Military Blocks Community Participation
10 March 2006 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
San Carlos, Ecuador - The first field inspection of 2006 by the judge in a landmark environmental lawsuit against Chevron in the Ecuadorian Amazon took place this week near San Carlos, a small rainforest town with skyrocketing rates of cancer.
The March 8 inspection, at the Sacha Sur station, less than a mile from San Carlos, was attended by more than 300 local residents; members of the Amazon Defense Coalition, the group spearheading the lawsuit; a team of Ecuadorian doctors; national and international human rights observers; and Ecuadorian and foreign journalists. Texaco (now part of Chevron) is accused of dumping more than one billion gallons of toxic waste into the water table around San Carlos.
One of the community members who attended the inspection, Rosa Moreno, the San Carlos community nurse for the last 20 years, said: "We have been waiting for this day for 13 years. It is a day that will go down in history. Chevron and the court finally came to San Carlos to witness what we've been suffering as a result of Texaco's operations."
Initially, community members were prevented from entering the inspection site by members of the Ecuadorian army, which has close, contractual ties with Chevron; previously, the Ecuadorian military has been implicated in a pattern of intimidation against the plaintiffs and their legal team, prompting the intervention of United Nations human rights officials and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
After an hour of protest, the local people were permitted to enter the station and observe the inspection as the judge, Dr. German Yanez Ruiz, heard submissions from technical experts and local witnesses, some of whom told how Texaco discharged toxic waste into nearby streams for 20 years.
San Carlos' population of approximately 1,000 suffers some of the highest cancer rates in Ecuador. Peer-reviewed epidemiological studies point to Texaco's extensive toxic contamination from the miles of leaking pipelines, 30 wells, and more than 60 unlined waste pits that border San Carlos. According to the Amazon Defense Coalition, at least six types of cancer have been observed in the community.
In September 2004, a study in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health revealed that children under the age of 15 are three times more likely to contract leukemia in the area where Texaco operated than in other Amazonian provinces, and the risk of cancer in the San Carlos area is highest among children under the age of four. According to Moreno, two more community members, one of them a child, had been diagnosed with cancer in the run up to the inspection.
Petroleum engineer Bill Powers, of environmental consultancy E-Tech International, also presented the judge with a report detailing how Chevron's methods of collecting water and soil samples are deliberately calculated to minimize contamination readings and paint a false picture of the extent of Texaco's toxic disaster.
Meanwhile, Chevron's lawyers continued the company's troubling pattern of denying the well-established evidence of intimidation, including by the Ecuadorian military, against the plaintiffs. This harassment, including death threats, has been so serious that the Amazon Defense Coalition have called for trial observers from the respected, Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).
Amazon Watch Executive Director, Atossa Soltani, who attended the March 8 field inspection as an independent observer, said: "Chevron's response to the plaintiff's letter to the ICJ is yet another example of its profound insensitivity to the grave human rights concerns arising around this trial, in which Chevron is a defendant.
"It is irrefutable that Chevron lawyers have close ties to Ecuadorian military officials who have tried to corrupt the trial process and suspend a critical judicial inspection. It is also indisputable that there has been harassment of the plaintiffs' legal team, in several cases by self-identified members of the Ecuadorian military. This intimidation has included death threats, an attempted kidnapping, wire-tapping, video surveillance and the theft of legal files.
"Chevron built a luxury villa on a military base in the region long associated with human rights abuses, where its lawyers and technical team stay during the trial. It is also a confirmed fact that Chevron has a private contract with the Ecuadorian armed forces, including monetary payments by Chevron to military officials. The reality is that Chevron is in bed with human rights abusers and is using its connections with the Ecuadorian military to corrupt a trial process that it otherwise expects to lose."
Amazon Watch can provide media with copies of documents to prove these allegations, including:
- A contract between Texaco and the Ecuadorian army;
- A bogus report filed by an army officer to stop a court inspection of an allegedly contaminated
field site formerly operated by Texaco;
- An official army report into the bogus report mentioned above, confirming the details and proving
the bogus report was written at the request of Texaco executives;
- A written intervention from United Nations human rights officials expressing their concern to the
Ecuadorian government about the abuses around the trial;
- A petition for precautionary measures granted to the plaintiffs by the Inter-American Commission
of Human Rights, of the Organization of American States.
The Ecuador lawsuit alleges that from the 1960s to the 1990s, Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of formation water, a toxic by-product of oil drilling, across an area the size of Rhode Island. The dumping saved Texaco approximately $3 a barrel - and $4.5 billion in total - by avoiding the standard industry practice of re-injecting the waste into a well cavity where it would have less harmful environmental impact. These toxic waters have contaminated the water table in much of the area, on which local people rely for drinking and bathing water. The plaintiffs are demanding that Chevron now provide environmental remediation.