Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Essential New Web Portal Gathers Info on Human Rights Impacts of Oil Pollution

Well, Rainforest Action Network's Change Chevron team beat me to it, but I was planning on posting today about "a new online information portal regarding 'Human rights impacts of oil pollution: U.S. Gulf Coast, Ecuador, Nigeria,'" as the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre announced in a press release [PDF].

Explaining the reason for the comprehensive portal, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre Director Christopher Avery said:

“Massive oil spills create human rights disasters as well as environmental catastrophes. As media coverage of the Gulf spill subsides, and people in the Niger Delta and eastern Ecuador continue to live in the midst of decades of oil pollution, we decided the time was right to create a platform that keeps an ongoing focus on the human rights impacts.”

An account written by BBC producer Rebecca John in 2005, while shooting a story with the Quichua (or Kichwa) people called 'The Curse of Oil,' is highlighted in the press release. It is one of the stories collected in the exhaustive Ecuador section of the portal:

“We had absolutely no idea what was going to happen the day we filmed with the Quichuar people in Ecuador...They were angry with the oil companies for polluting their lands and ruining their lives. After they showed us around, we could see why. Several large pits full of oil and toxic waste are scattered throughout their land. They told us that toxic substances from these pits regularly flow into their water supply and have also polluted the food chain, which the Quichuar rely on for their survival. All this has made them sick, they said, and very, very angry. After standing next to one of the pits for a short while I began to feel dizzy. The smell was overpowering and my stomach churned...What it must be like to live there, with the fear of contamination ever-present, I can't even begin to imagine.”

A local Ecuadorian displays crude oil and sludge in a toxic waste pit abandoned by Chevron at the 'Aguarico 4' oil well site in northeastern Ecuador. Photo by Caroline Bennett.

While almost all of the material has simply been collected from other sources, it has been exhaustively researched, is well-organized, and pulls together materials in helpful sections that allow for one to investigate important aspects of the issue.

For instance, you can peruse the section entitled, 'Recent articles comparing Ecuador situation with the Gulf response and coverage' or study 'Alleged impacts on cultural way of life of indigenous communities.'

Sections such as 'Assessing responsibility of Chevron/Texaco versus Petroecuador,' do provide a significant platform for Chevron's position, which would be more welcome if it were more consistent and honest, but I won't argue that point here. Of course, the Ecuador section is also filled with materials representing the efforts of Amazon Watch and the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign, as well as our allies, and of course, the affected communities who have been organizing to demand justice for so long.

While I haven't had a chance to explore it fully, a brief visit convinced me the portal will be a useful tool for anyone who wants to understand and compare the impact of oil pollution on front-line communities from the Gulf Coast to Ecuador's Rainforest to the Niger River Delta.

And while the Ecuador section is fascinating to peruse, it is also filled with horror stories and heartbreak. Thanks to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre for this resource–– may we one day be able to add a section about the historic victory that finally achieved a cleanup in the Amazon, and restitution for the damage done.

– Han

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chevron throws book at shareholder activist... I mean, shareholder activists

UPDATE [~6 hrs after I published the post below]:
The Wall Street Journal has picked up the story, though under a headline with a very different tone: 'Activist Faces Charges in Chevron Meeting Outburst.' At the same time, MarketWatch has a new, longer version of the story up that still omits the fact that Chevron barred 20 valid proxy holders, but does in fact note the arrest of four critics in addition to Juhasz.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

A must-read story was published today with the headline, 'Chevron throws book at shareholder activist.' The article, which appears on the Dow Jones affiliate MarketWatch.com, asks the question – as reporter John Letzing puts it in the subtitle – Are criminal charges the best way to deal with a meeting disruption?

As the article explains, outspoken Chevron critic and oil industry expert Antonia Juhasz was arrested at Chevron'a annual shareholder meeting in Houston, last May:

After causing a scene by blasting Chevron’s environmental record and starting a derisive chant, Antonia Juhasz was plucked from the audience and arrested. The meeting wrapped shortly afterward. She now faces up to six months in jail.
The article continues:
“This is very, very unusual,” says Sanjai Bhagat, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Leeds School of Business. “I’m a little puzzled as to why management would take such unusually strong steps.”
The professor goes on:
“The severity of this response is going to be counterproductive,” according to Bhagat. “At the next meeting you’ll have even more activists.”

Appearing in a Wall Street Journal-affiliated business news outlet, it's a relatively balanced article, though the reporter does focus on how the action "raises questions about the best way for firms to deal with activists..." rather than the legality of Chevron's actions, or the trend of public companies increasingly limiting discussion and debate at its shareholder meetings.

Most unfortunate though is that the reporter fails to mention that Chevron had four other people arrested that day, and barred nearly twenty other concerned community leaders from the meeting. Each of those people came as legal proxies for Chevron shareholders large and small. In an effort to silence critics, Chevron management systematically denied entry to more than a dozen people negatively affected by Chevron's operations in their communities in places like Ecuador, Nigeria, Burma, and the Philippines.


