Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Crude Politics: Is Chevron Involved in a Billion Dollar Bait-and-Switch in Ecuador?

As the Yasuni-ITT Initiative deadline approaches, did its chief negotiator make a deal with the devil?

With Chevron running out of legal options in its attempt to avoid its $18 billion liability in Ecuador over egregious environmental crimes and rights abuses, the company may have turned to its longtime government insider Ivonne Baki to help it out of a multibillion dollar jam, taking corporate malfeasance and greenwashing to a whole new level.

Baki is the head of Ecuador's Yasuni-ITT Initiative, the pioneer proposal that has captured the world's imagination by seeking to keep close to one billion barrels of crude permanently underground in exchange for payment. The ITT fields (Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini) sit underneath the Yasuni National Park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve widely considered to be one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet. The Park is also home to two nomadic indigenous groups living in voluntary isolation.

President Rafael Correa set Dec. 31, 2011 as the deadline to obtain $100 million – a down payment that would give the government more time to raise the $3.6 billion ($350 million annually over 10 years) it needs to offset forgone revenues for leaving the oil untouched. If the money isn't raised, drilling would ensue.

But there hasn't exactly been a stampede of donors knocking down Ecuador's door. The government has fought an uphill battle since the proposal's inception in 2007. In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Baki admitted that the world financial crisis has taken a toll on donor government enthusiasm. Additional challenges to Yasuni fundraising have included lingering concerns about Ecuador's history of political instability, the proposal's initial lack of political and financial guarantees, and a reluctance from industrialized countries to donate to forest protection without receiving carbon offset credits.

With the clock ticking – and both the proposal's and Baki's future on the line – Baki told the Financial Times in a Nov. 28 article that the Initiative donation total was $70 million, the bulk of which was a $35 million debt cancellation deal with Italy. She went on to declare that, "I think in the next month we are going to have more than $100 million."

However, the Yasuni Trust Fund administered by UNDP shows a mere $2 million in actual funds. Unfazed, Baki affirmed to the Miami Herald and several Spanish language newspapers on Dec. 5 that the $100 million mark had been met, saying an "appeal for private sector donations, has been paying off." Another article describes the unnamed private donations as "flooding in." Correa has yet to make an official announcement on the fate of the proposal and whether the fundraising goal has indeed been met.

If one takes Ms. Baki at her word that $70 million is at least pledged (though not physically in the bank), the question is: where did the additional $30 million come from in a week's time?

Sources close to the project have confirmed that meetings between Baki and Chevron regarding a possible "donation" to the Yasuni-ITT initiative have occurred, according to environmental organization Amazon Watch, who has been working for over a decade to hold Chevron accountable for a massive environmental disaster in Ecuador. Word on the street is that Chevron authorized Baki to propose the idea of a $500 million "donation" to the initiative in exchange for quashing the case. Though a very handsome quid pro quo, it's a drop in the bucket if this subterfuge helps the company thwart the $18 billion legal case.

Sound far-fetched? This April 2008 cable courtesy of Wikileaks between the U.S. Ambassador in Quito and the State Department shows that Chevron has been plotting something similar for years:

"Meanwhile, Chevron had begun to quietly explore with senior GOE officials whether it could implement a series of social projects in the concession area in exchange for GOE support for ending the case, but now that the expert has released a huge estimate for alleged damage, it might be hard for the GOE to go that route, even if it has the ability to bring the case to a close."

"Given Chevron's toxic legacy and the debt it owes the people and rainforests of Ecuador, the fact that this 'bribe' is even on the table is an aberration of justice," said Kevin Koenig, Ecuador program coordinator for Amazon Watch. "This is a multi-billion dollar bait and switch, it's illegal, and can't be allowed. We're calling on Ms. Baki to disclose any meetings held between herself and Chevron, the terms and conditions of any offer from the company, and full disclosure of all private sector donations."

A look back at Baki's history reveals a long list of favors for Chevron while she held official roles within the Ecuadorian government:

  • In 1998, as Ecuador's Ambassador to the United States under the rightist government of Jamil Mahuad, she signed an official letter to a U.S. federal judge in New York seeking dismissal of the environmental lawsuit against Chevron.
  • Throughout 2004, Baki, then serving as Ecuador's Trade Minister, helped organize and participated in several meetings between Chevron and high level Ecuadorian officials – including the Attorney General – which sought strategies to end the case, according to discovery documents produced recently in the United States. During one of those meetings, rainforest residents staged a sit-in in her offices and demanded she stop efforts to undermine the legal case against the company.
  • In 2008, Baki, then serving as president of the Andean Parliament, organized and participated in a meeting with Chevron and Gustavo Larrea, Coordinating Minister for Internal and External Security who at the time was an influential member of Correa's Cabinet. The contact led to several other meetings between Chevron and Larrea in Ecuador and Washington, DC.
  • Baki also has been active in Chevron's lobbying efforts in the United States to cancel U.S. trade preferences for the country in retaliation for the lawsuit. A cancellation of the preferences would cost Ecuador upwards of 300,000 jobs, according to Ecuador's government.

"We are not about to give Chevron a get-out-of-jail-free card by 'donating' to the Yasuni," said Esperanza Martinez, a founder of Accion Ecologica, a leading Ecuador environmental organization and key backer of the project. "Not only would such a donation violate the rights of thousands of Ecuadorians who are victims of Chevron's misconduct, it would also violate the very spirit of the initiative."

"In short, we are not interested in Chevron's blood money," she added.

Chevron itself has been accused of numerous acts of corruption in its attempt to sabotage the case. These include: lying about the results of a fraudulent remediation in the 1990s to secure a government release; fabricating evidence during the trial to minimize evidence of contamination; using a hidden video recorder to try to entrap a judge who Chevron thought would rule against it; threatening judges with jail time if they failed to grant Chevron's motions to delay the trial; and permitting the lawyers for the plaintiffs to be victimized by death threats and mysterious robberies of their offices.

The case is currently on appeal in Ecuador after a judge ruled against the company on Feb. 14, 2011 for up to $18 billion. Because Chevron has refused to respect the judgment, the rainforest communities are being forced to prepare legal actions against Chevron's assets in the dozens of countries around the world where the oil giant does business.

For years, Chevron has publicly lambasted the Ecuadorian government with false accusations of siding with the plaintiffs in the case. In actuality, it appears that Chevron, once again with Baki's help, is behind the scenes secretly pressuring government officials to intervene on its behalf to kill the lawsuit.

Given Ms. Baki's long standing ties to Chevron and her previous efforts to help the company quash the Aguinda v. Chevron litigation or end run it entirely, it appears she again could be using her position to help Chevron evade its liability in Ecuador – at the expense of justice, her own people, and the potentially historic Yasuni proposal.

– Mitch Anderson

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chevron's Leadership is an Oxymoron

Chevron has no clothes
The theme for this year's Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) conference in San Francisco last week was "redefining leadership". I have no qualm with that, for when I realized that Chevron was not only a major sponsor but a featured speaker on a panel about "community engagement," I agreed. Indeed, that is a new definition of leadership – appallingly bad leadership.

Inviting the oil company that was found guilty of deliberately dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the pristine Ecuadorian Amazon – poisoning over 30,000 people who live there – to lead a session on community engagement is like asking the Taliban to chair a conference on women's rights. Is this really the message that BSR wants to send to its members?

