By Jeanine Benca, Valley Times
28 May 2008
SAN RAMON - As business leaders were gathered inside Chevron's corporate headquarters for the company's annual shareholders meeting today, dozens of activists outside the gates protested the company's alleged environmental and human rights abuses in Ecuador and other parts of the world.
"I'm here to tell Chevron that what they've done to my community is a disaster," Mercedes Jaramillo, of Ecuador, said tearfully.
Dressed in hazmat suits and chanting, "Chevron, get off it - it's all about your profit," groups accused Chevron of destroying indigenous communities in the Ecuadorean Amazon. The company faces a $16 billion lawsuit for allegedly failing to clean up billions of gallons of disease-causing toxic wastewater in the jungle.
Other representatives hailed from Nigeria, where Chevron is charged with providing company helicopters for Nigerian military to attack protesters, and Burma, where the company has been accused of helping to finance the country's brutal military. Also among the protesters were Richmond residents opposed to Chevron's proposed expansion of its Richmond refinery.
"For us in Richmond, the question is really about the specifics of the expansion plan. We don't want it to cause more pollution in the community or increase greenhouse gases," said Dr. Jeff Ritterman, a cardiologist who has been leading the opposition.
Security was tight - only those with documentation proving they owned Chevron shares were granted admittance to the shareholders meeting. Protesters and reporters waited anxiously for attendees to come outside and speak to the crowd.
As they exited, several people said the human rights and environmental issues "dominated" the meeting inside.
Jaramillo, who spoke through an English translator, was one of about a half dozen international visitors who had hoped to address the board. Jaramillo told reporters after the meeting that she had been denied a chance to speak.
"(Chevron leaders) insulted me because I'm poor and because I'm from Ecuador," she said, crying.
She said she and her family members suffer from myriad "skin and bone" diseases - problems she believes stem from their proximity to an oil pit in the Amazon.
"Everything we eat, drink is contaminated, and it's starting to show on the outside of our bodies now," Jaramillo said.