Amazon Defense Coalition
28 February 2008 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Paul Paz y Miño: +1 510.281.9020 x302, firstname.lastname@example.org
Quito, Ecuador - Representatives of thousands of Ecuadorians suing Chevron are charging the oil giant with "engaging in a pattern of extrajudicial attacks" on a court-appointed special master who is preparing a damages assessment against the company in a historic multi-billion dollar environmental trial in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest.
Chevron's alleged behavior includes personal harassment and an ad hominem advertising campaign, coinciding with the mysterious theft of case-related files from the court-appointed special master's office, according to the Amazon Defense Coalition, the organization that represents an estimated 30,000 plaintiffs in the case, including the members of five Amazon indigenous groups.
"Chevron is using extrajudicial influence to undermine the one independent expert who is preparing to tell the truth about Chevron's damages in Ecuador," said Julio Prieto, a lawyer on the case, which has been tried in the town of Nueva Loja since late 2003.
Prieto added that Chevron is "engaging in a pattern of vicious, defamatory and unethical attacks" on the special master, an Ecuadorian geologist and environmental expert named Richard Cabrera. Cabrera is working with a multi-disciplinary team of experts to assess the damages, which plaintiffs said could be the most extensive ever for an environmental case, possibly exceeding $10 billion.
A court-appointed special master is designated by a judge to enforce a court order, in this case an order to produce a damages assessment. Attacks against special masters by lawyers are considered attacks on the court itself and often result in disciplinary action.
Chevron's attacks against Cabrera include the purchase of full-page advertisements in Ecuadorian newspapers suggesting Cabrera is a criminal. Cabrera also has been stalked by a team of 25 Chevron lawyers and private security agents while he does his fieldwork near Chevron's former production sites in the rainforest. Press releases put out by Chevron mock Cabrera for his middle name, "Stalin."
Most recently, Chevron has filed a motion with a separate Ecuadorian court seeking to depose Cabrera, an action which the plaintiffs consider illegal. Cabrera has also been the victim of a mysterious robbery of his office from where his files on the case were stolen.
Chevron's harassment became so grave that the trial judge ordered security agents to keep Chevron representatives away from Cabrera so he could complete his field work without interference or fear of intimidation.
The latest charges follow a series of incidents in 2005 and 2006 that called into question Chevron's commitment to a fair trial. These included the creation of a false military report written by Chevron lawyers claiming they were going to be kidnapped, death and kidnapping threats against community leaders active in the lawsuit, and the separate robbery of case-related materials from the law offices of Alejandro Ponce, who works with the plaintiffs.
Chevron also admitted in 2006 that it was making payments to Ecuadorian military officials in exchange for "protection" services during the trial. Several uniformed Ecuadorian soldiers have accompanied Chevron's lawyers to judicial inspection sites, carrying their bags and technical equipment while peering menacingly at members of the local population.
The lawsuit asserts Chevron deliberately dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic waste in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador and abandoned hundreds of open-air toxic waste pits in an area roughly the size of Rhode Island. Thousands of lab tests show the pits have leached toxins into the soil and groundwater, causing cancer rates in the region to spike and threatening the survival of three indigenous groups.
"The evidence clearly documents how Chevron created a cancer pit in the Amazon to save money in its production costs," said Pablo Fajardo, another Ecuadorian lawyer who himself has been the subject of death threats during the trial.
"For Chevron, it's all about the dollars," added Fajardo. "Chevron doesn't seem to care that our people are dying because of the contamination it deliberately created. The concept of human rights and due process are not considerations with this kind of mentality."
Chevron claims that it is no longer responsible for the damage because it turned over the oil fields to Ecuador's government after operating them exclusively from 1964 to 1990. It also claims there no is risk to human health from its dumping, a contention hotly disputed by dozens of independent scientists.
The class action case began in U.S. federal court in 1993, but Chevron has since filed hundreds of motions that have delayed the outcome for years.
Cabrera was appointed special master by Judge German Yanez last July after the parties submitted a combined 250,000 pages of evidence, including 54,000 chemical sampling results. He is expected to turn over his report to the court in late March.
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