Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Profile: Angel, Father of Six Who Died of Cancer from Chevron's Contamination

The Chevron Pit blog has posted the latest installment in a series of stories about how Chevron's contamination in Ecuador's rainforest region has impacted the people living near the former oil sites. The photos and testimonials are from the book 'Crude Reflections' by photographers Lou Dematteis and Kayana Szymczak.

This latest story is about Luz Maria Martin and her late husband Angel Toala. They lived – and Luz and their family continues to live – in the Shushufindi area of the Ecuadorian Amazon, near an oil pumping station and only 200 yards from an oil well. Shushufindi is the name of a small town in the northeast of Ecuador, as well as the name of the largest oil field in Ecuador's Oriente Basin, discovered by Chevron-owned Texaco in 1970.

Luz and Angel moved with their six children to the Shushufindi area for work. But Angel developed stomach cancer, and by the time it was diagnosed, it was too late. Photographer Lou Dematteis and journalist Joan Kruckewitt conducted the interview with his widow Luz.

An excerpt from the interview:

I don’t think the oil company (Texaco) worried if they contaminated the water. We farmers didn't realize the water was contaminated, and certainly it was not in the oil company’s interest to tell us that.
Angel Toala at his home in Shushufindi shortly before succumbing to stomach cancer. Photo by Lou Dematteis.

Transcription of interview with Luz Maria Martin, widow of Angel Toala, who died of stomach cancer:

My husband, Angel Toala, and I came here to the Amazon 23 years ago from the mountains of San Domingo. We came because he was told you could earn good money with the [oil] companies here. We have six children.

Angel worked on the pipeline for Texaco for five years, and that’s how we’ve been able to buy this farm. Mostly we grew coffee, plantains, yucca, some cacao.

There’s a [Texaco] pumping station near our house and a [Texaco] oil well 200 yards from our house, and downstream is a lake where the crude oil they dumped gathers. We never let the animals drink the water. A lot of times we found dead fish in it. Our coffee plants there turned yellow and died.

We got our drinking water from the rain, and, when it didn’t rain, from the stream. It had a funny taste and sometimes you could see oil floating on top. We bathed there and washed our clothes there. We knew the water was bad for our health, but what could we do? There wasn’t water anywhere else.

About three years ago, my husband started having stomach pains, slight pains when he ate. He couldn’t eat as much as he used to. (Crying) Certain foods made him feel bad, and he couldn’t eat meat, or fish. About a year ago he started losing weight.

(Crying) Then his back began hurting, and his muscles. He felt tired. At the end, he couldn’t take the sun. He was so tired; he didn’t have any energy.

In Quito he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. We took him to the Eugenio Espejo Hospital but the doctors said that it was too late; nothing could be done.

(Crying) The last three months before he died, he couldn’t do anything. He just lay in the hammock.
Angel Toala at home in Shushufindi. Photo by Lou Dematteis from Crude Reflections.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Judge Allows Arbitration in Chevron-Ecuador Battle – Environmental Lawsuit Not Directly Affected

Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Sand declined to stay international arbitration sought by Chevron in complaints against the Republic of Ecuador. After repeatedly asserting that there need be only one claim that is arbitrable in Chevron's complaint, Judge Sand dismissed Ecuador's motion to stay the arbitration under the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty. Sadly, Judge Sand's ruling may mean more delay in getting relief for the 30,000 people in Ecuador affected by Chevron's massive contamination of their rainforest home, but this was a battle between the oil giant and Ecuador, and does not directly affect the lawsuit originally brought by Ecuador's indigenous people to force Chevron to clean up its toxic mess.

For years in the 1990s, Chevron argued in the same court to have the environmental lawsuit – originally filed in 1993 in New York against Chevron-owned Texaco – sent to Ecuador. Chevron made repeated commitments to the District Court to be subject to jurisdiction in Ecuadorian courts, and satisfy any judgment in the case, reserving its rights to challenge the verdict only in a very clearly-defined way – under what the judge and lawyers in the courtroom this week referred to as "CPLR 5304." Section 5304 of the New York State Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) sets forth grounds for challenging a "foreign judgment," if an entity believes it did not receive due process of law, for instance. Breaching the commitments it repeatedly made to the District Court – and mandated by the Circuit Court of Appeals – Chevron is "jumping the gun," according to one of the lawyers for Ecuador, and in the final stages of the 17-year lawsuit, trying to find another way to evade responsibility for its environmental devastation of Ecuador's rainforest region.

