 years, not only never cleaned up its share of the environmental remediation but also has continued to spill in devastating style. So you see pictures of environmental devastation in Ecuador and it's real, it's just not ours. What we're seeing that I think everyone in the Chamber should be concerned about is a trend where U.S. trial lawyers conspire with corrupt governments to try to bring actions in this country. Now this case has resulted in some wild claims in the Ecuadorian courts of some 27 billion dollars in damages. They're preposterous claims with no basis in science. And we're heading toward a determination and judgment in Ecuador. We'll exhaust our legal remedies there, and if we lose, and if enforcement is sought elsewhere, we will fight them very vigorously."

Well, that was anti-climactic. It's the same old argument that Chevron has been peddling for years now, despite it losing nearly every step along the way in court, and having had giant holes punched in it by independent analysts and journalists who have investigated the case.

So there it is. Mr. Watson is toeing the company line.

It's not surprising at all. He is very close to current Chairman and CEO O'Reilly and won't truly have any independence to take a new approach until he's the man at the top. And of course, even then, I wouldn't advise anyone to hold their breath.

But with every major change at Chevron comes an opportunity for change in the way the company deals with its mess in the Amazon. And we'll keep pushing whenever we see an opportunity, for the 30,000 indigenous and farming people in the rainforest of Ecuador whose environment, communities, and lives have been impacted.

Many thanks to everyone who came out yesterday, and to Chris Eichler for use of his photos.

– Han

Born and raised in Baltimore, Han Shan is a human rights and environmental justice campaigner living in New York City. He is currently serving as an organizer with the Clean Up Ecuador campaign for Amazon Watch.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chevron Sullying Reputation of American Corporations Abroad; Garrigo Sullying Chevron’s Reputation at Home

Crossposted from: The Chevron Pit

Chevron's spokeswoman and resident "Misrepresenter in Chief" Silvia Garrigo was at it again during an interview with CNN's Rick Sanchez on Oct. 22. Garrigo, who professes to love the environment, last made headlines with her abysmal performance on CBS News' 60 minutes, where she dismissed health concerns in Ecuador's Amazon by comparing cancer-causing toxins in oil to the makeup on her face. This was Garrigo's classic line:

"I have makeup on, and there's naturally occurring oil on my face. Doesn't mean that I'm going to get sick from it."

The experts who run Chevron's embattled public affairs office either have very few options, or they apparently thought Garrigo's comparison of contamination to makeup was solid enough to put her on CNN. Garrigo was responding to Kerry Kennedy's account of her heartbreaking visit to the Ecuadorian rainforest where Texaco (now Chevron) intentionally dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste and abandoned over 900 unlined waste pits while operating a large oil concession from 1964 to 1990.

Kennedy, a mother of three and a longtime human rights advocate, described in detail the devastation she witnessed as a result of improper operating practices by Texaco (now Chevron). She told of the gasoline-like smell coming from the runoff from pipes intentionally designed by Texaco to discharge oil sludge and waste water from the pits directly into the rivers and streams used by the indigenous communities in the area for drinking, bathing, and cooking. She also recounted stories from the indigenous communities of rape and abuse at the hands of Texaco employees. This would not have occurred, she argued, if the residents were living in this country.

In response, Garrigo chided Kennedy for spending only a few days in the region -- as if it takes more than a few minutes to understand that huge open pits of oil, left untouched since Texaco abandoned them many years ago, are a mess that needs to be cleaned up. (Kennedy's trip is a few days more than any member of Chevron's management or Board of Directors has spent in Ecuador. No person with any real authority at the company – including outgoing CEO David O'Reilly, incoming CEO John Watson, outgoing General Counsel Charles James, and new General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate -- has been to the affected region of Ecuador.)

Garrigo then presented three arguments that she desperately wanted to share with the American public: 1) That Texaco had remediated its portion of the contamination and that what Kennedy saw was now the responsibility of Ecuador's government; 2) The cancer claims are false (Garrigo's apparent personal favorite); and 3) The Ecuadorian judiciary is corrupt.