We are confronted by hypocrisy every day, and yet somehow there's a fundamental disconnect here that defies explanation. The jury is no longer out. Chevron has lost an 18-year legal battle, been found guilty and fined $18 billion in a venue of its own choice. Because they refuse to accept responsibility and pay for a clean-up, Chevron is now the "poster-child" for corporate irresponsibility. Adding insult to injury (and these are not metaphorical injuries), Chevron filed a RICO suit against the plaintiffs earlier this year accusing them of extortion. That case was eventually laughed out of court, but Chevron's strategy remains the same: delay, disrupt and deny. Is this a new definition of leadership? I'd call it the same tired tactics on which corporate criminals spend millions each year.

How does Chevron go from such infamy to sharing the stage with Aron Cramer, President and CEO of BSR (and on the 18th anniversary of the launch of the epic lawsuit against Chevron, no less)? During the panel, Chevron spokesperson Rhonda Zygocki, VP of Policy and Planning, actually said that there's no longer a CSR Department at Chevron because corporate responsibility is integrated into every aspect of the company's operations. Why would they need a department to evaluate how they treat communities and the environment, since everybody at Chevron so completely loves community and the environment? That would be silly. Mr. Cramer, who according to the BSR site is, "recognized globally as an authority on corporate responsibility by leaders in business and NGOs and by his peers in the field," did not question this position. It certainly seems like a colossal step backward to us. On the other hand, eliminating the CSR department at Chevron may be the first honest thing they have done in a long while.

Zygocki went on to tell the room that "values-driven leadership is visible… values have to be overt." This is from a woman who has sat, face to face with Cofán leader Emergildo Criollo, a man who lost two children to Chevron's toxic mess in Ecuador and blamed another company for pollution she knows her company created. Chevron's "values" have led them to try every dirty trick in the book to avoid responsibility, and now, after years of legal battles, when the decision has finally been made, they vow never to pay to clean up the mess they made, pledging instead to "fight it out until hell freezes over, and then fight it out on the ice." How dare they speak of values?

One value that Chevron does understand, however, is the value of an ad campaign. The recent "We Agree" PR blitz is actually an example of hollow leadership. Like the concept of corporate social responsibility, Chevron can vaguely "agree" that "oil companies should care" without ever actually doing anything to back that up. Greenwashing like this deserves its own panel at a BSR conference, but certainly not as an example of leadership. In fact, Mr. Cramer should dedicate an entire day at next year's conference to examining the brutal reality of Chevron's "community engagement." Amazon Watch, and many other organizations working with communities in Angola, Ecuador, Nigeria, Indonesia, the tar sands of Canada, Alaska, Texas, and even Richmond, California would be eager to contribute. Instead, by touting Chevron as a responsible business leader, BSR's commitment to its own mission must be questioned.

Hypothetically, what would it mean if Chevron accepted its responsibility for the worst oil-related disaster on Earth? If they paid for a full-scale clean-up and helped to heal the sick and dying communities in Ecuador? That type of leadership would not only be responsible but revolutionary. It would send shock waves through every major industry and cement Chevron in place as a true leader in corporate social responsibility. How to make this thought experiment become a reality is what BSR should be examining – the "Business of a Better World."

A true advocate for corporate social responsibility would join the growing wave of voices telling Chevron that enough is enough. That there will be no bold "new leadership" if corporations can't accept their role in egregious violations such as the case in Ecuador. Chevron is a criminal – an unrepentant recidivist – not a leader.

– Paul Paz y Miño

Thursday, November 3, 2011

18 Years of Fighting Chevron

Lago Agrio, Ecuador – The sprawl of scorched pavement and crumbling cement buildings in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. This city, once a small oil boom town founded by Texaco in the late 1960s (and given, appropriately, the name "Sour Lake" after Texaco's hometown in Texas) is now a bewildering and feverish mess of oil workers, drug-traffickers, street children, shop owners, impoverished farmers, and indigenous people stripped of their ancestral territory and forced to survive, as the Cofán people say, in the kokama kuri sindipa ande (the white man's world of money).

Just several days ago, at the edge of the pavement on the outskirts of the city, where the Cofán people have recovered (yes, purchased) a narrow tract of their ancestral territory, I spent the afternoon with Marina Aguinda Lucitante, an elder of the tribe. She was born along the banks of the Agua Rico river. She was married at a young age to a Cofán Shaman, Guillermo Quenama, who died, she says, "because the oil company poisoned him with alcohol." She remembers when the forest was filled with animals. And she remembers when the river ran black with crude oil. She seems to remember everything – and all of her memories are divided: Life before the oil company and life after the oil company.  

It has been nearly 50 years since Texaco began oil operations here in the northeastern Ecuadorian Amazon. Nearly 50 years since the death of Marina's husband, Guillermo Quenama. And over that time, the impacts of Texaco's (now Chevron's) reckless pump and dump oil operations have been well documented. The abandoned oil pits littered throughout the rainforest, the billions of gallons of toxic wastewater dumped into rivers and streams, the felled primary forest, the noxious gases rising into the sky from 24 hour-a-day flaring, the crude oil sprayed on the roads, the towering black plumes of smoke from spilt and burning crude, the resultant public health crisis racking indigenous and mestizo farmer communities, including cancer, spontaneous miscarriages, and birth defects.

But what has not been documented – what cannot possibly be understood by anyone who has not been here to endure the last 50 years of oil operations – is how the oil conquest has affected the spiritual life, the inner world, of those who live here.

Today, which marks the 18th anniversary of the monumental legal struggle against Chevron for massive environmental crimes in the Amazon rainforest, Marina has asked me to share with the world a song that she has been carrying within her for these last 50 years. Marina is one of the last Cofán women who remember how to sing in the way of her ancestors. This is her song.

– Mitch Anderson

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chevron Fights Like Mad to Block Release of Documents

Court Begins to Question Oil Giant's Double Standard When It Comes to Disclosure of Case Files

Reposted from The Chevron Pit

If you want an example of how a large oil company can mock court orders and get away with it, look no further than Chevron's behavior in the Ecuador environmental case where the company faces an $18 billion liability and allegations that it engaged in criminal misconduct to undermine a trial.See here and here.

The bottom line: due to a series of discovery decisions by a U.S. federal judge, who is clearly biased against the Ecuadorians, Chevron has almost the entire case file of the Ecuadorian's legal team while the Ecuadorians and their lawyers have almost none of Chevron's documents. There is simply no level playing field in the case.

Reporters covering the matter have completely missed the story of Chevron's gamesmanship before U.S. Judges. This gamesmanship makes it clear that Chevron will do anything to evade what is the largest court judgment in history for environmental damage. (See here)

One example vividly illustrates Chevron's maneuvering. For more than a year, the Ecuadorians have been fighting to obtain thousands of documents related to Diego Borja, the Chevron operative who secretly videotaped himself and his colleague Wayne Hansen offering a bribe to be given to the presiding judge in Ecuador as a way to sabotage the proceedings. Borja's own lawyer has admitted publicly that his client faces criminal liability in the U.S. and Ecuador for his actions. Borja has admitted Chevron has paid him vast sums of money – including covering his U.S. income taxes – for not working while living in the U.S. out of reach of journalists and investigative authorities.

When it comes to seeking Chevron's documents, the Ecuadorians have been met with nothing but obstructionism from Chevron's army of lawyers at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, King & Spalding, Jones Day, Boies Schiller & Flexner, and Arguedes Cassman & Headley. (Yes, you read that correctly – Chevron has hired five of the most powerful corporate and criminal defense firms in America to defend its environmental dumping in Ecuador. The Gibson Dunn firm recently disclosed it has at least 75 lawyers working on the case, meaning it is probably is billing the oil giant well over $100 million annually to get it off the hook for human rights violations in Ecuador.)