After the decision, Steven Donziger, a U.S. lawyer for the plaintiffs, said:

"We have explained to the court why we believe Chevron is trying to undermine the rule of law in both the U.S. and Ecuador by taking the litigation over the world's worst oil-related disaster to a secret arbitration where the victims of the company's misconduct cannot appear. This end-run maneuver is just the latest chapter in a long pattern of abuse by Chevron when it comes to the indigenous people of Ecuador. At the end of the day, a public court will decide the claims of the victims and if they receive a favorable judgment against Chevron we expect to enforce it in countries where the company has assets."

As the verdict in the trial is expected within months, Chevron is increasingly desperate to find any way to escape a huge liability in the case. Judge Sand, the same judge who declined Ecuador's motion to stay the international arbitration yesterday, ruled against Chevron's motion to take the case to arbitration in 2007. And while ruling for Chevron, Judge Sand opened on the first day of the hearing by asking Chevron why its previous representations and agreements with the court didn't preclude it from arbitration. Before issuing his ruling, the judge also said that he was skeptical of the timing of Chevron's move, likely coming just ahead of a verdict in the marathon 17-year court battle.

As the Associated Press reported:

"[Judge Sand's] ruling does not directly affect the lawsuit Chevron is fighting in Ecuador, where a court-appointed expert has recommended the oil company pay up to $27 billion for environmental damages and related illnesses."

In fact, the judge's decision has nothing to do with the merits of the case against Chevron and the staggering mountain of evidence that shows Chevron's unambiguous responsibility for massive oil contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This is just Chevron's latest legal maneuver to try to evade responsibility for the toxic legacy it left behind in Ecuador that continues to cause suffering, sickness, and death for men, women and children in the indigenous and campesino communities throughout Ecuador's rainforest region.

Today, the Republic of Ecuador's Attorney General Diego Garcia said that Ecuador is considering appealing the decision. And today, the frustrating results of the latest courtroom skirmish are likely trickling through the rainforest communities, like the rainbow-colored slicks of oil that still course their rivers and streams.

– Han

Han Shan is the Coordinator of the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chevron Faces Critical Hearing in Last-Ditch Effort to Escape Ecuador Trial

Today, oil giant Chevron will appear in federal court in New York to defend a last-ditch and likely futile effort to escape a trial in Ecuador. Chevron wants to take the case to binding arbitration under the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty, where the Amazon rainforest communities who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit would not be able to appear.

Today's hearing is before Judge Leonard B. Sand, who handed Chevron a defeat in 2007, permanently staying the company's first attempt at arbitration. Jonathon Abady, an American lawyer representing the rainforest communities in the federal court action, says, "Chevron acts like a fugitive from justice in Ecuador because the evidence establishing the company’s misconduct is overwhelming."

According to a press release from the Amazon Defense Coalition (ADC), which represents the 30,000 indigenous people and campesinos who are suing Chevron for clean-up of massive contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the oil giant is:

trying to abandon the trial even though over the last seven years the parties have produced more than 64,000 chemical sampling results, conducted 103 court-supervised inspections of former Chevron well sites scattered throughout the rainforest, and created a trial record than runs to more than 200,000 pages.
Read the rest of the ADC press release.

– Han

Han Shan is Coordinator of the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

After Visit to CA: Personal Video Message from Emergildo Criollo to Chevron CEO John Watson

Readers of this blog may be somewhat familiar with Emergildo's story by now – an indigenous leader from the Cofan nation in Ecuador's Amazon, he first encountered Texaco's helicopters landing in his pristine rainforest home to drill for oil in 1964. About a decade later, his first two sons had died from sickness due to oil contamination and his wife has since suffered uterine cancer. He tells a tragic story of environmental devastation, cultural loss, and human suffering. But his story is also one of perseverance, courage and resilience as he continues to fight for clean up of Chevron/Texaco's contamination and bravely demands justice for his people and the thousands of others who have suffered from Chevron's callous neglect and greed.