All three arguments, not surprisingly, are either misleading or outright lies. The facts are as follows:

Garrigo: Any contamination Kennedy witnessed was caused by Petroecuador, Ecuador's state-owned oil company that inherited Texaco's well sites in 1992 when Texaco left the country.

Fact: Contrary to Garrigo's claim, Kennedy visited well sites built and run exclusively by Texaco. Aguarico 2 was solely operated by Texaco from 1974 to 1990 and then closed. This site was never operated by any other oil company. Kennedy dug mere inches into the ground before discovering oil in the soil, which is leaching into groundwater and ending up in the nearby stream where local residents drink the water. Kennedy saw the same contamination at Shushufindi 38, a pit opened by Texaco in 1975 and closed by Texaco in 1976. She also saw well site Aguarico 4, which was operated by Texaco from 1974 to 1984. In other words, Kennedy saw unlined waste pits built and closed by Texaco in the 1970s and 1980s that are still causing pollution today.

Texaco's so-called "remediation" cited by Garrigo involved fewer than 16% of the 916 pits that Texaco built. The remediation has been proven at trial to be either ineffective, or a complete fraud. Independent inspections of Texaco's "remediated" sites have found extensive levels of contamination, often thousands of times higher than the Ecuadorian norms that establish when human health is at risk. In fact, two Chevron lawyers and seven former Ecuadorian government officials are now under indictment for fraud connected to their involvment in the certification of the "remediated" pits. One of the Chevron lawyers under criminal indictment, Ricardo Reis Veiga, is thought of so highly by the company that he is still running Chevron's downstream operations in Latin America. (Reis Veiga also supervised Garrigo for several years on the Ecuador trial out of Chevron's office in Coral Gables.)

Garrigo: Any claims about health impacts in Ecuador from exposure to oil contamination are false.

Fact: It is well-established that exposure to any number of the chemicals and compounds that makeup oil is linked to higher instances of cancer – and numerous, peer-reviewed studies show elevated instances of cancer in the region of Ecuador which Texaco contaminated.

Is there anyone outside of Chevron who seriously believes there is no connection between consuming water and foods contaminated with oil and cancer? The independent, peer-reviewed studies measuring the impact of contamination on the health of people living in the Chevron concession area have found that cancer rates were anywhere from 1.7 to 4 times greater than for people living outside the area. One study found that the risk for spontaneous abortion was 2.34 times higher among woman living near the contamination. Based on survey data, the court Special Master calculated 1,401 excess cancer deaths resulting from the contamination. (Texaco, in the 26 years that it operated in Ecuador, never conducted a single health evaluation in the region nor took even one soil or water sample to determine if its operations were causing contamination.)

Garrigo: The courts in Ecuador are "corrupt to their core":

Fact: As Kennedy noted in her interview, the plaintiffs originally filed the lawsuit in New York Federal Court in 1993. Texaco and then Chevron fought to have the case removed to Ecuador arguing in 14 affidavits that the Ecuadorian judiciary was not only the more appropriate forum, but that the judicial system was competent and fair. Chevron won that battle, and the same case was re-filed in Ecuador in 2003. Once the trial started and evidence pointed to Chevron's culpability, Chevron changed its tune and started to attack the very courts it previously had praised. The animating principle: praise courts when you think you can win, condemn them when you think you are going to lose. But as Garrigo said on 60 Minutes when she got cornered by correspondent Scott Pelley, the reality is there is no court in the world that Chevron would agree to because Chevron is above the law and the claims relating to the pits Kennedy saw are "frivolous".