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 four other people arrested in addition to Antonia included Amazon Watch corporate campaigns director Mitch Anderson (a shareholder) 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 unjustly denied entry to the meeting, the four of us refused to leave, before being taken into custody at the direction of Chevron security personnel.

As the article notes, there is a court hearing in Houston on Thursday at which a trial date will be set.

While it's at the very least disheartening to be facing prison time for showing up to a meeting at which I had every right to be, my plight stands in stark relief to friends I have made in the Ecuadorian Amazon whose lives and communities have been devastated by this arrogant American company.

And we refuse to be silenced by Chevron's ongoing campaign of character assassination and intimidation.

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.

*Note: go read the entire article, and if you like, leave a comment. Say what you please but while I noted omissions in the article above, I'm by no means suggesting you slam the piece, which at least highlights the kind of tactics Chevron employs against its critics.

– Han

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Experts Say 10,000 May Die in Ecuador Due to Chevron's Pollution

Over the weekend, Rainforest Action Network's Nick Magel published a must-read article on CommonDreams.org about the final damages assessment that the Ecuadorian communities suing Chevron submitted to the Lago Agrio court last Thursday. The article highlights the most shocking revelation from the analysis completed for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs by a team of eminent scientists and doctors; that without immediate and drastic action, Chevron's toxic contamination could kill thousands more men, women, and children in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest.

Magel writes:

Shockwaves rippled through the world's largest environmental lawsuit on Friday, as a new damages assessment was submitted in the lawsuit between 30,000 Indigenous peoples and local farmers against the global oil giant Chevron. The damages assessment finds that because of factors still persisting in the Ecuadorean rainforest from Chevron's pollution, nearly 10,000 Ecuadoreans are at significant risk of dying from cancer by the year 2080. The technical and medical experts who authored the assessment claim that the conditions that remain from Chevron's systemic pollution in the Amazon will continue to cause cancer, birth defects, and other ailments for decades.

"The information in this submission is highly significant because it reflects clearly that there is a terrible oil-related disaster in Ecuador in the area where Chevron operated," said Pablo Fajardo, lead lawyer for the Ecuadorian communities suing Chevron. 

The new assessment also placed damages to Ecuadorian communities at $40-90 billion rather than the court's original $27.3 billion. The increase in damages is due to Chevron's "unjust enrichment." Unjust enrichment is essentially money saved by using sub-standard drilling practices. Simply, Chevron cut corners and communities paid the price, a very high price.

Fajardo was clear about Chevron's human impact in the region. "What these analyses make chillingly clear is that thousands of Ecuadorian citizens may well contract and die of cancer in the coming decades because of Chevron's contamination."

Read the rest of the article at Common Dreams.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Press Release: Chevron Faces Tens of Billions in Clean-up Costs; Potential Death Toll Put at 10,000 in Ecuador Rainforest

AMAZON DEFENSE COALITION
17 September 2010 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at 703-798-3109 or Karen@hintoncommunications.com

Chevron Faces Tens of Billions in Clean-up Costs; Potential Death Toll Put at 10,000 in Ecuador Rainforest

Top American Technical Experts Weigh In On High-Profile Damages Case

Lago Agrio, Ecuador (September 17) – A group of highly respected American technical and medical experts, using conservative assumptions, have concluded that it could cost Chevron up to tens of billions of dollars to clean up oil waste discharged into Ecuador’s rainforest and compensate local communities for the damage it caused over the 26 years it operated a large oil concession, according to valuation assessments submitted Thursday to the Ecuador trial court.

View a Summary of the Analysis of Damages here.

Relying on official Ecuador census and mortality data, as well as relevant studies, the analysis finds that what is believed to be the world’s largest oil-related catastrophe likely will cause nearly 10,000 Ecuadorians to be at significant risk of dying from cancer by the year 2080 even if Chevron cleans up in the next ten years. The numbers could rise substantially if no remediation takes place.

The assessments analyzed numerous categories of damages, including soil and groundwater contamination, drinking water, excess cancer deaths, natural resources damage, and health costs. While the high end of the damages range of $113 billion is substantially greater than the $27.3 billion damages number set forth in a report in 2008 by court-appointed expert Richard Cabrera, some categories of damages were found to be lower than those estimated in that report.

For example, the combined cost of clean-up for soil and groundwater contamination in the new analysis – which relied mostly on Chevron’s own internal environmental audits -- at the high end of the range was roughly $1.8 billion, compared to more than the $5 billion estimate in the earlier Cabrera report. The analysis found the existence of other categories of contamination, such as oil sediment in rivers, but they could not be accurately quantified.
The differences in the soil and groundwater remediation numbers is largely a function of the fact the new analyses used far more conservative assumptions than the Cabrera report.  For example, the Cabrera report concluded soil should be cleaned to a depth of five meters, while the recent analysis assumed only four meters.  