Last week, Emergildo traveled to California, to pay a visit to Chevron CEO John Watson at his home, bearing a letter signed by himself, other indigenous nationalities in Ecuador, and the Amazon Defense Coalition, which represents the 30,000 plaintiffs in a monumental lawsuit demanding environmental clean-up from Chevron. Mr. Watson didn't answer the call so Emergildo headed to Chevron's headquarters in San Ramon and once again asked for Watson, only to be received by Chevron public relations executives, who accepted his letter as well as over 325,000 supporting petitions from more than 150 countries around the world.

After delivering his letter and the petitions, Emergildo recorded this personal video message to John Watson:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pollution, Sickness, and Death: Interview with Indigenous Leader Emergildo Criollo from the Ecuadorian Amazon

Online news magazine Alternet has a powerful interview with Cofan indigenous leader Emergildo Criollo, who was in the San Francisco Bay Area last week to pay a visit to Chevron and its new CEO John Watson. Though Watson refused to accept Emergildo's letter appealing to him to clean up Chevron's toxic contamination of his rainforest home, Emergildo spoke forcefully to Chevron executives, lawmakers in the State Capitol, allies, and news media. In his powerful interview with Cameron Scott, Emergildo says:

We've gotten exactly three things from the company: pollution, sickness and death; that's it.

In the interview, Emergildo describes the impacts of Chevron on his community and culture beyond the pollution, gives an overview of the history of the lawsuit against the oil company, and punches holes in Chevron's shift-the-blame talking points. Read the full interview here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network Respond to Chevron's Statements About Meeting With Emergildo

Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network Response to Chevron's Statements About Meeting with Emergildo Criollo, Indigenous Leader from Ecuador:

On Tuesday, March 2nd, Emergildo Criollo, an indigenous leader from the Ecuadorian Amazon met with Chevron executives at the company's headquarters in San Ramon, CA, accompanied by campaign staff from Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Amazon Watch. On Thursday, March 4th Chevron wrote publicly about the meeting. The following is a response from RAN and Amazon Watch.

Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network requested to meet personally with new Chevron CEO, John Watson, in order to allow Emergildo the opportunity to deliver a direct appeal, and tell the story of how Chevron's contamination has affected him and his family. Emergildo was also delivering 325,000 petitions from more than 150 countries in support of his appeal to Chevron to clean up Ecuador.

John Watson did not receive Emergildo and he was met instead by Chevron public relations executives; Rhonda I. Zygocki, Vice President for Policy, Government and Public Affairs, Silvia M. Garrigo, Manager for Global Issues and Policy, Gary Fisher, General Manager for Corporate Public Policy, and Don Campbell, Manager of External Communications.

Emergildo was accompanied by supporters from RAN and Amazon Watch, two organizations that work in support of the communities in Ecuador who are demanding remediation of Chevron's oil pollution, and compensation for the horrific health and environmental impacts. Maria Ramos, director of RAN's Change Chevron campaign, and Mitchell Anderson, Director of Corporate Accountability campaigns for Amazon Watch accompanied Emergildo into the meeting with the Chevron executives.

Today, Chevron wrote about the meeting on the company's official blog with the misleading title, "Important First Steps – Chevron and Rainforest Action Meet, Share Common Ground."

The blog post shares a comment that Silvia Garrigo, Chevron's Manager of Global Issues and Public Policy, posted on a RAN blog update about the petition delivery. Garrigo writes, "We can all agree that [Emergildo's] story is moving and heartfelt. And we can all agree that there are unacceptable environmental conditions in Ecuador's Amazon." The comment concludes: "We look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue." Chevron also posted a link to the blog on its Twitter account.

After delivering his letter and the 325,000 petitions to the Chevron executives, Emergildo told supporters, "I traveled from my home in the rainforest in Ecuador to Chevron's headquarters to ask the company to clean up the toxic contamination that killed two of my sons, and has caused suffering for my people and thousands of others. I went to Chevron CEO John Watson's home to ask him personally to clean up the toxic mess in Ecuador, but they sent only company spokespeople to hear my story."

"We have always been open to communication with the company but it is hard to understand what Chevron means by 'common ground' while the company continues to evade responsibility and blame others for the devastation in the Ecuadorian Amazon," said Mitchell Anderson of Amazon Watch. "Chevron appears to be cynically trying to score public relations points from the brief meeting with Emergildo Criollo. The meeting was an opportunity for Emergildo to tell his devastating story and ask Chevron to stop the lies and clean up its toxic mess once and for all."