In reality, Chevron has tried to corrupt the Ecuadorian court process to derail the trial and evade a judgment – which explains why Chevron is under three separate official investigations for possible criminal violations relating to its misconduct in Ecuador. It also why Ecuador's Attorney General has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the company for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Garrigo asks about corruption? She should just walk down the hall. Garrigo's colleagues at Chevron have fabricated a false military report to cancel the Guanta judicial field inspection, have filed redundant motions to delay the trial, have threatened various judges when they refuse to rule in the company's favor, and have harassed and stalked the court-appointed Special Master to the point where he needed police protection. Just weeks ago Chevron discovered a "bribery scandal" that has all the telltale signs of a hoax perpetrated by the company to sabotage the trial. That doesn't count the numerous and anonymous death threats leveled at plaintiff's counsel during the trial – threats that don't seem of great concern to Chevron, which has remained silent on this most critical of issues.

At the end of the interview, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez asked Garrigo if contamination of the sort left by American corporations is "sullying our reputation in the world." She said she couldn't agree more but Chevron has always acted appropriately.

Chevron has always acted appropriately? From Ecuador (largest oil-related contamination on the planet), to Burma (where Chevron is partners with the repressive military junta), to the Philippines (where Chevron has caused spills, leaks, and fires in a residential area because of its oil depot), to Nigeria (where the company is accused of being complicit in an army-orchestrated killing of protesting villagers), at least some people on the receiving end of Chevron's misconduct would probably disagree with Chevron's Manager of Global Issues and Policy.

By its handling of the Ecuador case, it appears that Chevron not only doesn't mind sullying America's reputation. It also doesn't seem too concerned about its own reputation, either.

– Paul

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chevron to Get an Award?

State Department selects Chevron as finalist for award: what were they thinking?

Last May Chevron spokesman Donald Campbell summed up the oil giant’s corporate ethics and general litigation strategy in a revealing statement about the $27 billion environmental lawsuit resulting from decades of contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon: “We’re going to fight this until hell freezes over,” Campbell told reporter John Otis. “And then we’ll fight it out on the ice.”

The image of a corporate baron skating out over the inferno’s frozen surface with protruding paunch contained in a bulging three-piece suit, monocle squeezed into a clinched eye-socket, to slam his fists into a group of stunned judges and plaintiffs is, well, comical.

But the clever sound bite carries with it a not-so-subtle subtext: we don’t care what happened; we don’t care what the judges decide; we will never pay to clean up our mess; we will never abide by the rulings of the Ecuadorian courts (which we originally thought we could muscle around); we don’t care about laws, justice, and all that jazz.

Interesting then that a corporation with such a blatant track record and open policy of attempting to obstruct legal proceedings against it would be named a finalist for the U.S. State Department’s Award for Corporate Excellence.

The State Department’s announcement of the finalists cites Chevron’s having been chosen for its work: “in the Philippines for supporting projects that address basic human needs, education, small business development, and the environment, establishing public-private partnerships, and donating funds towards research and training of infectious diseases (sic).”

Perhaps the award nomination is a wink and a nod from the State Department that they are watching Chevron’s back, even though they have not formally supported the corporation’s efforts to pressure the Bush and Obama administrations to cancel Ecuador’s trade preferences?

Chevron “conducted a high powered lobbying campaign to persuade the Obama administration to cancel the preferences as a way of exerting leverage over the government of President Rafael Correa to settle the case on favourable terms.”

But the campaign was unsuccessful; in early July the Obama administration extended the trade benefits.

But the winking and nodding goes on. Chevron pledged some $5 million to the State Department’s hurried efforts to construct a $61 million pavilion at the up-coming World Fair in China. Soon thereafter, on October 1, the State Department announced Chevron as a finalist for the “Corporate Excellence” award.

The ironies abound. The organizer of the awards described them as “motherhood and apple pie,” a description that hardly fits a corporation charged in court for one of the largest and most egregious environmental disasters in history.

Let’s take a closer look at the company’s record in the Philippines where they have supposedly been, it is worth repeating: “supporting projects that address basic human needs, education, small business development, and the environment, establishing public-private partnerships, and donating funds towards research and training of infectious diseases (sic).”

