After Traveling Days From Rainforest, Carmen Perez Finds Out She Can't Speak
27 April 2005 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Perhaps angered by a call by large shareholders that the Ecuador situation be independently reviewed by the Board of Directors, ChevronTexaco CEO David O'Reilly Wednesday reported record oil profits and then promptly shut down the microphone on a prominent Ecuadorian rainforest leader before she had a chance to speak at the company's annual meeting about oil contamination caused by Texaco in her homeland.
Carmen Perez, a mother of six from Ecuador's Amazon region, had traveled two days by bus from her small community just to arrive in Quito, Ecuador's capital. She then flew a full day to the Bay Area to attend ChevronTexaco's annual meeting at the invitation of shareholders and the human rights organization Amnesty International.
"I was very sad that I traveled for three days to come to this meeting, only not to be heard by the Chairman of the company," said Perez, who is a health care worker in the community of La Primavera, in Ecuador's Sucumbios province. Sucumbios is the epicenter of what industry experts believe could be the worst oil-related environmental catastrophe in the world.
Humberto Piaguaje, a Secoya indigenous leader who also traveled from Ecuador, was able to speak briefly during the meeting and told O'Reilly, "I may be foreign to you but I am human. The jungle was once a great university, market, and hospital to us. Since ChevronTexaco came our university market and hospital has been vanishing. I am not here to tarnish your image but to find a solution to this crisis."
Also unable to speak was Rabbi Dan Goldblatt, the leader of Beth Chaim Congregation in the Tri-Valley area of California (where San Ramon is located) who earlier had visited Ecuador at the invitation of the affected communities. Emerging from the meeting, Goldblatt called O'Reilly's attitude "shameful". "I didn't come to talk about the lawsuit, I came to talk about the moral issues facing this company for its responsibility in Ecuador, where its legacy continues squeezing human life to this day," Goldblatt said.
Five minutes before the meeting was scheduled to end, O'Reilly shut down the microphone and adjourned the meeting in the middle of a presentation by Atossa Soltani, the executive director of Amazon Watch, a non-profit group that has been working for years with the Ecuadorian communities. Soltani was presenting a letter sent by Amazon Watch to O'Reilly earlier in the week accusing company employees of making false and misleading public statements about the evidence at the trial, which thus far shows significant levels of toxic contamination at Texaco's former sites. She was attempting to cite ChevronTexaco's own soil and water tests from a well called Sacha-53 that found 22 samples over the maximum allowable legal limits for toxins.
The pressure on ChevronTexaco over its historic $6 billion Ecuador rainforest trial increased significantly this week when trustees from the three largest public pension funds in the United States called on the company to take action to resolve the dispute - and in a direct rebuke to company management, California Controller Steve Westly requested that the Board of Directors conduct an independent review of the situation in Ecuador.
"O'Reilly's attempt to censor shareholder comments today is a clear sign that the company is attempting to keep shareholders in the dark about the serious liabilities they face in Ecuador," said Soltani.
The lawsuit on behalf of five indigenous tribes and 80 communities alleges Texaco dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into Ecuador's rainforest during its two decades of operations in Ecuador's northern Amazon region, from 1970 to 1992. The amount of direct crude dumped is roughly 30 times larger than the amount spilled during the Exxon Valdez disaster. The trial is the first time in history that rainforest dwellers have forced a multinational oil company to be subjected to jurisdiction in their national courts. The Ecuador phase began in 2003 in the jungle town of Lago Agrio and is expected to conclude next year.
Alan Hevesi, comptroller of New York whose $120 billion New York Common Retirement Fund is the second largest public pension fund in the country, released a statement that said: "I find it troubling that ChevronTexaco's reputation continues to suffer because it has not been able to resolve its issues in Ecuador. Each day that this environmental and health crisis continues, ChevronTexaco's future business opportunities abroad are more at risk. As an institutional investor, I hope that the company will resolve its issues in Ecuador as soon as possible."
Californian Controller Westly, who sits on the board of trustees of both CalPERS and CalSTRS (respectively the largest and third-largest public pension funds in the country), released a statement calling on the ChevronTexaco Board "to undertake an independent review of the situation [in Ecuador]."
Westly said, "ChevronTexaco is a California company that has based its reputation on going the extra mile to be a good neighbor in the California community. I am concerned that actions taken by Texaco prior to its merger with Chevron in 2001 may be tarnishing that hard-earned reputation."
CalPERS, CalSTRS and New York Common pension funds hold more than $2 billion dollars worth of ChevronTexaco stock. The funds already have voted in favor of a shareholder resolution on the ballot at today's meeting calling on management to report any new initiatives to address the health and environmental concerns of the communities in the company's former Ecuador oil blocks.
In addition, Amnesty International - the largest human rights organization in the world - released the following statement with regard to the shareholder resolution: "Amnesty International has co-filed this shareholder proposal not only as a concerned shareholder but also as the world's largest human rights organization, representing 1.8 million members globally. As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "Every organ of society' has a responsibility to promote respect for human rights, and this includes powerful multinational corporations like ChevronTexaco. The claims of the Ecuadorian Amazon communities deserve to be addressed, and the company needs to demonstrate with actions that they are serious about being a socially responsible leader in their industry."