"We will consider our dialogue with Chevron 'constructive' only when they agree to fulfill the communities' consistent demands that the company fully remediate its contamination, compensate them for the health and environmental impacts, and provide access to potable water and health care," said Maria Ramos of Rainforest Action Network.

Emergildo's letter was addressed to Chevron CEO John Watson, who was also the target of the 325,000 supporting petitions. The affected communities and their supporters are asking that Mr. Watson lead the company in a new direction by ending the attempts at evading responsibility and satisfying the affected people's demands for a clean-up.

After delivering his letter, Emergildo expressed disappointment that Mr. Watson failed to show up, as well as hope that a solution is possible. "I am glad that I was able to come here and share my story," said Criollo. "But Mr. Watson must understand that people are still dying. Chevron, clean up Ecuador now."

30,000 residents of Ecuador's rainforest region are plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit that was first filed in 1993 against Chevron-owned Texaco, which dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into Amazon waterways and the forest, and abandoned more than 900 unlined waste pits filled with crude oil and toxic waste amidst the communities. Abundant scientific evidence shows massive contamination throughout the area where Texaco was the sole operator of the oil fields from 1964 until the company left in 1992. The indigenous and campesino communities continue to suffer an epidemic of illness, cancer, birth defects, and premature deaths due to the contamination.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Emergildo Criollo Delivers Letter and Petition to Chevron Headquarters

Versatile activist Nick Magel – who has worked closely with both Amazon Watch and our friends at Rainforest Action Network – wrote a great update for the Change Chevron blog, giving a nice overview of today's activities, along with a photo diary with powerful pictures from RAN's Jonathan Mcintosh:

Today Emergildo Criollo, an Indigenous leader from who traveled from his community in Ecuador, attempted to deliver an appeal letter to Chevron CEO James Watson from the Cofan, Siona, Secoya Indigenous Nations, and the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia. In addition Emergildo carried with him the names of over 325,000 people who have signed the petition calling for Chevron to clean up their toxic mess in the Ecuadorean rainforest that has impacted over 30,000 community members.

Emergildo Criollo Petition Delivery to Chevron

Emergildo Criollo attempted to deliver the letters to John Watson’s home in Lafayette, the oil giant’s headquarters in San Ramon, and its San Francisco office. Additionally, Chevron board members around the country received personalized deliveries of the message, accompanied by photographs of some of the 30,000 Ecuadorean people affected by the 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste Chevron refuses to clean up. On top of all that RAN and Amazon Watch supporters flooded the Chevron phone lines with messages of solidarity with the Ecuadorean communities. If you’d like to give them a call please do- (925) 842-1000.

Below are some of Emergildo’s words on the day and a photo journal of the events.

Petition Delivery to Chevron

Emergildo Criollo, Mitch Anderson of Amazon Watch, and Maria Lya Ramos of RAN, walk up Happy Valley Rd to Chevron CEO John Watson’s house in Lafayette CA.

Petition Delivery to Chevron

Emergildo Criollo traveled from the Ecuador rainforest. John Watson would not answer at his house.

Petition Delivery to Chevron

Emergildo, Mitch, and Maria outside Chevron CEO John Watson’s house. (I doubt there are any unlined crude pits in his backyard)

We filled a huge bus with folks supporting Emergildo and the 30,000 Ecuadoreans impacted by Chevron’s mess. Here we are on our way from John Watson’s house to Chevron world headquarters in San Ramon, CA. Most people on the phones were calling Chevron switchboards demanding for justice in Ecuador.

Petition Delivery to Chevron

Arriving at the gates of the Chevron complex. Emergildo is prepared to deliver an appeal letter on behalf of the Cofan, Siona, Secoya Indigenous Nations, and the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia in addition to a 325,000 person petition to CEO John Watson.

Petition Delivery to Chevron

Walking into the Chevron World Headquarters.

Emergildo Criollo Petition Delivery to Chevron

Emergildo Criollo and Maria Lya Ramos are met by Gary Fisher, General Manager, Corporate Public Policy and Don Campbell manager of external communications for Chevron.