According to the 2009 Chevron Alternative Annual Report (The True Cost of Chevron, pp.38-39) Chevron has been “circumventing the law” in the Philippines for nearly a decade by ignoring the December 28, 2001 Manila City Ordinance 8027 that requires the company to either relocate or scale down its operations in order to prevent potential terrorist attacks (the depot is close to the presidential palace and a large residential population) and health risks to residents who live side-by-side with the huge Chevron depot and fueling stations. Chevron sued to have the ordinance repealed, but the Philippine Supreme Court in March 2007 and order the Chevron depot to be closed within six months. Chevron appealed and on February 13, 2008 the court upheld its earlier decision. So Chevron appears to have switched tactics to lobbying the Manila City Council to write a new ordinance, 8187, that would allow Chevron and its depot to stay put. Now that ordinance is the subject of intense controversy in Manila, with a new citizen’s coalition formed to fight it in the courts and in the streets, gathering 10,000 signatures on a petition to hold a plebiscite.

Seems like the theme here is this: fighting out on the ice. And that, for the State Department it would seem, warrants a motherhood-and-apple-pie “Award for Corporate Excellence.”

A State Department representative did not respond to a request for comments.

"We were shocked to hear of Chevron's nomination," said Aileen Suzara, of the Filipino-American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity (FACES). "Thousands of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans have been actively campaigning for years against this polluting corporation, which endangers the health, environment and safety of over 83,000 Filipinos living fenceline to their Metro Manila depot. Chevron's corporate donations to a local project are no replacement for it's destructive impacts on communities in the Philippines and around the world. We urge for this nomination to be reconsidered and removed from the awards list."

"Chevron's operations in the Philippines have and continue to harm public health, the environment, and public safety," said Antonia Juhasz, the Director of The Chevron Program at Global Exchange. "Chevron has turned a blind eye to the problems and needs of the local community and has even ignored the rulings of the country's Supreme Court. Unfortunately, such a response is typical of Chevron's operations world-wide. Rather than award Chevron a prize, the U.S. State Department should be investigating the company's deeply problematic operations in the Philippines and around the world."

The acclaimed documentary Crude opens in Washington DC next week. It portrays the saga of 30,000 rainforest inhabitants waging an epic battle to bring Chevron to account for its toxic legacy. The State Department officials who see the film will likely be left with a taste in their mouths quite different that apple pie. That’s likely to give Chevron a “chance in hell” to receive this or any other award.

[After this article was posted, State Department spokesperson, Kerry Humphrey responded to an earlier email request for comment with the following:

"The Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE), established by the State Department in 1999, recognizes the contributions U.S. businesses make in communities worldwide.

The selection process for ACE involves a thorough vetting process.

Chevron was selected as one of 11 ACE finalists by the interagency ACE Committee. The winners of this year’s ACE have not yet been announced. The announcement will be made in a ceremony at the State Department on December 9, 2009.

Chevron was nominated by American Embassy Manila for supporting projects that address basic human needs, education, small business development, and the environment; establishing public-private partnerships; and donating funds towards research and training to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in the Philippines.

For more details about the ACE, including details on the criteria and the news release and video announcing all the finalists, please see"

FACES also put out a new press release and an open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressing the nomination:

"FACES open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlights Chevron’s toxic operations in the Philippines. 'Chevron Philippines is no corporation to be proud of, not by the US or the Philippines. A little corporate donation to a local project does not replace the many lives lost or harmed due to their toxic operations in the fenceline communities of the Manila oil depots, as well as around the world where they operate,' said the letter."]

– Mitch

Friday, October 9, 2009

Chevron: The Toxic Tour

Manuel Ignacio Salinas was so proud to repeat his name when I asked him a third time.