A large portion of the damages in the new analyses can be attributed to Chevron’s “unjust enrichment” – money saved by using sub-standard drilling practices – and compensation for potential excess cancer deaths that have a significant chance of occurring in coming decades due to exposure to cancer-causing crude oil.  Most of the damages in the Cabrera report were from the same two categories. 


“The new valuation analyses are different, in many ways, than the damage assessment report from 2008 but both present reasonable and sound assessments based on the evidence,” said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the Amazonian communities suing the oil giant.  


“The Ecuador court has more than enough evidence and expert analyses to determine the cost of remediating the extensive oil pollution that has devastated thousands in the region for decades,” Fajardo added.  “There are more than 100 different expert reports in evidence, dozens of them produced by Chevron, which overwhelmingly demonstrate extensive contamination at all of Chevron’s former oil production facilities.” 


The new damages analyses came in a supplemental report submitted by lawyers for the dozens of Amazon communities suing Chevron for what is believed to be the world’s worst oil-related disaster – larger than the size of the BP Gulf spill.  Unlike the BP Gulf spill, the Ecuador disaster has been contaminating the rainforest ecosystem for almost 50 years. 


Ecuadorian law provides that the court can consider the supplemental information when reaching a decision, but under Ecuadorian law the judge is under no obligation to adopt the estimates.  Chevron, which has attacked the credibility of Cabrera’s damages assessment, had the opportunity to submit its own valuations analysis but the company previously indicated it would boycott the process. 


Lawyers for the affected communities have asserted Chevron has been trying to sabotage the Ecuador trial by bombarding the court with frivolous motions and boycotting any part of the case that addresses damages.  The indigenous and farmer communities first filed the lawsuit in 1993 in U.S. federal court, but it was shifted to Ecuador at Chevron’s request. 


“The information in this submission is highly significant because it reflects clearly that there is a terrible oil-related disaster in Ecuador in the area where Chevron operated,” said Fajardo.


“What these analyses make chillingly clear is that thousands of Ecuadorian citizens may well contract and die of cancer in the coming decades because of Chevron’s contamination,” he added.  


The analyses, based largely on technical information found in the 200,000-page trial record and relevant studies, found the following damages: 


  • Soil Remediation: A conservative estimate of potential costs to remediate contaminated soils at all of Chevron’s 378 former oil production facilities in Ecuador ranges from $487 million to $949 million depending on the clean-up standard used.  The actual cost could be significantly higher.
  • 
 


  • Groundwater Remediation:  Based on data in the trial record, the range for clean-up of groundwater is $396 million to $911 million.
  • 
 


  • Rivers and wetlands:  Data indicates that sediment contamination exists, but no clean-up number was presented pending further investigation.
  • 
 


  • Health Care: Using recent data from the World Health Organization and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health, an estimated $1.4 billion will be needed to provide health care to the thousands of affected persons over the next three decades.
  • 
 


  • Drinking Water: Degradation of the environment with petroleum hydrocarbons associated with Chevron’s production activities has been documented at numerous locations.  The cost of a comprehensive series of regional water systems is estimated to be between approximately $326 million to $541 million.
  •   
 


  • Excess Cancer Deaths: Actuarial life-table methodology demonstrates that the aggregate cost of excess cancer deaths due to exposure to oil contamination in the area where Chevron operated could be approximately $69.7 billion. This is the based on the value of a statistical life used by averaging relevant data used in the U.S. court system and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ($7 million for each lost life), and comparing it with official Ecuador mortality data and census information.  Up to 9,950 people in the affected area will face a significant risk of dying from cancer in the coming decades even if the area is remediated in the next ten years.
  • 
 


    Even if the analysis stops in 1990 – the year when Chevron ceased being the operator of the oil fields – the aggregate cost of excess cancer deaths is still estimated at $12.1 billion based on 1,732 deaths from cancer. (The earlier Cabrera report estimated 1,401 deaths from cancer, but he did not project future deaths.)
 


  • Natural Resources Losses:  This estimate is based on the evidence that concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons and harmful metals in soil, groundwater, and surface water have exceeded levels considered to be toxic to terrestrial and aquatic biota. While determining the exact values of service losses in the rainforest with precision is not possible, it is not clear that further studies would produce a range of plausible values different from the range posited earlier by Mr. Cabrera – approximately $874 million to $1.7 billion, depending on the methodology employed.
  • 
 


  • Unjust Enrichment:  Chevron’s unjust enrichment ranges from $4.57 billion to $9.46 billion assuming a 100% probability of detection and ultimate payment, and from $18.26 billion to $37.86 billion assuming a 25% probability of detection and ultimate payment.  Given the evidence of Chevron’s malfeasance in Ecuador, the plaintiffs assume the company had at best a 25% probability of detection and ultimate payment, and therefore the unjust enrichment award should at minimum range from $18.26 billion to $37.86 billion. This is a conservative figure, as in reality it is highly unlikely that Chevron believed it had more than a 10% probability of detection and ultimate payment.
  • 
 