Consider the radically different ways U.S. courts have treated Chevron's requests for discovery, as compared to those made by the Ecuadorians.

In federal court in New York, the battle was fast and furious for release of privileged documents belonging to the Ecuadorians when Chevron wanted them. Thanks to a "technicality" ginned up by federal judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who insulted the Ecuadorians from the bench by claiming their lawsuit was imaginary, Chevron collected practically every document and email written about the 18-year-old case from their longtime lawyer Steven Donziger.

Kaplan prevented Donziger from arguing why particular documents were protected by privilege. Instead, he ordered Donziger to truck over his entire stash of tens of thousands of emails and internal memos to Chevron's law offices on the grounds his privilege log was turned in “late”. In fact, his log was prepared by numerous lawyers working furiously for weeks to list each of his thousands of documents, and it was clearly prepared in a reasonable amount of time (about four weeks after Kaplan denied Donziger's motion to quash the subpoena).

Using Judge Kaplan as its ally, Chevron also obtained documents from case interns, other lawyers for the Ecuadorians, consultants, financial advisors, and financial supporters – over 1 million documents in all, according to legal briefs.

Chevron's discovery orgy was abruptly shut down in September by the federal appeals court in New York, which stayed the underlying legal proceeding before Kaplan where Chevron was seeking an unprecedented (and probably illegal) worldwide injunction barring enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment. Without that case, Chevron lost the legal mechanism it was using to continue its U.S. discovery odyssey. Without the injunction, Chevron also now finds itself in a bigger jam now than when Kaplan was allowed to run wild on its behalf.

Interestingly, a few days before that appellate ruling staying Kaplan's proceeding, Chevron's double standard was revealed in a little-noticed decision by New York Magistrate Judge James Francis IV. Francis had this to say about Chevron's privilege logs (which lists Chevron's documents related to the litigation that the company is trying to prevent from being turned over to the Ecuadorians):

“(The review) reveals the categorization process engaged in by Chevron obscures rather than illuminates (emphasis added) the nature of the materials withheld….”
“Distressingly, Chevron has taken a view of its own discovery responsibilities sharply different from the obligations it seeks to impose on the (Ecuadorians) …. Chevron was highly critical of (the Ecuadorians’) privilege log descriptions that turn out to have been far more detailed (emphasis added) than Chevron's own.”
In the meantime, the wheels of justice have turned much more slowly in legal proceedings initiated by the Ecuadorians in California seeking Chevron's documents related to the Borja corruption scandal. See here.

Despite more than a year’s worth of motions filed by the Ecuadorians and granted by the court to compel Chevron and Borja to hand over documents, only a handful of largely irrelevant documents have actually been produced. With the legal action in New York dormant, Chevron is fighting even harder in California to stop anyone from discovering the depths to which the company sank with Borja in Ecuador. If Borja has potential criminal liability for trying to sabotage the proceedings in Ecuador, what does that say about Chevron's liability given that Borja was working for Chevron at the time and is now a “kept man” by the oil company in the U.S.? That's the question Chevron does not want answered.

Chevron has been trying ever since to cover up its involvement, even lying to the public about key facts in a press release – such as characterizing Borja as a "Good Samaritan", failing to disclose that his sidekick Wayne Hansen (who helped him shoot the videos) was a convicted drug felon, or hiding the fact the pair met with Chevron lawyers as the scheme was unfolding.

Arguing for a balanced playing field for the Ecuadorians, attorney Jim Tyrrell of Patton Boggs recently asked a California magistrate judge to force Chevron, Borja and a private investigative firm paid by Chevron to stop hiding behind their privilege logs.

“… Respectfully, what we get back from Chevron and their allies is garbage. We can't tell what those privilege logs mean,” argued Tyrrell before Magistrate Judge Nathanial Cousins, who is expected to rule soon.

“Chevron has every one of my lead lawyers' documents for 18 years," Tyrell said. "We're quibbling over one here or there. That's not a level playing field, and that's not what justice is about.

“If anybody deserves a press account as to their conduct with respect to fraud, it isn't my side. It's the folks, respectfully, at Chevron.”

We are waiting to see if Magistrate Judge Cousins stands up to Chevron and its army of lawyers. He should allow a full airing of the facts related to this scandal.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New York State Comptroller Thomas Dinapoli: What Chevron Owes the People of Ecuador

Today, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli escalated his public effort to demand Chevron seek an equitable settlement with the communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon over the oil giant's devastation of their rainforest lands.

In an oped in the Huffington Post entitled 'What Chevron Owes the People of Lago Agrio', Comptroller DiNapoli writes:

There's a bitter irony in the voices of residents of Lago Agrio, or 'Sour Lake' in Spanish, when they mention the name of their northeast Ecuadorian hometown. Once a prosperous base for Amazonian drilling operations for sulfur-rich 'sour crude' petroleum, Lago Agrio is now the center of what amounts to an industrial cancer zone larger than the state of Rhode Island. Its population is surrounded by poisoned farmland and heavily polluted waterways and burdened with elevated rates of disease.

Now, the battle over responsibility for this region's current condition is at the center of an expensive and extensive legal struggle between Chevron, the giant multinational energy company, and Lago Agrio's persistent indigenous people. A U.S. Appeals Court decision last Monday in New York makes it more likely than ever that Chevron will be forced to make a massive payout to the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

While Ecuador is nearly 3,000 miles away from New York, the final outcome of this case could have an impact on the New York State pension fund. As Comptroller, I serve as trustee of New York's $146.9 billion Common Retirement Fund which holds nearly $780 million worth of Chevron stock. The Fund benefits when its portfolio companies remain profitable by pursuing responsible and sustainable business policies in the communities in which they operate. Chevron is no exception.

The Lago Agrio oped expands on the Comptroller's previous calls for Chevron to take a new approach to the "marathon litigation," as he calls it. Back in May, in the lead-up to Chevron's 2011 shareholders meeting at the company's headquarters in San Ramon, CA, Comptroller DiNapoli circulated a sign-on letter amongst Chevron institutional investors. The letter, with more than twenty signatories representing over $155 billion in assets under management, was sent to Chevron's management and board of directors. The New York State Office of the Comptroller also issued a press release detailing DiNapoli's efforts, in which the the Comptroller wrote, “It’s time for Chevron to face reality.”

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli

Today, Comptroller DiNapoli is giving a keynote luncheon speech at the Council of Institutional Investors fall meeting in Boston. I don't know whether he will mention the Chevron case in his address but you can bet that the oped will be making its rounds amongst the attendees, along with the news of last week's U.S. appeals court ruling that dealt a severe blow to Chevron's efforts to avoid paying the court-ordered multi-billion dollar damages award to clean up its disaster in Ecuador.

In the oped, the Comptroller recounts previous efforts to use his clout as a major investor and convince Chevron to shift its approach:

Since taking office as New York State Comptroller four years ago, I have asked Chevron's board of directors to settle this marathon litigation and spare the company's battered reputation any further damage. The board has chosen to ignore the wishes of the many investors and observers who supported my call.

That second link ("...the company's battered reputation...") takes the reader to a fascinating letter, made public today for the first time; a November 2008 private letter from Comptroller DiNapoli to then-CEO David O'Reilly, in which the Comptroller writes:

As a significant and long-term institutional investor, I am deeply concerned by Chevron's actions in litigating this case and the repercussions those actions will have on the company's finances. It appears that Chevron's strategy remains that of denying responsibility for the contamination and, instead, protracting the legal proceedings. I question whether that strategy best serves the company and its shareholders.