Standing just over five feet tall, the aging Señor Salinas had graying hair, a discolored left eye, and rashes visible where his tattered light-blue button-down shirt failed to cover his dark Ecuadorian skin.

We passed his ramshackle wooden home, which was held ten feet off the ground by white concrete stilts. In the backyard, a group of children were hanging clothes on a line and chasing a small, fluffy white dog. They smiled and waved before quickly returning to their tasks. It was obvious they knew what we were there to see.

I was visiting Señor Salinas with one other volunteer as part of a Toxic Tour of the polluted area in the Amazon jungle. As we entered his backyard, I began to smell the unbearable scent of crude oil. Lying before us was what looked like an abandoned sewage waste site—a 50 yard-long section of marshy land with weeds jutting out.

There were no rats or flies like I expected, perhaps because even these creatures could not stand to live near such a massive pool of stagnant oil. The area was encircled with yellow tape that read “peligro”—danger—but the side closest to Manuel Salinas’s home was left open. We walked to the edge of the area, and Señor Salinas began to talk to us.

“I bought this land 25 years ago, without knowing what was beneath the surface,” he said. “I started to clear away the trees and brush to grow coffee and fruit trees, because this was how I had planned to make a living. But then I discovered what I thought was a huge swamp and could only plant a few trees around it.

“We were unable to farm the land. We were unable to get clean water. We slid into poverty. But we had no choice but to continue drinking from the contaminated well. For a while, we had nothing, ni agua,” he said. Not even water.

As I listened, his adorable white dog scurried around our feet. Suddenly, it sprinted a little too far and hopped directly into the pool of contaminated oil-water. We screamed for it to come back, and when it finally pulled itself out of the sludge, its coat was completely black. Señor Salinas also called for the dog, but it was obvious he was not nearly as shocked as us. After all, he had lived near the backyard waste-sight for over 20 years and had seen many animals perish in it.

“I wanted to move, but who would buy this land?” he continued. “I just don’t want my family to be sick.”

Despite being threatened with “a lifetime of litigation” by Chevron attorneys, Señor Salinas is one of the 30,000 residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon who are plaintiffs in a $27.3 billion class-action lawsuit against Chevron, to remediate what has become known as the Amazon Chernobyl–the worst oil-related disaster on the planet.

Texaco, now Chevron, admitted to dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic chemicals into hundreds of waste pits throughout the jungle between 1964 and 1990. As a result, oil-polluted water and soil are spread over more than 1,500 square miles in the pristine Amazon wilderness. Environmental and medical experts believe the mess left by Texaco’s negligence has caused extremely high levels of cancer, miscarriages, birth defects and other health problems in the region.

Judging by his discolored eye and skin rashes and Señor Salinas’ tales of frequent hospital visits, it was apparent that Señor Salinas himself had been affected.

“Even the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, came to visit,” Señor Salinas said. As he spoke, the sadness in his eyes was impossible to ignore. “The president put his hand on my shoulder and he asked, ‘What can I do?’ The truth was, at this point, not much.”

His family is forced to travel seven hours by bus to Quito, the capitol, to seek medical treatment for the illnesses caused by the polluted water that they unknowingly drank and bathed in for years. I could not imagine staying near this pool for an hour, never mind a lifetime, as Señor Salinas’s children have. After just a few minutes of standing around the waste site, my nose and whole body felt infiltrated with the gross waste, and I even began to feel light-headed. Wiping my face and blowing my nose later in the car, I was appalled to find the tissue black with what appeared to be nasty petroleum particles that must have been densely polluting the air around Señor Salinas’ home.

A few days later, I traveled to Cuyabeno National Park in the heart of Ecuador’s rainforest. As we traveled slowly down a bumpy dirt path toward the river, large, untouched forests lined one side of the road. On the other, massive oil extraction stations were visibly still in operation. We passed by huge, black tanks surrounded by a maze of black and yellow tubes, fenced-off silver machinery covered in skull and crossbones signs, old unused oil barrels thrown carelessly in all directions and several shiny oil-pits with outlandishly tall and sweltering gas flares in the background that stood higher than the hundreds of tall green trees directly next to them.