  • Cultural Impacts on Indigenous Groups: Representatives of the Amazonian communities, noting the acute interdependence between indigenous groups and the rainforest ecosystem, analyzed the impact of hydrocarbon contamination on indigenous culture.  The team reviewed economic valuations to repair the loss of cultural and ancestral practices, including a program to purchase unspoiled land, and to construct pools of native fishes and centers to restore flora and fauna.  The cost for this restoration is estimated at $481.5 million.
  • 
The analyses were submitted by the following scientists and technical experts: 


  • Douglas Allen, who has 25 years of experience as an environmental consultant working in soil and groundwater remediation;

  • Dr. Lawrence Barnthouse, one of the nation’s leaders in ecological risk assessment and a Fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science;

  • Carlos Emilio Picone, a medical doctor certified in critical care medicine and Chief of the Pulmonary Section at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C.;

  • Jonathan S. Shefftz, a financial economist from Harvard who has performed economic modeling on theories of unjust enrichment for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy;

  • Dr. Daniel L. Rourke, who has extensive experience applying advanced statistical techniques to solve complex litigation problems; and

  • Dr. Robert Paolo Scardina, a civil and environmental engineer and member of the faculty at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

  • 
 


    The analyses in both English and Spanish, as well as background information on the scientists, can be found at www.chevrontoxico.com.

    # # #

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Judge Orders Chevron's 'Dirty Tricks' Guy in Ecuador to Spill the Beans

    Yesterday, a federal judge ordered Diego Borja, self-proclaimed 'dirty tricks' operative for Chevron in Ecuador, to appear for a deposition on October 1st in San Francisco.

    According to a story in the legal newspaper the San Francisco Daily Journal, Judge Edward M. Chen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said that Chevron had "implicated" Borja as a witness to its claims against the courts in Ecuador, where Chevron is a defendant in a monumental lawsuit for causing widespread devastation in the country's Amazon rainforest region. 30,000 indigenous people and campesinos are attempting to hold the oil giant accountable for massive oil contamination from reckless oil drilling operations and the deliberate dumping of 18 billion gallons of toxic sludge into Amazon waterways relied upon by residents for drinking, bathing, and fishing.

    As I wrote on this blog yesterday, last summer, Borja, a long-time Chevron employee in Ecuador who has been closely associated with the oil giant's legal defense in the environmental lawsuit, spearheaded an undercover sting operation against the judge overseeing the trial in Ecuador. Borja and a shady American former drug trafficker and convicted felon named Wayne Hansen posed as businessmen interested in contracts for environmental remediation should the plaintiffs prevail in the legal battle demanding Chevron clean up its oil contamination of the region. They secretly video-taped the jusdge and brought the tapes to Chevron executives who announced they had discovered a "bribery scandal" implicating the judge, only to see the story unravel upon scrutiny by the media, as well as Amazon Watch. The New York Times, reporting on the story, wrote, simply, "No bribes were shown in the tapes..."

    As the Daily Journal reported, Judge Chen wrote in his order that:

    "there is evidence ... suggesting that Mr. Borja was not an innocent third party who just happened to learn of the alleged bribery scheme but rather was a long-time associate of Chevron whom Chevron would pay for any favorable testimony."

    Since cooperating with his long-time bosses in the cynical efforts to undermine the judicial process in Ecuador, Borja has been holed up in a $6000/month home just minutes away from Chevron's headquarters in San Ramon, CA. Chevron pays the rent on the house, as well as for Borja's high-profile (and surely expensive) criminal defense attorney, Cristina C. Arguedas, who represents such high-profile clients as disgraced former San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds. In April, the Amazon Defense Coalition and Amazon Watch revealed a series of stunning admissions by Borja. A childhood friend of Borja's named Santiago Escobar, disgusted by Borja's bragging about his 'dirty tricks' for the company, recorded conversations and saved online chats in which Borja admits he "cooked" evidence in the trial and would reveal the damaging evidence unless he received enough money from Chevron for his 2009 sting operation.

    Escobar's recordings of Borja were offered as evidence in the motion to depose Borja. Escobar also testified before the office of Ecuador's Prosecutor General (for which he received death threats).

    Once again, while the legal drama is authentic, it is also only a sideshow compared to the real issues at the heart of this case. "Case" isn't even the right word. Try "tragedy" or "disaster" or "catastrophe."

    Right now, while Borja is deciding whether to perjure himself to protect Chevron bigwigs and Chevron's PR hacks are figuring out how to spin this latest development, Marta (pictured below) and her family wait for relief. They are only a few of the tens of thousands of people who have suffered cancers, skin diseases, miscarriages and birth defects, and other health problems, due to living in close proximity to the poison Chevron left amidst their communities. And even that – the health impacts of Chevron's colossal crimes – is only one facet of the story.