Comptroller DiNapoli continues:

I am also troubled by what I perceive as a lack of adequate disclosure of the potential financial liability Chevron is facing. It is my understanding that, until its 10-Q filing of May 2008, Chevron did not disclose the magnitude of its potential liability in the event of an adverse outcome.

That letter was written nearly three years before Chevron's recent legal setback that clears the way for the Ecuadorian communities to pursue enforcement of the $18 billion judgment against the company. It was written over two years before that judgment even came from an Ecuadorian court.

Comptroller DiNapoli and his office have taken great pains to warn Chevron of the liability it faced, and the risk that poses to the company's investors, including many thousands of current and former public employees of New York State. But to extend an appropriate metaphor to its breaking point, the Chevron board has been asleep at the wheel while the company's senior management has apparently dropped a few sleeping pills in the back-seat. And somehow, they've all allowed a rabid, out-of-touch legal department and their fee-happy outside lawyers from behemoth corporate law firms to grab the wheel from the passenger's seat and drive the whole enterprise off of a cliff.

The Comptroller concludes his oped:

There's also a broader lesson to learn from Lago Agrio's story. Gulf coast residents are still grappling with the long-term environmental and economic effects of last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The conclusion to draw from Chevron's case in Ecuador, and BP's $20 billion fund to compensate those victimized by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, could not be more clear: short term profits at the expense of environmental protection and human rights often cost companies more in the long term.

It's time for the energy industry to start afresh with a new approach to environmental responsibility and risk management, both domestically and internationally. Chevron must do what's right for its investors, and its future viability, by negotiating a fair settlement that restores the company's reputation. Chevron, its shareholders and the general public have not and will not benefit from a never-ending courtroom drama.

Read: 'What Chevron Owes the People of Lago Agrio', at The Huffington Post.

– Han

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Huge Victory for Ecuadorians Fighting for Justice from Chevron as Oil Giant's Legal Strategy Derails

Yesterday, a 3-judge panel from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a stunning blow to Chevron's abusive and deceitful efforts to evade accountability for its oil disaster in Ecuador.

The appeals court threw out U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan's injunction that purported to prohibit the Ecuadorian plaintiffs from enforcing the $18 billion judgment against Chevron delivered by an Ecuadorian court in February. It also indefinitely stayed a trial that Judge Kaplan had scheduled for November over a preposterous countersuit filed in his court against the Ecuadorians and their attorneys, at which Chevron hoped to have the Ecuadorian verdict against the company declared unenforceable. The preliminary order from the 2nd Circuit came just one business day after a hearing before the panel on Friday, Sept. 16th, and said that a full ruling looking at the various issues will come "in due course."

Amazon Watch founder and Executive Director Atossa Soltani appears on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman to discuss the implications of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs' victory in the appeals court.

As legal reporter Alison Frankel writes in her On the Case column:

Monday's stunning two-page order from the panel gave the Ecuadorean plaintiffs their first victory in two years of battling in New York's federal courts. But it was a huge win.

The appeals court order constitutes a harsh rebuke to Judge Kaplan's over-reach in the case, making him Chevron's most valuable legal asset in the company's dirty fight to avoid responsibility for its pollution in Ecuador. The appeals panel didn't remove Judge Kaplan, as requested by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, but as Marco Simons, legal director for EarthRights International writes on his blog:

"... the appeals court declined to remove Judge Kaplan, who the Ecuadorians believe is biased against them, from the case. But it's possible that, after the court issues its opinion, there won't be any case left for Kaplan to preside over."

The ruling also dealt a humiliating rebuke to the strategy driven by outside law firm Gibson Dunn, and Crutcher law firm and lead counsel Randy Mastro, who was literally laughed out of court at the hearing which led to the order.

After attending hearing after hearing at which Mastro made sweeping fraud and conspiracy allegations against the Ecuadorians and their lawyers supported by the flimsiest of fantasy, theory, and conjecture, it was truly a breath of fresh air for this author to watch the Gibson Dunn lawyer wither at questions from the appellate panel based in logic, common sense, and the rule of law.

Pablo Fajardo, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the Associated Press:

We can now at least dream there will be justice and compensation for the damage, the environmental crime, committed by Chevron in Ecuador.

More than anything, the order from the appeals court represents the most stinging rebuke to the arrogant and deceitful strategy employed by the cabal of lawyers, spinmasters, and seriously-conflicted executives running a mini Orwellian empire within the company devoted to characterizing the Ecuadorian plaintiffs as criminals, and painting the company that poisoned them as victims. They thought overwhelming evidence of the company's crimes in Ecuador could be beaten back with shameless cynicism and an astonishing outlay of cash.

Even 2nd Circuit appeals court Judge Richard Wesley wondered aloud how much money had been spent by Chevron to pursue its legal strategy, and at what cost to shareholders.

Regulators, politicians, institutional investors, and shareholders who have heard Chevron management deny that the company faces any significant liability in Ecuador are going to be asking the most difficult questions that Chevron's lawyers and leadership (if one can call it that) have yet heard, now that the 2nd Circuit has affirmed the rule of law over Chevron's deceptive sensationalism.

Will Chevron management "face reality" as New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli—trustee of the New York State's Pension Fund with $780 million in Chevron stock—demanded during this past May's Chevron shareholder meeting? Or will CEO John Watson, architect of Chevron's takeover of Texaco and the company's toxic legacy in Ecuador, and other senior management allow the entire company to be driven off a cliff by outside lawyers who have no interest in ending a legal saga that continues to line their pockets?

Secoya indigenous leader Humberto Piaguaje (L) and campesino communtiy leader Servio Curipoma (R)—who have both worked tirelessly to demand justice from Chevron—outside of a courthouse in New York on Sept. 16.

Either way, this decision brings the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon one step closer to justice, and we call on Chevron's management to do the right thing by meeting the company's moral, legal and fiduciary obligations to clean up its contamination in Ecuador. Of course, justice delayed is justice denied, and the men, women, and children of the Ecuadorian Amazon have suffered for far too long already.

More coverage:

BBC: 'US court rules against Chevron in Ecuador oil case'

Global Post: 'Chevron must pay for Amazon damage: court'

The Guardian (UK): 'Chevron loses latest stage of Amazon pollution battle'

The San Francisco Chronicle: 'U.S. court rules against Chevron in Ecuador case'

– Han

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chevron's PR ploy backfires; details dirty dealings in Ecuador

Approaching the two-year anniversary of one of Chevron's dirtiest tricks in its 18-year effort to escape responsibility for its oil disaster in Ecuador, shocking emails and a major misstep by a Chevron spokesman threaten to blow the whole affair wide open.

Explosive emails from Wayne Hansen, an American con-man who partnered with a Chevron contractor in an attempt to entrap a judge presiding in the trial over the company's contamination in Ecuador, reveal that Hansen believes he has been "duped" by the oil giant, "left out" of a "deal" offered to his Ecuadorian partner-in-crime, and now fears for his life.

In the weeks after he and an Ecuadorian Chevron contractor named Diego Borja executed their scheme, Hansen writes to his contact at Chevron:

"I have been waiting for your call, you said you would call me. ... It seems that the oil co has cut a deal with Diego and I have not heard a word from anyone but Diego. What am I to think?"
Photo: Wayne Hansen, now 62, as a young convict

In the summer of 2009, Hansen, a convicted drug trafficker with a history of legal troubles and involvement in crooked schemes, teamed up with Diego Borja, an Ecuadorian with long and deep ties to Chevron and its subsidiary in Ecuador.

