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RFK's Daughter Backs Ecuadoreans in Chevron Suit

Associated Press
9 October 2009

Robert F. Kennedy's daughter sided with Ecuadorean Indians and farmers in their $27 billion environmental lawsuit against oil giant Chevron, saying Thursday after visiting former Amazon drilling sites that the case compares unfavorably to the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill.

Kerry Kennedy, who toured parts of the Amazon province of Sucumbios by invitation of the plaintiffs to witness ecological damage, promised to lobby hard back in the United States.

"When I return home, we'll mobilize the human rights and environmental communities," said Kennedy, who is president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. "We'll call on political leaders in the United States to investigate Chevron and its practices."

The plaintiffs, who say they represent 30,000 inhabitants of the region, are seeking damages for cleanup and to compensate for illnesses they attribute to oil-drilling contamination from operations carried out by Texaco.

Chevron Corp., which bought Texaco in 2001, says it was absolved of any liability by a 1998 agreement with Ecuador's government that followed a multimillion-dollar cleanup.

The plaintiffs contend the cleanup was a sham and say the agreement doesn't protect Chevron from claims by third parties.

Chevron must be held responsible and compensate the local populations, Kennedy told reporters in Ecuador's capital, Quito.

"Exxon Valdez was an accident," she said. "What happened here in Ecuador was done on purpose."

In a statement, Chevron invited President John F. Kennedy's niece to meet with its representatives and learn the company's side.

Chevron accused the Ecuadorean state oil company Petroecuador of being responsible for the damage, not Texaco. Petroecuador was a partner in the drilling consortium Texaco operated before pulling out in the 1990s.

Chevron has long claimed it can't get a fair trial in Ecuador. It contends the judicial system is corrupt and recently released tapes it claims implicate the judge in the case in a bribery scheme.

Judge Juan Evangelista Nunez denied any wrongdoing but nevertheless recused himself — likely delaying a ruling that had been expected later this year for a case initially filed in 1993 in a New York court.