    Marta Isabel Arrobo, 49, and her family have encountered numerous health problems living in close proximity to several of Chevron's abandoned toxic waste pits in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo by Caroline Bennett

    – Han

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

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Tables Turned: Lawsuit Targets Chevron "Dirty Tricks" Operative in Ecuador

    UPDATE 09/16: A U.S. federal judge has ordered Diego Borja to appear for a deposition on October 1st in San Francisco.

    Chevron and its liars – oops, I mean lawyers – are about to get a taste of their own medicine.

    As the San Francisco Daily Journal reported yesterday, Chevron's 'dirty tricks guy' in Ecuador, Diego Borja, has been targeted with a subpoena and a demand to sit for a deposition and tell the truth about his operations to undermine the trial over Chevron's contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

    Chevron has been on a legal rampage, filing motion after motion against the Ecuadorian plaintiffs' expert witnesses and consultants residing in the U.S. Most notably, the oil giant outraged 1st Amendment supporters when it subpoenaed hundreds of hours of raw footage from filmmaker Joe Berlinger whose film CRUDE examined Chevron's toxic legacy in Ecuador.

    Now, as the Daily Journal writes, the tables have turned:

    On Friday, Ecuador filed its own discovery request in San Francisco federal court under the same law Chevron has been using - 28 U.S.C. 1782, a statute designed to help parties obtain U.S.-based evidence for use in foreign proceedings. Ecuador is seeking to depose Diego Borja, one of two men who secretly videotaped a conversation with the original Ecuadorean judge in the case. In re Application of the Republic of Ecuador, 10-80225. Chevron claims the tapes showed the judge - who denied wrongdoing but recused himself - had already made up his mind to rule in the plaintiffs' favor as part of a bribery scheme. But Ecuador cites a report made by an investigator hired by the plaintiffs that suggests Borja is improperly linked to Chevron.

    Last summer, Borja, a long-time Chevron employee in Ecuador who has been closely associated with the oil giant's legal defense in the environmental lawsuit, spearheaded the undercover sting operation against the judge overseeing the trial in Ecuador. Borja and a shady American former drug trafficker and convicted felon named Wayne Hansen posed as businessmen interested in contracts for environmental remediation should the plaintiffs prevail in the legal battle demanding Chevron clean up its oil contamination of the region.

    As the Amazon Defense Coalition explains in a press release:

    The court filings, made by the American law firm Winston & Strawn on behalf of Ecuadorian authorities fighting Chevron over an international arbitration claim, seek to depose Borja about his involvement in the sting operation, conducted with Borja's sidekick Wayne Hansen. In 2009, both Borja and Hansen used cameras hidden in a pen and a watch to secretly tape meetings with the trial judge presiding over the environmental case, and supposed government officials.

    The men then turned over the tapes to Chevron, which posted them on YouTube. Chevron initially alleged the tapes showed an attempted bribery of the judge, but it was only the Chevron employee who discussed the bribe, and the judge was never in a meeting when a bribe was discussed.

    But don't take their or my word for it. Reporting on revelations about the shady past of Borja's partner Wayne Hansen, the New York Times reported, simply:

    "No bribes were shown in the tapes..."

    In fact, Borja's plan to corrupt the trial and reap a windfall from Chevron has been unraveling since it was hatched.

    In April, the Amazon Defense Coalition and Amazon Watch revealed a series of stunning admissions by Borja. A childhood friend of Borja's named Santiago Escobar, disgusted by Borja's bragging about his 'dirty tricks' for the company, recorded conversations and saved online chats in which Borja admits he "cooked" evidence in the trial and would reveal the damaging evidence unless he received enough money from Chevron for his 2009 sting operation.

    Santiago Escobar has received death threats for blowing the whistle on Borja's operations but it didn't stop him from testifying before Ecuador's Prosecutor General's office about what he knew. And now, Borja will have to testify.

    Among the quotes from the recordings cited in the legal filings is this gem:

    "... I have correspondence [with Chevron officials] that talks about things you can't even imagine, dude... they're things that can make the Amazons win this just like this [snapping fingers]... I mean, what I have is conclusive evidence, photos of how they managed things internally."

    And at one point, Borja laughs and says to his friend, "Crime does pay."

    Before Chevron pushed its bullshit "corruption scandal" story out, the company paid to relocate Borja and his wife – who also apparently assisted in schemes to corrupt the trial – to the United States. For more than a year, Chevron has been paying $6,000 a month in rent for his large home with a swimming pool that abuts a golf course in a gated community only minutes away from Chevron's headquarters in San Ramon, CA. Chevron claimed to have moved Borja and his family to the U.S. for his "security" but it also helped him escape prosecution for any of the illegal activities he was involved in during the attempted sting operation against the judge, or in tampering with evidence in the trial.

    Ironically, the fact that Borja is currently residing in the U.S. is what makes him subject to the legal action he now faces. The oil giant admitted a year ago that it had hired a high-powered and expensive criminal defense attorney for Borja, who was caught on tape talking about his "bosses" at Chevron directing his operations. Today, I'm sure those Chevron bosses are hoping the lawyers they've hired are worth their cost.