We finally arrived at the Cuyabeno River, and I stepped into a canoe that would take us to our destination: a rainforest eco-lodge. Two hours later, we arrived at the lodge, surrounded by a lush canopy. Stepping off the boat onto the small wooden dock, I walked towards what looked like a pseudo-summer camp in the middle of the jungle – complete with fishing boats, small stilted straw huts, bunk-beds, hammocks, and a communal outdoor dining area.

The sound of birds singing intermingled with the pounding rain. I took a deep breath and savored the fresh jungle air. This was how the rainforest was supposed to be. As I plopped into a hammock beneath the canopy, my mind drifted back to all the things I had just seen: the incriminating pools of pollution, the countless rusting oil barrels, the massive oil stations, and the flaming gas burners with birds circling in their emissions.

Eventually, I think I could forget these images. But the one thing I will always remember is the face of Manuel Ignacio Salinas.

Michaela Joyce D’Amico is a passionate international human rights and environmental justice activist, listener/talker, peace-maker, artist and athlete. Also a student on the side, she will graduate from Northeastern University in Boston, MA in 2010 with a degree in International Affairs, minor in Sociology, Spanish and Social Entrepreneurship. She has worked with Global Exchange in San Francisco, EF Educational Tours in Boston and most recently, Amazon Watch in Quito Ecuador. She is now back in Ecuador to continue her work with the landmark environment lawsuit against Chevron's abuse to the people and land of the Amazon rain forest. Learn more about this at her blog and the Chevron Toxico website.

– Paul

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Affected Communities March Against Chevron Corruption in Ecuador

Over 400 people from indigenous and farming communities around Lago Agrio, Ecuador, marched to a toxic dump site today to protest Chevron's on-going attempts to derail the $27 billion lawsuit that will soon come to a close after more than 16 years of courtroom struggle.

Hoisting a coffin filled with effigies of Chevron executives and lawyers on their shoulders, protesters marched to one of the oil waste pits that Chevron claims to have remediated. They lowered the coffin into the still contaminated, oily ground, symbolically burying out-going Chevron CEO David O'Reilly and other masterminds of Chevron's legacy of corruption. The “burial site” is just one of over 900 open waste pits left behind by Texaco (now Chevron) in 1992 filled with toxic wastewaters.

“We the people in Ecuador want to say that this supposed development is killing our way of life,” said Justino Piaguaje, President of the Secoya people. “We are enclosed in this small territory that does not guarantee life to our people because these territories are contaminated. To Chevron’s new president, we want to send a message that we need remediation urgently. It’s not necessary for people to continue dying. We want him, John Watson to come to Ecuador and see for himself what has happened to our people.”

“Chevron has repeatedly tried to avoid responsibility for the devastating contamination and human suffering caused by their oil operations. But today’s protest of hundreds in Lago Agrio, Ecuador shows that the people here will continue to fight. With new CEO John Watson assuming leadership on December 31, Chevron has an opportunity to start anew and clean up its mess in Ecuador,” said Maria Lya Ramos, Rainforest Action Network Campaign Director, who was present at the march.

The protest comes at a time when Chevron is facing increasing international scrutiny about its handling of what experts are calling the "Amazon Chernobyl." Just this year, Chevron has lobbied the United States Trade Representative to cancel trade preferences between Ecuador and the U.S., filed an arbitration claim against Ecuador's government at The Hague, and unleashed a campaign to implicate the Ecuadorian judge, Juan Nuñez, in a bribery scandal.

“Chevron has ramped up an assault on Ecuador's judicial system over the past few months with ready-made video scandals that have failed to produce any evidence of foul play within the courts,” said Mitch Anderson, Amazon Watch Corporate Accountability Campaigner. “Chevron's sole intention appears to be to lay the groundwork for future appeals and delay a final decision as long as possible; a legal strategy of undermining the rule of law in Ecuador to buy time.”

