The lawsuit itself dates to 1993, the year in which the class-action suit Aguinda v. Texaco was filed in New York. (Click to download the 1993 legal complaint against Texaco.) Texaco was headquartered in White Plains, NY at the time, and plaintiffs' legal team argued that the United States was the appropriate forum for the case, as the decisions that led to Ecuador's "Rainforest Chernobyl" were made in New York, at the highest levels of the company. Texaco petitioned for years to have the case relocated to Ecuador, submitting numerous affidavits in the process praising the integrity of Ecuador's judicial system. In 2002, after a series of appeals, Texaco's (now Chevron's) request was granted under the judicial doctrine of forum non conveniens. Chevron was required to submit to the jurisdiction of the Ecuadorian court. Thus, any judgment against it in Ecuador will be enforceable in the United States.
The current lawsuit was filed in Ecuador in May 2003. (Click to download the 2003 legal complaint against Chevron.) The Ecuadorian court system relies heavily on written testimony and physical evidence. Following a period of initial arguments, both sides requested judicial inspections of Texaco's former oil installations and waste pits to determine levels of contamination. The scientific record resulting from these inspections clearly shows levels of soil and water contamination far above legal limits. Even Chevron's own scientists have obtained significant data that supports the case against the company.
Based on this record, in February 2011, Judge Nicolas Zambrano issued a final verdict, demanding that Chevron pay $8.6 billion to fund an environmental remediation and provide health and potable water services to local communities. Chevron promptly appealed, and has also sued in U.S. courts and international tribunals to block enforcement of Zambrano's ruling. Because Chevron no longer has significant assets in Ecuador, the ruling will have to be enforced abroad.
The verdict against Chevron will have historic consequences that extend far beyond Ecuador. Not only has this case resulted in the largest environmental damages award in history, it also represents the first time that indigenous people have forced a multinational corporation to stand trial in their own country for violating their human rights. Too often, corporations operating in developing countries have ignored the rule of law with near-impunity, taking advantage of weak environmental and human rights protections, and / or weak enforcement of existing laws. The verdict against Chevron in Ecuador, for doing business in a way it never would have dared to in the United States, will show the world that extractive industries can and will be held to the same standard of socially responsible conduct anywhere that they are held to in their wealthy home countries.
Chevron agrees that the Oriente suffers from severe environmental damage. Indeed, no firsthand observer could dispute this. With the evidence in against them, Chevron instead has resorted to a scorched-earth public relations and legal strategy which seeks to destroy the credibility of plaintiffs and the Ecuadorian court system. Chevron blames its Texaco subsidiary's former partner, Ecuadorian state oil company Petroecuador, for contamination that Texaco was solely responsible for creating. Using junk science designed to obfuscate and minimize contamination results, Chevron denies all liability and mischaracterizes the case as an extortion scheme while avoiding the fundamental issue at stake: Texaco deliberately left severe contamination, and innocent Ecuadorian citizens are still suffering for it.