    To the plaintiffs and many of the people who have watched with disgust at how Chevron has waged a dirty and deceitful campaign to evade responsibility for environmental devastation and human suffering in Ecuador, Diego Borja is but a bit player in the wide-ranging criminal enterprise that Chevron has built around this case. And none of it compares to the crimes the oil giant committed against the indigenous people whose way of life ended with the company's arrival in their land.

    But hopefully, this latest legal action, and a thorough interrogation of Chevron's self-proclaimed 'dirty tricks' guy, Diego Borja, will help to further unravel the web of lies that Chevron has woven to conceal the truth about its poisonous legacy in Ecuador.

    Background:

    San Francisco Daily Journal, September 14, 2010:
    With Discovery Bid, Ecuador Turns Tables On Chevron

    Amazon Defense Coalition press release, September 14, 2010:
    Lawsuit Targets Chevron "Dirty Tricks" Operative Over Ecuador Video Corruption Scandal

    The whistleblower report on Diego Borja, including recordings of him spilling the beans to his childhood friend about his involvement in Chevron's systematic attempts to corrupt the trial:
    Chevron's Dirty Tricks Operative in Ecuador, Diego Borja: Whistleblower Report

    And for further background, read two Huffington Post articles I wrote:

    First, I blew the lid off the whole supposed "corruption scandal" only days after Chevron announced it last fall:
    Chevron's 'Dirty Tricks Operation' in the Amazon

    Then I revealed the shockingly shady past of Diego Borja's convicted felon, drug-trafficker, partner-in-crime Wayne Hansen:
    Chevron's Man in Ecuador: Felon, Drug-Trafficker, and Liar, Oh My!

    – Han

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

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Enough to Make You Sick: Chevron's Successful Spin & Toxic Lies in Ecuador

    Yesterday, I began my workday drinking coffee and reading over a brutal article on Fortune.com by legal reporter Roger Parloff, entitled Evidence of fraud mounts in Ecuadorian suit against Chevron.

    My hopes that the article would help to highlight Chevron's long history of corruption and fraud were quickly dashed... it was not exactly the start to the week I had hoped for.

    As I read Parloff's review of the latest in the titanic legal battle to force Chevron to clean up its poisonous legacy in the Ecuadorian Amazon, my chest tightened as it occurred to me how good Chevron has become at making this case about everything except for the ravaged rainforest and the men, women, and children who have suffered over the decades due to the oil giant's greedy, reckless, behavior.

    The article begins:

    Over the past ten months, Chevron's outside lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher have filed 11 civil actions in federal courts across the United States, each designed to pull back the curtain on what they say is an elaborate, two-year-long charade in which plaintiffs lawyers covertly planned and ghostwrote a crucial report on damages that was ostensibly being authored by an independent expert appointed as an "auxiliary" to the Ecuadorian court. The expert's final report, issued in November 2008, recommended that Chevron pay the plaintiffs $27.3 billion.

    And throughout the article, Parloff does an exceptional job at presenting the story as if it wasn't lifted almost entirely from a bunch of Chevron talking points. The gist of Chevron's claim is that the lawsuit against the company is a giant baseless swindle concocted by contingency fee lawyers looking to get at the oil giant's deep pockets. And now, as Parloff's writes, Chevron's multiple discovery actions – most notably its successful subpoena of hundreds of hours of outtakes from Joe Berlinger's documentary film CRUDE – have produced evidence that the plaintiffs attorneys have engaged in fraud.

    Except that neither Parloff, nor any of the federal judges who have opined about the case in rulings granting Chevron's motions for discovery, have any basis upon which to draw their conclusions except for Chevron's self-serving, dishonest, and, apparently, superbly-made arguments.

    In fact, as the lawyers for the Ecuadorians noted in a response to Parloff's article:

    "...Parloff has never been to Ecuador, never examined the 200,000-page trial record, never seen an original lab report from the 64,000 sampling results at trial, never talked to any witnesses who have testified in the case, and utterly fails to understand either the enormous quantum of evidence or the procedural rules that govern trials in Chevron’s preferred forum of Ecuador."

    A major focus of Chevron's latest legal & PR blitz is the relationship between the plaintiffs and court-appointed expert Richard Cabrera. Unsurprisingly, this is also the major focus of Parloff's article.

    Richard Cabrera is the court-appointed expert who was asked to come up with an overall damages assessment – in the end, $27.3 billion – to assist the judge overseeing the trial in Lago Agrio to make a final ruling about Chevron's liability for massive oil contamination across a vast swath of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

    Parloff rolls with Chevron's cynical narrative:

    Chevron claims that the logs already prove that the plaintiffs' consultants ghostwrote Cabrera's report, and the plaintiffs lawyers do not deny that they and their consultants provided materials to Cabrera.