“The Toxi-videos are just the latest way that Chevron is trying to corrupt the trial by creating false evidence,” said Luis Yanza, a plaintiff who was recently profiled in the acclaimed documentary Crude, now screening in the United States. “Those who committed the crime of the Toxi-videos and the masterminds behind those videos should be investigated and punished. We need to be more alert than ever because Chevron is on its last breath.”

Chevron's liability in the lawsuit stems from what may be the worst oil-related contamination on the planet and was inherited when Chevron, under O'Reilly's watch, paid $35 billion for Texaco in 2001, apparently without accounting for a possible adverse judgment in the case, which was pending at the time in U.S. federal court.

O'Reilly ignored the warnings about Texaco's Ecuador liability, which at the time was estimated in the billions of dollars. The lawsuit asserts Texaco deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon when it operated 356 oil wells in Ecuador from 1964 to 1990, poisoning an ecosystem the size of Rhode Island, decimating the lifestyles of six indigenous groups and causing an epidemic of cancers and other oil-related illnesses.

Photographs from the march available here.

Background information at: and

– Mitch

Mitchell Anderson is a lead advocate in the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign as the Corporate Accountability Campaigner at Amazon Watch. Mitch works closely with organizational partners on the ground in Ecuador and has first-hand knowledge of the devastation left by Texaco in the Amazon. Prior to joining Amazon Watch, Mitch worked in Chiapas, Mexico, coordinating a regional human rights investigation, which sought to document and expose the effects of militarization on the collective human rights of indigenous communities. Mitchell has also worked as a freelance journalist and is a certified Spanish-English interpreter.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chevron CEO forced out?

Crossposted from San Francisco Chronicle.

By Cameron Scott:

Dave O'Reilly, the CEO of San Ramon-based Chevron Corp., announced a surprise retirement earlier today, a move that seems related to growing publicity about Chevron's likely liability for environmental destruction of the Ecuadorian Amazon wrought by Texaco, which Chevron purchased under O'Reilly's watch in 2001.

Chevron's refinery in Richmond, CA.

If Chevron is found liable for the full $27 billion estimate in a pending lawsuit, it would lose 20 percent of its market value. (A documentary about the case, Crude, opened in San Francisco this week.)

"O'Reilly is either trying get out of Chevron before the Ecuador judgment comes down and further embarrasses him, or he was hounded to retire so Chevron could try to bury an obvious corporate governance problem given its failure to properly vet Texaco," said Chris Lehane, a lawyer and political consultant working for the Amazonian communities suing Chevron.

Local environmental group Amazon Watch, which is supporting the plaintiffs in the suit, issued an open letter to Chevron shareholders earlier this year, alleging that O'Reilly had not properly evaluated Texaco's Amazon problem before purchasing the company.

"There is no evidence that Chevron's management ... independently vetted Texaco's representations at the time about the nature of the lawsuit or the limitations of its [release] which no court of law in either the U.S. or Ecuador has ever accepted as valid in reference to the civil lawsuit," said the letter, signed by Atossa Soltani, the executive director of Amazon Watch. (Chevron has claimed that a release issued by the Ecuadorian government protects it from any lawsuits, while the backers of the lawsuit claim that the release only applied to government-brought suits.)

An investigation opened by New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo lends credence to plaintiffs' allegations: It seeks to determine whether Chevron misled shareholders about its financial liability in the Ecuador case. In the company's SEC disclosures, it claims the lawsuit is "frivolous" and refuses to estimate a potential loss.

Chevron's press release credits O'Really with leading "two of the industry's most significant and successful transactions — the 2001 merger with Texaco and the acquisition of Unocal in 2005." Current vice-chair John Watson will succeed O'Reilly.