Plaintiffs Lawyer Chosen from 7,000 Candidates in Global Poll
26 November 2007
San Francisco - Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the 30,000 plaintiffs in the landmark environmental lawsuit against Chevron (formerly Texaco) in Ecuador has been named as one of three finalists in the Fighting for Justice category of CNN's Hero awards.
Fajardo was chosen from more than 7,000 nominations from 80 countries submitted by viewers to CNN over five months. The international cable news station established the Fighting for Justice category to recognize leaders "advancing the cause of civil or equal rights".
In total, 18 finalists will be reviewed by CNN's "blue ribbon panel" of 15 world leaders who will then choose the winners in each of six categories. The winners will be unveiled in a live global telecast, "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute", hosted by Anderson Cooper and Christiane Amanpour, on December 6 on CNN/US, CNN International and CNN en Espanol.
Fajardo, 35, has been spearheading the legal team for the plaintiffs for several years, as they demand an environmental remediation from Chevron estimated to cost $6 billion. During nearly three decades of drilling in a vast, inhabited area of the Ecuadorian Amazon, Texaco dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater. Now, impoverished local communities are suffering a wave of cancers, stillbirths, birth defects and other severe health problems.
Born into extreme poverty, Fajardo only became a lawyer in 2004, after first working as a manual laborer, including in the oil fields of his hometown of Lago Agrio, while completing a correspondence law degree.
During that time, Fajardo became an increasingly outspoken community leader, opposed to the devastation wrought by Texaco on his people and their once pristine rainforest lands. Now, in his first trial, Fajardo, who travels around by bicycle, finds himself confronting a team of highly-paid, extremely experienced lawyers contracted by Chevron.
Down the years, Fajardo appears to have paid a high price for his pursuit of justice. One of the friends who helped to pay for him to go through law school was murdered as was one of Fajardo's brothers, a Christian minister. Neither murder has been resolved by the Ecuadorian authorities.
"I can't think of a more worthy recipient of this award," said Amazon Watch Executive Director Atossa Soltani. "Pablo is a true hero, committed with every bone in his body not only to achieving justice for his community, but to establishing a legal precedent that human rights must be respected by the extractive industries wherever they operate worldwide."