    He then goes on to detail the ex parte contacts between the plaintiffs side and Cabrera as if it's a smoking gun (ex parte is a Latin legal term that in this context refers to contacts between one party and the court or experts without the opposing party present).

    But, as the plaintiffs explain in a legal filing in U.S. Federal Court opposing a subpoena served upon the lead U.S. attorney in the case (an extraordinary over-reach unto itself):

    Ex parte” contacts with Mr. Cabrera remain at the heart of this petition, yet (i) the matter of contacts between Plaintiffs and Cabrera is undisputedly before the Lago Agrio Court, and that court has given no indication that such contacts are improper; (ii) Chevron has still not denied it that also had ex parte contacts with court experts in Lago Agrio; and (iii) Chevron still cannot point to a single order, rule, regulation, or law prohibiting such contact; to the contrary; it is reduced to relying on lengthy expert opinions to resolve what it had claimed was a cut and dry example of fraud under Ecuadorian law.

    Chevron complains about the “ghostwriting” of expert reports, yet it has become clear that Chevron’s private expert, John A. Connor, ghostwrote part of the report of another independent, neutral court expert in Lago Agrio: Mr. Barros. Attached as Exhibit 67 is a report Chevron’s private expert, Mr. Connor, prepared dated June 16, 2005 titled Pr├ícticas y Reglamentos Internacionales Para el Uso y la Remediaci├│n de Piscinas de Campos Petroleros. Apparently without any attribution, the neutral and independent expert appointed by the Lago Agrio Court, Mr. Barros, copied entire pages of Chevron’s report, word for word.

    The legal memorandum continues:

    Nowhere does Barros appear to acknowledge that he has cut and pasted Chevron’s expert’s materials into his own avowedly neutral and independent report. Does Chevron deny it had ex parte conduct with Barros? It does not.

    Is it a miraculous coincidence that an entire section of the Barros report is a clever cut and paste of disparate portions of Chevron’s work product? It is not.

    By Chevron’s argument, this is fraud on the court, collusion with a neutral, independent expert, and criminal conduct that should send the people at Chevron who engineered the fraud to jail.

    Chevron also fails to refute the now-undisputed declarations that Chevron’s lawyers met secretly and repeatedly not just with experts, but with the Court, and specifically discussed the Lago case. When this ex parte conduct was exposed, Chevron’s security guards tried to keep plaintiffs’ representative away. This secret contact was pursued by Chevron’s counsel, yet counsel is completely silent in Chevron’s opposition: not one declaration, not one response on the facts. If it is acceptable for Chevron’s lawyers to meet ex parte with the Court itself, why is it unacceptable for plaintiffs to meet “ex parte” with an expert? Chevron does not and cannot explain.

    Evidently, Parloff has chosen the convenient path of simply ignoring the plaintiffs' thorough debunking of Chevron's breathless accusations.

    In a brief aside, Parloff writes:

    It should be noted that the fraud claims -- even if true -- do not necessarily impugn the legitimacy of the Indians' underlying cause, or even the genuineness of their lawyers' belief in that cause..."

    But as Parloff also notes, to the certain gratification of Chevron and its highly-paid American corporate lawyers, legitimacy of the indigenous communities' cause – and the reality of their continued suffering – won't necessarily secure them justice in court.

    I'm not sure what is more devastating about an article like this, but either choice is just a different side of the same coin. Yesterday, I was saddened that a man as smart as Parloff can be so completely taken in by the dishonest narrative that Chevron has spun. Today, I'm sickened by how astonishingly good at their devious task the Chevron lawyers and spinmasters have grown to manipulate a man as smart as Parloff.

    Chevron has scored another PR victory, yes. But the truth, as I've said before, has a way of bubbling to the surface like crude in the Amazon.

    Concluding their response to Parloff's article, and to Chevron's increasingly dishonest and abusive legal tactics, the lawyers for the communities in Ecuador write:

    Chevron’s problem in Ecuador is that it is losing the case based on the evidence and that its own officials are under criminal indictment for fraud related to a sham remediation. The real story is that the evidence convincingly demonstrates that an American company went to a foreign nation and deliberately devastated the Amazon rainforest environment out of greed. The destruction was done in violation of Ecuadorian laws, industry standards, Chevron’s own operating contract, and all sense of basic decency. Chevron’s allegations of “fraud” are themselves part of an elaborate scheme to cover up the company’s pervasive illegality in its Ecuador drilling operation and in its advocacy during the trial.

    – Han

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

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    'Hero' Lawyer Pablo Fajardo on Taking on Chevron in Ecuador: "I Fight for Justice and for Life"

    The Harvard International Law Journal recently published a thoughtful article by Pablo Fajardo, the acclaimed human rights activist and lead counsel for the 30,000 indigenous people and farmers of the Ecuadorian Amazon working to hold American oil giant Chevron (formerly Texaco) accountable for what he calls "serious violations against the environment and people of the region."