Their plan? Use false pretenses to get a meeting with Judge Juan Nuñez, then presiding over the case against Chevron in Ecuador, and concoct a phony "bribery scandal" that would derail the monumental trial, and earn the two gratitude—and a handsome payout—from the deep-pocketed oil giant.

Hansen claimed he owned a remediation company seeking oil pollution clean-up contracts, and Borja went through local contacts to ask the judge to meet with them as a favor, in order to help his "American businessman friend" better understand the complex case.

In the secret video recordings, the judge clearly loses patience with Borja and Hansen's increasingly leading questions. At least a dozen times the judge refuses to say how he will rule in the case, and nowhere in the recordings does the judge accept a bribe, which comes in an awkward offer from faux businessman Hansen to share future profits from clean-up contracts.

The total lack of wrongdoing on Judge Nuñez's part didn't stop Chevron—whose lawyers met with Borja in San Francisco in the midst of their sting operation—from deceitfully proclaiming that it had been alerted to a "bribery scandal" implicating the judge and the Ecuadorian judiciary, posting the videos to youtube and issuing breathless press releases.

The scandal began immediately to unravel upon scrutiny by the media. The New York Times, reporting on the story, wrote, simply, "No bribes were shown in the tapes," and before long, a former friend of Diego Borja's stepped forward with stories of Borja bragging about doing "dirty tricks" for Chevron. The whistleblower even made recordings of Borja admitting to "cooking evidence" in the case for Chevron.

Hansen's explosive emails came to light in an article posted on Friday by legal news outlet Courthouse News, covering the latest from a federal court in San Francisco overseeing attempts to learn more about the sordid Borja-Hansen-Chevron affair.

To defend its judiciary in arbitration proceedings launched by Chevron, the Ecuadorian government hopes to use evidence it has obtained through subpoenas served to Diego Borja and his associates. The indigenous and campesino plaintiffs who won an $18 billion judgment against Chevron for massive contamination of their rainforest communities are also trying to get at the evidence, hoping to defend their legal victory, and show the pattern of Chevron's misconduct in its many attempts to disrupt the trial, and defame the company's opponents.

In July 2009, weeks before Chevron went public with Borja and Hansen's spy videos, Hansen wrote to his mysterious Chevron handler:

"As I can see the window of life coming to a close I will not hold back. I need to hear from a real player with a plan for Wayne [Hansen]. If I do not hear from the oil co. by July 17, 09 I must think I have been left out and I am to do what and think what ... I have been dooped [sic] ... I must go and see Judge Nunez to explain and ask forgiveness as I am sure my life will be in danger a care only to me."

Incredible. Only weeks after helping execute the spy-camera sting against Judge Nuñez, Hansen is ready to ask the judge for his forgiveness, sure that he's been duped, and fearing for his life.

But wait. How did the Courthouse News reporter see these emails, when such communications and documents have been placed under seal by the federal judge?

That seal has been challenged by lawyers for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, whose own materials have been taken out of context, and spread far and wide by Chevron's PR machine in an attempt to discredit them. But the court has so far been resolute in keeping the potentially damning Borja-Hansen materials sealed and out of view of the public, as the legal battle continues.

As it turns out, the emails were apparently excerpted in a sealed order from the San Francisco-based federal judge, and as detailed in a sworn declaration filed with the court, that confidential document was sent to the Courthouse News reporter by Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson.

What? Why in the world would Chevron send this order—with the explosive emails from con-man Hansen to his Chevron handler—to a reporter?! Well, it seems that Kent Robertson missed the forest for the trees, focusing on a small finding by the judge that he viewed as a victory for Chevron, while overlooking how revealing the emails are about Chevron's sleazy actions.

Photo: Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson

As US-based spokeswoman for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs Karen Hinton told the reporter:

"Chevron's apparent disclosure of sealed court materials is clearly unlawful and potentially punishable by sanctions. This is the latest sad chapter in an ongoing campaign by a big oil company to use unethical litigation tactics to cover-up its environmental crimes in Ecuador that are devastating the lives of thousands of people."

But Kent Robertson's reckless disclosure could mean a lot more than a contempt of court sanction. It could legally mean that Chevron has forfeited any sort of attorney-client privilege it has previously asserted to keep the materials sought by the plaintiffs out of the public view. In fact, lawyers for the plaintiffs have already filed motions asking the court to find, among other things that Kent Robertson's disclosure of the sealed documents essentially waives "attorney-client privilege and other protections or immunities" and asks the court to "dissolve the protective order governing disclosure of Diego Borja's discovery materials."

According to the brief filed by lawyers for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs:

Chevron has violated the express terms of the Protective Order by selectively disclosing material within the Order’s purview in a misguided and futile effort to rescue the company’s image in the face of the mounting evidence that Chevron engineered a judicial entrapment scheme in Ecuador. Chevron abuse of the Protective Order are reason alone for the Court to re- evaluate that Order’s efficacy. The Protective Order should not be a one-way street: if the Ecuadorian Plaintiffs are required to file materials under seal or are restricted as to the persons who can receive such materials, Chevron should not at the same time be permitted to transmit protected materials to journalists and media outlets or post protected materials on Chevron’s corporate website.

The brief continues:

The facts surrounding Chevron’s back-room orchestration of a judicial entrapment scheme are monumentally important. But under this Court’s Protective Order, while Chevron picks and chooses at will the sealed documents it shares with the media, highly relevant discovery materials cannot be shared with anyone other than co-counsel and experts, while other documents... are completely shrouded under a Protective Order cloak and must be filed under seal.

In its conclusion, the brief mentions Chevron's payments to Borja, potentially as much as a jaw-dropping $340,000, according to a story in the legal publication The Daily Journal:

Given the extreme gravity of the charges of judicial misconduct raised by Chevron and Borja, the public (in the United States and Ecuador) should have the right to access Court files related to Chevron’s self-described “witness payments” – payments that began after Diego Borja intimated in a recorded conversation that he possessed evidence of Chevron’s litigation misconduct.

Borja told his former friend-turned-whistleblower that he could "immediately go to the other side... I have correspondence that talks about things you cannot even imagine, dude... I can't talk about them here, dude, because I'm afraid, but they're things that can make the [plaintiffs] win this just like that."

Photo: Chevron's self-proclaimed 'dirty tricks' operative in Ecuador, Diego Borja

What explosive details remain hidden in the "correspondence" he refers to? How much has Chevron paid Diego Borja to keep quiet? What kind of deal did con-man Wayne Hansen think he had with Chevron when he helped Borja conduct the video-sting operation against Judge Nuñez, to whom Hansen now believes he owes an apology?

Who else at Chevron was in on this scheme? Current General Counsel Hewitt Pate, or Charles James, who was Chevron's GC at the time of the sting operation? Or maybe Chevron's big-gun lawyers at Jones Day, Tim Cullen and Robert Mittelstaedt, at whose San Francisco offices Borja had a meeting in the midst of their scheme?

The emails from Wayne Hansen highlighted in last week's Courthouse News story are shocking enough on their own. But it seems to me that Chevron PR hack Kent Robertson's bone-headed attempt to once again twist and abuse court proceedings to serve the company's dishonest media narrative may backfire in a BIG WAY.

Will this blow wide open the sordid details of Chevron's scandalous efforts to evade accountability for one of the worst environmental disasters in history? We'll be doing our best to see that it does. Stay tuned.

