By Scott Marshall, Contra Costa Times
14 April 2005
Bianca Jagger is returning to San Ramon to criticize a former ChevronTexaco subsidiary's pollution of the Ecuadorian rain forest, helping to bring attention to a photo exhibit at a restaurant.
The exhibit, featuring images from the rain forest region, is the latest jab at the San Ramon-based oil giant over environmental damage from operations in Ecuador. It also may serve to reopen some of San Ramon's long-standing political wounds, increasing tensions among rain forest advocates, supporters of a leading local corporate citizen and individuals with allegiances to both.
Mudd's Restaurant, frequented by prominent San Ramon workers and citizens, will host the exhibit April 25-28. Open to the public, the show coincides with ChevronTexaco's annual meeting in San Ramon on April 27.
Political opponents of some of current council members have been invited to the photo exhibit. Among them are former San Ramon Mayor Nancy Tatarka and former Vice Mayor Jerry Cambra. They, along with former Councilwoman Donna Dickey, a few years ago forced out 13-year city manager Herb Moniz, who has since returned.
Earlier this year, the current council honored ChevronTexaco for donating $25,000 for city activities and events.
Besides local politics, the international politics inherent in the photo exhibit are part of a long-running battle between ChevronTexaco and environmental and human rights activists.
"The Ecuador photos are showing the environmental impact, the human impact, and they are some pretty shocking and disturbing photos," said Leila Salazar-Lopez, Clean Up Ecuador organizer for the nonprofit advocacy group Amazon Watch. She has been to northeastern Ecuador several times.
But a ChevronTexaco spokesman said the areas of the Ecuadorian rain forest where a former subsidiary drilled wells and pumped oil have been remediated, are safe and pose no risk to human health or the environment.
"We believe that this photo exhibit is just another publicity stunt in a decadelong propaganda campaign to promote a baseless lawsuit against our company," said ChevronTexaco spokesman Jeff Moore.
A 1993 lawsuit by Ecuadorian Indians charging the ChevronTexaco subsidiary polluted their homelands in the rain forest was dismissed in the United States after the company agreed to allow a trial to proceed in Ecuador. That trial has been stalled by upheaval in the Ecuadorian judicial system.
Moore said Wednesday the lawsuit has not been backed up by scientific proof of environmentalists' "outrageous claims."
This isn't the first time Bianca Jagger -- an internationally known human rights activist and former wife of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger -- will use her celebrity status to draw attention to the situation in Ecuador. Last year, she led a delegation to ChevronTexaco's annual meeting in San Ramon. Chairman and Chief Executive Dave O'Reilly dismissed those speakers' claims, characterizing Ecuador's state-owned oil company, Petroecuador, as inept and solely responsible for continuing problems.
The focus on ChevronTexaco in San Ramon is educational, said Salazar-Lopez, who added, "It is not a coincidence that we have chosen to do this photo exhibit in San Ramon."
ChevronTexaco has submitted six detailed scientific reports to the Ecuadorian court, while the plaintiffs have failed to meet deadlines, said Moore, who has visited at least 10 cleanup sites in Ecuador.
*Corrections to the article on dates of the exhibit and speakers at the exhibit were made by Amazon Watch.
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