    The piece begins:

    Although taking on this case was a great personal challenge for me, I was always aware of two aspects of it that would work in my favor. First of all, I live in the area affected by Chevron’s operations, and therefore I know personally the effects of the environmental and human rights abuses commited by the company in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Fully understanding the reality of the situation, I can speak with conviction: I know that I am speaking the truth. Furthermore, I am a human being who believes in God, life, justice and solidarity. Along with the indigenous peoples and farmers in the Amazon, my co-workers and I fight for justice and for life.

    The article, entitled 'Corporate Accountability, Human Rights and Pursuing Justice in the Ecuadorian Amazon: Attorney Pablo Fajardo’s Perspective on Aguinda v. Chevron' appears in the Summer 2010 issue of the Harvard 'ILJ' which calls itself the "most-cited student-edited journal of international and comparative law."

    The "reflective essay" as the editors refer to it, was authored by Pablo with the help of George Byrne, an intern with the Quito office of Amazon Watch.

    The first paragraph of the 'introduction' lays out the background in dispassionate terms:

    Texaco operations in Ecuador began in 1964 and continued until 1992. Until 1990, Texaco served as sole operator of a concession covering approximately 1,500 square miles of Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. Texaco alone was responsible for planning, constructing and operating more than 350 well sites in a region that was, and still is, the ancestral home to numerous indigenous and farming communities. In violation of Ecuadorian laws and regulations, as well as standard operating practices being used in the United States at the time, Texaco engineered and oversaw a system responsible for what experts believe is the worst oil-related environmental disaster in the world.

    Pablo goes on to outline some of the lessons he has learned throughout the seven years he has helped lead the efforts to demand Chevron clean up its oil contamination, and compensate the affected people for the harm it has caused.

    One of my biggest disappointments has been the discovery of systematic corruption implemented by Chevron during the supposed remediation of the affected areas in the early 1990s. Corporate executives, Chevron lawyers and former officials of various Ecuadorian governments have been implicated in acts of corruption and deception linked to the fraudulent clean-up. They have sought to benefit economically, but in turn have caused or prolonged the worst oil related environmental disaster in history.

    Another obstacle, much greater than I could have imagined, is the manipulation of scientific evidence by expert scientists to serve their own interests. In the same context, it is deplorable to see how Chevron has abused (and continues to abuse) the law in Ecuador and the United States of America to ensure that this grave and inhumane crime go unpunished.

    Chevron has manipulated the international legal system from the moment the case was first filed in New York. For nine years Texaco vigorously argued under the doctrines of forum non conveniens and international comity that the case should be dismissed and, instead, be tried in Ecuador. To transfer the case to Ecuador, Texaco submitted fourteen separate expert affidavits from Ecuadorian lawyers and scholars (including their own Ecuadorian lawyers in the current trial), attesting to the fairness, independence and competency of the Ecuadorian judiciary. Chevron also promised, as a condition of the dismissal, to submit to jurisdiction in Ecuador and abide by any final judgment in the trial. Chevron was eventually successful in its plea and in 2002 the Southern District Federal Court of New York finally dismissed the case to be re-filed in their requested forum, Ecuador. Chevron praised the ruling, stating that it was “pleased with the ruling…[which] vindicate[d] Chevron’s long-standing position that the arguments we have made to the court: The appropriate forum for this litigation is Ecuador…” The communities, who had already waited a decade for redress, now had a limited time to re-file their claims in their home country.

    Now, almost eight years later, Chevron is continuing this ‘forum shopping’ strategy in an attempt to delay the case even further.

    Pablo explains how Chevron has filed an international arbitration claim, seeking to remove the case from the Ecuadorian courts that Chevron's lawyers previously praised.

    But in a case like this, he notes, the arbitral process provides "no provision for the plaintiffs to appear, intervene, or even be notified of the private proceedings, those whose rights are most at risk are left without a voice, without access to information and without redress in the event of an adverse decision."

    In conclusion, Pablo looks at the double standard that multinationals use depending on whether they are operating under the light of public scrutiny at home, or working far from the prying eyes of the press and public in faraway lands:

    We need to understand that the environmental disaster caused by Texaco in Ecuador is not an Ecuadorian problem; it is a global issue. The double standard that companies employ in their operations demonstrates an immoral attitude of racism and discrimination.

    As a sidebar on the article notes, "Pablo Fajardo was awarded the 2007 CNN World Heroes Award in the ‘Fighting for Justice’ category. In April 2008, Mr. Fajardo received further recognition when he was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, regarded by many as the “Green Nobel Prize”.

    Nonetheless, in its contemptible campaign to evade accountability in Ecuador, Chevron continues to demonize this man.

    A big part of the work of the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign at Amazon Watch is simply to highlight the noble efforts and proud voices of people like Pablo and those of the thousands of people he represents in Ecuador. Please read the entire article here, and share it with anyone you know who may be interested in the thoughts of this exceptional advocate for justice.

    – Han

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