Petition Delivery to Chevron

Supporters gathered outside Chevron’s Headquarters in solidarity with the 30,000 community members in Ecuador living with Chevron’s toxic legacy.

Petition Delivery to Chevron

Supporters gathering outside Chevron World Headquarters

Petition Delivery to Chevron

Emergildo and everyone from today’s delivery, after leaving Chevron World Headquarters. “We’ll be back until you clean up your mess in Ecuador”

“I have come to the home of Chevron to tell our story – how our women and children are sick and dying from Chevron’s contamination. We want what anyone would — to be healthy and happy, to have clean water and good food to eat, shelter and dignity,” said Emergildo Criollo.  “Chevron robbed us of our livelihoods many years ago, and I am here on behalf of thousands of brothers and sisters to demand that Chevron take responsibility for their actions and clean up our rivers and forests – our homes.”

Call Chevron Today to Demand Clean-Up of Ecuador

In the two months since John Watson took over as the new CEO of Chevron, over 325,000 people from 150 countries have signed a petition with a clear message to Mr. Watson and Chevron: Clean up Ecuador now!

Emergildo Criollo, indigenous leader of the Cofan people, has traveled all the way from his home in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador to personally deliver an appeal from the affected communities along with the petition to CEO John Watson and Chevron at their headquarters in California. Today, in San Ramon, CA, home of Chevron's headquarters, Emergildo is delivering his letter, along with your 325,000 signatures of support.

Speak up in support of Emergildo by calling Chevron now: (925) 842-1000

Ask to speak with Chevron CEO John Watson. You'll be directed to his voicemail. Leave a message: "I support Emergildo (pronounced "Em-err-HILL-doe"). Please clean up Ecuador."

It's that simple. And collectively, our voices will be heard as a global chorus that gets louder by the day. More tips for making the call are at the bottom of this message.

As we've recently told you, Emergildo lost two young sons to sickness caused by Chevron's contamination. His wife contracted uterine cancer and had to undergo a hysterectomy. Emergildo's devastating story is the story of thousands of people in Ecuador suffering and dying from Chevron's toxic legacy.

Along with our allies at Rainforest Action Network, Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign is supporting Emergildo to deliver his message to Chevron, and helping him meet reporters and lawmakers in Sacramento. We know it's our job to amplify his voice and the voices of the people in the Amazon who have been devastated by Chevron's malicious neglect.

You can help amplify Emergildo's voice by calling Chevron now: (925) 842-1000

Ask for Chevron CEO John Watson. When you get his voicemail, leave a message: "I support Emergildo. Please clean up Ecuador."

We are making an impact on Chevron. Last week, Chevron Vice President and chief legal counsel Charles James abruptly resigned. The company is being tight-lipped about the move but James has been guiding the oil giant's abusive and risky strategy to try to evade responsibility in Ecuador. It seems maybe the strategy – for which Chevron has taken a beating in the media, the courts, and the court of public opinion – has finally caught up to him.

Please, take action now and call Chevron to support Emergildo and the tens of thousands of people in Ecuador who are seeking justice and a healthy environment for their families and future generations.

For reference, below are demands adopted from the global petition that we are presenting to Chevron today. You may want to mention these points in your voicemail message to John Watson:

  • Chevron needs to listen to Emergildo and clean up Ecuador
  • Chevron needs to compensate the communities for health and environmental impacts
  • Chevron needs to develop meaningful environmental and human rights policies that will prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.

– Han

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

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chevron Evades Responsibility in Ecuador... And Helps Fugitive Employees Evade Justice

The Chevron Pit posted a new article that looks at the shady ways in which Chevron not only works to evade responsibility for its contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon, but helps its employees to evade justice. There is a good explanation of the fraudulent testing methods Chevron has employed in a vain attempt to convince the courts that no contamination exists where in fact it is pervasive, toxic, and all-too-apparent to the communities living amidst the poison.

The article goes on to connect the dots from Chevron's fraudulent testing methods and "clean-up" in Ecuador to the bigger pattern of fraud and deceit employed by the company, including coaching former contractors and felons in sting operations against a judge in order to disrupt the trial of a case in which they face a $27 billion liability. Read the entire piece here.

– Han

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