Background on Diego Borja, Wayne Hansen, and Chevron's Phony Bribery Scandal in Ecuador:

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

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

You Shouldn’t Trust Your Car to the Men Who Wore the Star

Maybe I need to update my 'google alerts' or remember to go a-searching on the topic more consistently but somehow, I missed a great article from last week, which I will excerpt and link to below. It's a long and thoughtful article on Chevron's toxic legacy in Ecuador by a straight-shooting and often funny dude named Jamie Kitman. Jamie is no internal combustion engine-hating Luddite. In fact, he's a big car buff and award-winning writer on all things automotive. Besides writing for outlets like the Guardian and GQ, he's even the New York Bureau Chief for Automobile Magazine (Automobile Magazine has bureaus?!). Strangely enough, he also happens to be the long-time manager of brilliant NYC art-rock band They Might Be Giants, whose epic breakthrough hit "Don't Let's Start" inspired enthusiastic sing-alongs by me and my high-school friends as we drove around in my first car, a hand me-down Pontiac station wagon. But that's another story. Anyway, Jamie posted his article on the blog of CarTalk, as in the beloved NPR call-in radio program, with Click & Clack, the Tappet Brothers. So, without further ado:

If you’re the sort of person who stopped filling up at BP stations after the Gulf Horizon disaster, here’s hoping you’re not shopping for gasoline at Chevron, owner of Texaco, instead. The companies’ behavior in Ecuador over the last 37 years, and in the nearly 20-year lawsuit brought against Texaco (purchased by Chevron in 2001) by victims of its epic despoiling of the area, is right up there with the worst in the oil industry’s oversubscribed Hall of Shame. In fact, it may even make BP look good.

Now you may have missed the latest wrinkles in the Chevron-Texaco case — Donald Trump’s run for the presidency was brewing as they came down — so, perhaps, like the American media, you were distracted. Or maybe you are resigned to expecting appalling behavior from oil companies. But the record reveals that Texaco and Chevron have outdone themselves even by the low standards of their industry.

Read the rest of this informative article here, and share it via email, facebook, twitter, and what have you. Enjoy.

– Han

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

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Oil Company Takes Responsibility for Poisoning Poor People in Developing World; No Reports of Flying Pigs

Yesterday, hell did not freeze over. Pigs (or if you're Italian, donkeys) were not seen flying through the air on gossamer wings.

What did happen yesterday?

A major oil company accepted responsibility for terrible oil contamination affecting poor villagers in a remote part of a developing country, promising to pay for remediation of the damage done, and compensation to the communities harmed.

Stop the presses! Has Chevron finally seen the light? Will the California oil behemoth finally do the right thing?!

Actually, it wasn't Chevron in Ecuador. It was Shell in Nigeria.

In April, a lawsuit was brought on behalf of tens of thousands of people in and around the town of Bodo, in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta. They demanded clean-up of two massive oil spills that occurred months apart in late 2008 and early 2009, that devastated farmland and mangroves, and flowed into a large network of creeks and inlets, poisoning the drinking water and destroying the livelihood of this fishing community.

Last week, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Shell's Nigerian subsidiary, said:

SPDC accepts responsibility under the Oil Pipelines Act for the two oil spills both of which were due to equipment failure. SPDC acknowledges that it is liable to pay compensation - to those who are entitled to receive such compensation.

Preliminary estimates suggest that Shell could be liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and compensation for the communities living amidst the spills.

This hardly represents a solution to the plight of the people of Ogoniland and the larger Niger Delta, where oil operations have ravaged the environment and devastated local communities (see more on the report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme here, here, and here).

But we hope Chevron is watching this latest turn of events, with Shell stepping up in this case to do the right thing.

For the sake of the tens of thousands of people in the Ecuadorian Amazon who suffer from oil contamination like their brothers and sisters in the Niger Delta, we hope that Chevron will take a page from Shell's playbook; accept responsibility for the damage you have caused and get to work fixing it.

If you're not on the email list for Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign, sign up now, and stay tuned for ways you can take action to demand Chevron takes responsibility for its disaster in the Amazon.

– Han

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Polluter Party! Corporate Criminals Close Rank Around Chevron

Quick quiz: what do mega-corporations Shell Oil, Dow Chemical, and Dole Food have in common?

A. They are all Fortune 500 companies.
B. They have each been the target of legal action for serious environmental and/or human rights abuses.
C. They are all supporting Chevron's efforts to evade liability for widespread oil contamination in Ecuador.
D. All of the above.

Okay, that was probably too obvious, but yes, the answer is, D. All of the above.

Well, it's a veritable polluter party with some of the most notorious corporate criminals lining up to support Chevron in its efforts to evade accountability for the company's horrific oil disaster in the Amazon rainforest of northern Ecuador. Along with the Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Roundtable, two industry groups whose noble aim is strengthening the Corporate Oligarchy, Dow, Dole, and Shell have filed a legal brief supporting Chevron in legal proceedings in U.S. courts.

The amicus ('friend-of-the-court') briefs by the polluters and their supporters ask a federal appeals court to uphold an injunction issued by a U.S. district court judge that purports to block enforcement of the historic verdict against Chevron delivered by an Ecuadorian court that found the company liable for massive oil contamination in Ecuador's northern Amazon rainforest.

In 2010, after 17 years of litigation and the failure of Chevron's relentless attempts to derail the judicial process in Ecuador, the oil giant launched a truly scorched earth legal, political, and PR campaign in a last-ditch effort to evade accountability. Chevron started by going after the filmmaker who made the recently-released documentary Crude, about the company's toxic legacy in Ecuador, and found U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan extraordinarily sympathetic to the oil giant's every claim.

As the court in Ecuador looked poised to return a judgment, Chevron took a hint from Judge Kaplan and filed an outlandish lawsuit accusing the plaintiffs and their lawyers and consultants of concocting their claims in a vast conspiracy to extort a payment from the company.

Before the court in Ecuador had even issued its verdict, Judge Kaplan issued an injunction against enforcement of any judgment from the court (Chevron removed its assets from Ecuador so the plaintiffs will have to take their judgment against Chevron to a court in a place the company still operates and have it enforced). The $9 billion dollar judgment delivered on February 14th by the Ecuadorian court is still under appeal in Ecuador, and the plaintiffs have asked the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to reverse Judge Kaplan's injunction, which brings us back to the amicus briefs filed by Chevron's polluter pals.

Why would they line up in support of a company found guilty of poisoning indigenous people and devastating the Amazon? A press release today from the Amazon Defense Coalition explains:

"Chevron, Dow, Shell, and Dole each have consistently relied on a business model which artificially inflates their profits by dumping pollutants into the environment and then doing whatever is necessary to avoid having to pay for a clean-up," said Karen Hinton, the American spokesperson for the 30,000 Ecuadorians who sued Chevron for the environmental contamination of their ancestral lands.

The press release continues:

Hinton pointed out that Dow operated the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility in Colorado that is now considered one of the most polluted Superfund sites in the United States. For years Dow has tried to offload clean-up costs, estimated to run into the tens of billions of dollars, to taxpayers.

Dow also manufactures DBCP, a toxic soil fumigant that sterilized numerous Dow workers. Although the use of DBCP is banned in the U.S., Dow still ships the chemical overseas.

Dow also manufactured Agent Orange, a cancer-causing defoliant used in Vietnam that now costs taxpayers billions of dollars annually in disability payments to veterans who were exposed to the toxin during the war.

Dole used the DBCP chemical manufactured by Dow as a fumigant on its banana plantations in Central America, resulting in widespread sterility for thousands of workers, according to various lawsuits filed against the company.

