Chevron's Comment Dismissing Ecuador as "Little Country" Causing Concern in Latin America

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With pressure mounting from a major environmental lawsuit in Ecuador, Chevron rebuked one of its Washington lobbyists who suggested the U.S. shouldn't let "little countries" like Ecuador "screw around" with big companies by letting lawsuits proceed against them in foreign courts.

"Chevron has insulted all of Latin America with its arrogant comment," said Pablo Fajardo, an Ecuadorian lawyer fighting the legal case against Chevron in Ecuador's courts.

Newsweek, in both its U.S. and Latin American editions, recently quoted a Chevron lobbyist saying in reference to the Ecuadorian lawsuit that "we can't let little countries screw around with big companies like this – companies that have made big investments around the world."

According to an independent court-appointed expert, Chevron faces a liability of up to $16.3 billion after dumping 18.5 billion gallons of toxic waste into Ecuador's Amazon, causing an outbreak of cancers and contaminating the ancestral lands of five indigenous groups. The company also abandoned close to 1,000 open waste pits gouged out of the jungle floor.

Texaco operated more than 350 wells sites in Ecuador's Amazon region from 1964 to 1990. The company was bought by Chevron in 2001.

According to the Newsweek article – titled "A $16 Billion Problem"– once the amount of damages became known Chevron hired a team of Washington lobbyists to "squeeze" Ecuador by trying to have trade preferences cut for all of the Andean nations.

In response, Dave Samson, Chevron's General Manager for Public Affairs, published a letter in Newsweek that said the lobbyist's comments "do not reflect our company's view regarding the Ecuador case. They were not approved by the company and will not be tolerated."

Despite Chevron's backpedaling, indigenous leaders in Ecuador blasted the company. "We believe that Chevron's comment reflects a pervasive attitude within its culture that disrespects indigenous peoples and led to the destruction of our precious rainforest," said Humberto Piaguaje, a leader of the Secoya group.

"Chevron is a company that believes no court, whether in the U.S. or Ecuador, is good enough to hear evidence against it because its ultimate aim is to avoid legal accountability," he added.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit – who come from 80 Amazon communities – have accused Chevron of misleading the U.S. Congress by claiming a release Chevron received in 1995 from Ecuador's government covers private claims of the sort being used in the current lawsuit, when no court in either country has ever accepted this interpretation.

Leaders of the lawsuit plan to travel to Washington in September to press their case.

Ironically, most of the thousands of scientific sampling results relied upon by Ecuador's court-appointed expert was provided by Chevron. The plaintiffs have long said that Chevron's own evidence has proved the case against it because of the incompetence of its local counsel.

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