Reposted from Eye on the Amazon
Today is the third anniversary of what could be one of the most important triumphs of indigenous rights over Big Oil in world history.
On Valentine's Day three years ago, an Ecuadorian court found Chevron liable for deliberately dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest of the South American nation. The court imposed $9 billion in damages and added another $9 billion in punitive damages for its cynical efforts to "undermine the administration of justice" in the country.
That decision – the largest civil trial judgment in history at the time – was a testament to the vision, tenacity, and intelligence of dozens of indigenous and farmer communities in Ecuador's northeast rainforest region known as the Oriente. Against all odds, communities struggled for years to hold the company accountable – a company whose reckless impunity devastated the health, livelihoods and environment for countless innocent people.
When Texaco (now Chevron) arrived in the Oriente in 1964, the region was home to indigenous tribes for whom the pristine rainforest was their grocery store, their pharmacy, their church and home to their ancestors. By the time Chevron pulled out of Ecuador in 1992, the area was scarred with roads and pipelines, oil spills and abandoned toxic waste pits, the forest and peoples poisoned in pursuit of profit.
"Before I die they have to pay me for the dead animals, and for what they did to the river, and the water and the earth," Maria Aguinda told AFP shortly after the historic verdict was delivered against Chevron in 2011. An elder of the indigenous Kichwa people who lives in the oil-besieged village of Rumipamba, Aguinda is the namesake for the original class-action lawsuit, Maria Aguinda, et al v. Texaco, Inc.
Originally filed in New York, then headquarters of Texaco, the eight-year trial took place after a decade-long battle in U.S. courts where the company argued the case should be tried in Ecuador, figuring that the communities and their advocates would give up. They never did.
Despite Chevron's threats and bribery attempts aimed at judges, deceptive soil sampling and evidence-tampering, and all sorts of attempts to use political pressure to quash the case, the historic verdict against the company was delivered, vindicating all of those who fought for so long to bring the oil giant to justice. That judgment has since been affirmed twice, most recently by Ecuador's Supreme Court (which eliminated the punitive damages, leaving Chevron nonetheless liable for $9.5 billion in damages owed to the long-suffering communities living amidst the contamination it left behind).
Today, on the 3rd anniversary of the court ruling, we salute the nationalities that have organized and fought to hold Chevron accountable: the Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa and Waorani. We salute their Ecuadorian legal team and allies around the world, including Goldman Prize winners Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajardo. We salute the Frente de la Defensa de Amazonia and the Unión de Afectados por las Operaciones de Texaco, and all of the inspiring efforts undertaken by the affected communities to organize, maintain unity, and press on in their quest for justice.
Today, of course, their – and our – quest for justice continues. In anticipation of an adverse ruling from the Ecuador courts, Chevron stripped its assets from the country, and a company spokesperson famously declared, "We'll fight this until hell freezes over. And then we'll fight it out on the ice."
So now, the victims of the company's pollution have to pursue Chevron around the world, a corporate fugitive from justice whose executives and board members glide in and out of the halls of power wherever they go.
But despite an abusive and ridiculous retaliatory RICO lawsuit against its victims and their advocates, the communities press on. In December, a Canadian judge noted the company's comment about "fighting it out on the ice," writing in a court order that "Chevron's wish is granted," green-lighting enforcement proceedings in Ontario courts against Chevron assets in Canada to pay for the damages in Ecuador.
As the legal battle continues, let's not forget one basic fact: the villagers have won. The litigation is over. The Ecuadorian court order has been upheld. And the communities, their advocates, and their allies show no sign of giving up.
But as the legal axiom goes, justice delayed is justice denied. For the sake of Maria Aguinda and thousands more like her who have lost loved ones to cancer and who suffer oil-related illness, whose lives have been upended by an American company's greed, let us today re-commit to fighting until the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon get the relief they have sought for too long already.
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