And just two years ago, Shell was about to stand trial in the same U.S. federal court where Judge Kaplan presides. Shell stood accused of colluding with the Nigerian military to kill author and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and a number of other community leaders who opposed the company's horrific human rights and environmental abuses in the Niger Delta. When, just days before the trial was set to begin, Shell finally offered a settlement to avoid the glare of the awaiting media spotlight during a trial, the exhausted families accepted it. They could move on from their long nightmare and invest the money in programs to help their communities recover from decades of abuse by Shell. It should be noted that Shell remains on trial in the Netherlands over oil spills in Nigeria, and the company continues to pollute with apparent impunity.

In contrast to the legal briefs supporting Chevron from professional polluters and corporate titans, a number of law professors, legal experts, and human rights lawyers have filed their own amicus briefs, criticizing Judge Kaplan's ruling and asking the appeals court to reverse the injunction against enforcement of the judgment from Ecuador.

Burt Neuborne, Legal Director of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, writes in an amicus brief filed with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that Judge Kaplan's ruling "sends an unmistakable message of American judicial arrogance to the rest of the world that can only result in increased levels of reciprocal judicial suspicion and hostility, with negative consequences for the transnational rule of law.”

Neuborne, an eminent human rights and civil liberties attorney, goes on to outline exactly why Judge Kaplan's over-reach in this instance is so dangerous. In his amicus brief [download as PDF], he writes that Kaplan's ruling:

(1) heaps scorn on the Ecuadorian judiciary on the basis of an unfairly truncated record and in the absence of a representative of the Republic of Ecuador; (2) proceeds in the absence of a representative of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador who have suffered the alleged underlying environmental injury and who will be the beneficiaries of any Ecuadorian judgment; and (3) seeks to pre-empt the ability of judges everywhere else in the world to decide for themselves whether to respect and enforce the final judgment, if any, of the Ecuadorian courts.

In support of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs motion before the appeals court, amicus briefs were also filed by a group of 16 international law professors and scholars from Australia, Finland, Italy, South Africa, Spain, and the United States. Two prominent environmental law groups, EarthRights International and the Environmental Defender Law Center, also filed briefs in support of the plaintiffs demanding justice from Chevron.

The New York appeals court has scheduled arguments over the plaintiffs appeal for the week of September 12th. Late last week, the appeals court also consolidated the appeal of the injunction with a motion from the plaintiffs seeking U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan's recusal from the case. In previous filings, the plaintiffs have detailed Judge Kaplan's numerous comments from the bench and recitations of Chevron's one-sided narrative to highlight the judge's obvious "deep-seated animosity" towards their legal efforts. The unusual move of consolidating the recusal motion with the underlying appeal suggests that the appeals court is at least taking the plaintiffs' allegations of bias against the lower court judge quite seriously.

– Han

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Law Experts Blast US Judge's "Unlawful" Attempts to Protect Chevron from Court Judgment in Ecuador

Below is an article by our friends at Rainforest Action Network, re-posted from their Understory blog.

US Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan’s bias in favor of Chevron may have led him to drastically overstep his authority, according to several international law experts from around the world who have asked the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to dissolve Kaplan’s preliminary injunction against enforcement of an $18 billion verdict against the company.

Just before the historic verdict came out of an Ecuadorean court last February finding Chevron guilty of polluting the Amazon and ordering the company to pay $18 billion for cleanup, Judge Kaplan issued a preliminary injunction aimed not only at barring enforcement of the verdict in the United States, where Chevron is based, but barring enforcement anywhere in the world.

It is this “worldwide injunction” that has drawn the fire of international law experts, who say it is an “unlawful” and “futile” order. The Ecuadorean plaintiffs are appealing the injunction, and several world-renowned experts have come forward to file briefs with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals  detailing the ways in which Kaplan’s order drastically overreaches the bounds of his jurisdiction.

In one of the briefs, Professor Burt Neuborne, an extremely well-regarded human rights and civil liberties lawyer who is also the Legal Director of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, says that Kaplan’s worldwide injunction:

(1) heaps scorn on the Ecuadorian judiciary on the basis of an unfairly truncated record and in the absence of a representative of the Republic of Ecuador; (2) proceeds in the absence of a representative of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador who have suffered the alleged underlying environmental injury and who will be the beneficiaries of any Ecuadorian judgment; and (3) seeks to pre-empt the ability of judges everywhere else in the world to decide for themselves whether to respect and enforce the final judgment, if any, of the Ecuadorian courts.

According to Neuborne, the perils of Kaplan’s overreaching decision are severe, as it “sends an unmistakable message of American judicial arrogance to the rest of the world that can only result in increased levels of reciprocal judicial suspicion and hostility, with negative consequences for the transnational rule of law.”

A group of 16 legal experts from around the world have also called for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the injunction, saying that it “constitutes an internationally unlawful attempt to intervene in the domestic legal affairs of Ecuador” and is “premature” because the appeals process in Ecuador is ongoing.

The group of experts, led by Donald K. Anton of the Australian National University College of Law in Canberra and including public international scholars from Finland, Italy, South Africa, Spain, and the United States, also called the injunction “futile” because it can’t bar the Ecuadoreans from going to other countries where Chevron has assets and asking those countries’ courts to rule on the validity of the guilty verdict. Furthermore, the group argues, the order “offends basic standards of international comity because the preliminary injunction high handedly purports to stake out exclusive world-wide jurisdiction.”

The Environmental Defender Law Center, a non-profit that provides free legal representation for poor people in developing countries, has also weighed in, saying that Kaplan’s worldwide injunction is an “exercise of power that district courts do not possess.” Ironically, it was Chevron/Texaco’s legal maneuvering to have the lawsuit moved to Ecuador — the Ecuadorean plaintiffs originally filed in a New York District Court — that has limited Kaplan’s ability to rule on the matter. According to the Center’s brief, “when Chevron convinced this Court to dismiss to a forum outside the U.S. — based on its own calculus that it was more likely to prevail in Ecuador than before a U.S. federal court — it divested the district court of the legal and practical ability to protect Chevron from the enforcement of a judgment against it in third countries.”

What impact, if any, these briefs will have on the Second Circuit Court of Appeal's decision regarding Kaplan’s injunction is uncertain. But the arguments made in these briefs by some of the world’s top scholars in international law certainly make it clear that Kaplan’s bias for Chevron seems to have blinded him to the finer points of jurisprudence.

The original article can be found here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

VIDEO: 18 Years of Demanding Justice from Chevron

I just sent a message to Amazon Watch's email list of supporters, which has grown leaps and bounds in recent months. It includes a brief but powerful video-report on the recent delegation of Ecuadorians to the United States. Read on (and watch the video) below:

In 1993, Elias Piaguaje traveled from the Amazon rainforest to New York to represent the Secoya people of the Ecuadorian Amazon. He joined representatives of other indigenous tribes and campesino communities to file a landmark lawsuit demanding that Texaco – now Chevron – clean up contamination that devastated the Secoya people's rainforest homeland.

Last month, almost 18 years after this first visit, Elias' nephew Humberto Piaguaje returned to New York. A Secoya leader in his own right, Humberto traveled to New York and across the nation to press Chevron, once again, to clean up its toxic legacy.

But this time, he carried with him a historic verdict from an Ecuadorian court finding Chevron guilty, and ordering the company to pay to clean up its pollution, and to assist communities ravaged by the company's toxic legacy.

Amazon Watch and our Clean Up Ecuador Campaign was proud to support Humberto and his compatriots Servio Curipoma and Carmen Zambrano as they traveled to New York, Washington DC, and the San Francisco Bay Area, meeting with media, lawmakers, activists, Chevron shareholders, and everyday supporters to share their message. And everywhere they went, they were touched by the outpouring of support for their struggle.

