Indigenous Group Sues Chevron For Defamation Over Bogus Military Report

Alleges Chevron Gave Ecuadorian Army False Information to Halt Environmental Trial

Amazon Watch

Amazon Watch
14 November 2007 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Paul Paz y MiƱo: +1 510.281.9020 x302,

Lago Agrio, Ecuador - Members of the indigenous Cofan people of the Ecuadorian Amazon filed a lawsuit yesterday against Chevron for allegedly pressuring a member of the Ecuadorian military to produce an intelligence report that defamed their reputation and caused the suspension of a critical field inspection in a larger, landmark environmental lawsuit against the oil major.

Accompanied by representatives from other indigenous groups and dressed in traditional regalia, about 75 Cofan, from the community of Dureno, in the eastern Ecuadorian province of Sucumbios, filed the suit in the courthouse of Lago Agrio, the rainforest town where the environmental lawsuit is being heard.

It alleges that Chevron orchestrated the intelligence report to stop the court's scheduled field visit at Guanta on October 19 and 20, 2005. The visit, which did eventually take place several months later, found high levels of toxic contamination left behind by operator Texaco (now part of Chevron).

The plaintiffs' lead attorney in both cases, Pablo Fajardo, said: "The Cofan and campesinos who were victims of these false accusations have brought this lawsuit asking the judge to oblige Chevron to repair this damage to their reputation. We hope for a decision from the court which will oblige Chevron to respect indigenous peoples and their right to live with dignity."

The lawsuit alleges that the Ecuadorian Ministry of National Defense's own official inquiries into the incident found that a Chevron security employee, "Captain" Manuel Bravo, pressured Major Arturo Velasco, the head of intelligence of the Rayo Battalion, to produce the report. The report was then used by Chevron lawyer Adolfo Callejas to substantiate a false claim to the judge that the Cofan planned to kidnap Chevron representatives during the Guanta inspection. Callejas had insisted that the alleged lack of security required the cancellation of the inspection. Major Velasco was reprimanded by the military for his actions.

Anthropologists in fact view the Cofan as a peaceful people, who have never responded violently towards Chevron's employees and agents, despite the latters' trespassing on Cofan land and abusing the rights of local Cofan communities as Texaco drilled for oil and ravaged the natural environment of the Cofans' ancestral territories.

"In all the years that Texaco operated on our territory, we were humiliated and abused by the company. But despite the tremendous rights violations we suffered, we never resorted to violence. We never kidnapped Texaco workers. Now, for Chevron to have falsely accused us of harboring violent intentions underscores the company's disrespect for our culture, and their desperate tactics to stop this trial by any means necessary," explained Cofan leader Emergilldo Criollo.

The Cofan lawsuit alleges that the military report contained false information that had actually been supplied to the Ecuadorian military by Chevron itself, and that Chevron's lawyers acted in bad faith in submitting the erroneous military report as evidence to the court. Major Velasco had been told that the report would only be used for "internal use".

It follows a much larger class-action lawsuit against Chevron in which 30,000 Cofan and other rainforest dwellers are suing the US oil giant to make it clean up 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater which it dumped directly into the Amazon while it drilled for oil from the 1960s to the 1990s. The environmental remediation has been costed at $10 billion. That lawsuit is now expected to conclude in 2008.

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