Building up to Chevron's shareholders meeting, we've forged unprecedented alliances with shareholders who called on Chevron to change its abusive approach, and find a solution to its disaster in Ecuador. Powerful institutional investors publicly called for Chevron to settle the case. Reporters and business analysts and editorial boards amplified the Ecuadorians' message. And we found allies from the halls of Congress to the streets of San Ramon, CA, where Chevron is headquartered.

But this is no time to dial back our efforts. The company is still fighting to evade accountability, and with a landmark verdict against Chevron, we're that much closer to the tipping point. With your support, we can show Chevron that no company is above the law.

Please donate today to Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign, and we'll continue ramping up our hard-hitting efforts in support of the 30,000 men, women, and children in Ecuador still courageously fighting for justice from an American oil company.

In solidarity,
Han Shan

Coordinator, Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

The original email is archived here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

VIDEO: Stand with Carmen - Sign our petition to Chevron now!

Carmen Zambrano is one of the 30,000 men, women and children of the Ecuadorian Amazon who continue to suffer the disastrous effects of Chevron's greedy, reckless and polluting oil operations.

Carmen's suffering and that of her family has transformed her from a quiet and reserved mother into an unlikely – and courageous – community leader speaking out for all those struggling to survive amidst Chevron's widespread oil contamination.

Carmen traveled outside Ecuador for the first time last week, coming to the United States to press Chevron to take responsibility for the poisons the company has abandoned in her rainforest home.

At Chevron's shareholder meeting tomorrow we want to deliver a petition with 30,000 signatures – a signature from a supporter like you, standing up for each of the 30,000 people in the Ecuadorian Amazon demanding justice from the oil giant.

As I write this we have 20,000 signatures and need 10,000 more to reach our goal.

Please sign our petition now in solidarity with Carmen and the other mothers who fight for a healthy and jhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifust future for their children.

– Han

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

Monday, May 23, 2011

Amazon Watch and RAN Demand Justice from Chevron, Hundreds of Feet in the Air

Daring activists from Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network rappelled from the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge in the San Francisco Bay Area this morning to hang a 50-foot banner demanding justice for Chevron's crimes in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The banner, which reads "Chevron Guilty: Clean Up the Amazon", brings attention to the recent Ecuadorian court ruling that found Chevron guilty of its contamination and liable for up to $18 billion.

Chevron has refused to pay up and remediate in the Amazon, despite global pressure from NGOs, investors, and concerned citizens. The banner, hung nearby to both Chevron's Global Headquarters in San Ramon and its heavily polluting refinery in Richmond, raises awareness for the case just days before Chevron's annual shareholders' meeting this Wednesday.

Also in time for the meeting, a delegation of Ecuadorian indigenous and campesino leaders have arrived in the Bay Area after visits to New York and Washington D.C., to demand on behalf of the thousands of victims in the Amazon that Chevron take responsibility for its actions and abide by its legal obligation to repair the toxic damage that has caused a massive public health crisis affecting thousands of people.

Today's display of direct action demonstrates that Chevron will continue to be pressured until it fulfills its legal duty to the Amazon. The Ecuadorian victims are incredibly courageous people who have been fighting tirelessly for two decades to see justice served, and neither they nor their partners at Amazon Watch will rest until Chevron faces up to its responsibility and rights the wrongs it committed in the Amazon.

– Alex

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Carmen Zambrano: Mother & Community Leader from Ecuadorian Amazon vs. Chevron

With passport hiccups and plane ticket changes and communication difficulties, it took days for Carmen Zambrano to get from the Ecuadorian Amazon to Quito and onto a plane bound for Washington DC. Finally, she arrived in DC to meet the other two Ecuadorian delgates – Servio and Humberto – and ready to tell her story of living with the calamitous effects of Chevron's contamination.

But for Carmen, the trial of traveling from the Amazon rainforest to the U.S. capital is nothing compared to the daily impact of living amidst the environmental devastation sown by Chevron in the oil boom-town of Shushufindi, the ancestral territory of the Siona people. Around dinners with family and during visits with neighbors, the conversations are littered with condolences for a loved one suffering from cancer, advice for a mother whose child is growing up with developmental disabilities, debate over which stream or well has water that is less laced with toxins.

Carmen has now come to the United States to share her story, and to press Chevron to take responsibility for its toxic legacy in her community, and the Amazon region of Ecuador.

Watch and share this brief video profile of a humble mother, and now a community leader by necessity, Carmen Zambrano. And, if you haven't already, please sign the solidarity petition!

– Han

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Honoring Parents who Died of Cancer, Servio fights for Environmental Justice in Ecuador

It's already been a busy couple days for the Ecuadorians who have come from the Amazon to the U.S. to tell their painful stories of living with the legacy of Chevron's contamination in their lands. On Tuesday and Wednesday in New York, Secoya indigenous leader Humberto Piaguaje and representative of the farming communities in the region, Servio Curipoma, met with reporters, lawmakers, shareholders, and supporters, running between interviews and meetings and presentations with barely time to breathe.

In the first couple of whirlwind days, Servio, who is traveling outside Ecuador for the first time, has displayed an infectious and inspiring mix of courage, poise, energy, and heart. Whether talking to supporters or reporters, he deliver his message with a sincerity and urgency that is impossible to discount [see this post from earlier today, which includes a short video profile of Servio].

His urgency comes from the realization that he and his loved ones are surrounded by poison every day, and that every day more people in his community fall ill. And beyond the courage and poise and sincerity is also a deep and abiding sadness that seems inscribed deeply upon his hearty soul.

Before a meeting with journalists today, Servio spends a quiet moment with a photo of his mother, who died of uterine cancer in 2006. Photo by Caroline Bennett

Servio lost both his mother and father to cancers that their doctors blame on exposure to poisons caused by Chevron's reckless pump-and-dump oil operations in their lands. Today in New York, he told a group that he came here to the United States in order to honor the memory of his parents, whose deaths he mourns daily.

And so, over the last couple days, Servio has carried a book with photos and a story about his late mother, Rosana Sisalima [read a profile of here on this blog]. The photo-book has served as a touchstone for him, reminding him of the injustice of losing his mother too soon, and watching her wither away. Only a few years before her premature death, she had watched with anguish as her husband — Servio's father — a farmer like his son, succumbed to stomach cancer at the age of 64. And then, only a few year later, uterine cancer took her. She was 66.

Uterine cancer victim Rosana Sisalima with her granddaughter at their home in San Carlos on November 24, 2004, shortly before she died. Photo by Lou Dematteis.

Crude Reflections, the book Servio carries, documents almost 15 years of the effects of Chevron's contamination in the Oriente region of Ecuador, and the communities' inspiring struggle for justice. Published by City Lights Books, the book is by photographers Lou Dematteis and Kayana Szymczak, with interviews and stories written by journalist Joan Kruckewitt. It is a powerful document, and you can buy a copy here.

I write this update from a train bound for Washington DC. Servio & Humberto and my colleagues at Amazon Watch ran to catch the train with minutes to spare, and early tomorrow morning, our meetings and outreach efforts resume. After a couple days in DC, we're on to the San Francisco Bay Area to continue our efforts ahead of Chevron's shareholders meeting.

There, Servio Curipoma will confront Chevron's leadership, driven to spare anyone else the pain and rage he has felt at having his parents stolen from him by an oil company's disregard for his family's humanity. Stay tuned.

– Han

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