Nobel Laureate Human Rights Leader Denounces Court Decision Favoring Chevron in Argentina

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Argentina's Nobel Prize-winning human rights figure Adolfo Pérez Esquivel today accused that country's Supreme Court of betraying the interests of Argentine and other Latin Americans last week with its decision freeing the global oil company Chevron from an embargo aimed at compensating victims of oil and chemical spills in the Amazon region of Ecuador.

"Our Supreme Court has established case law against the people of Argentina and their Latin American brothers, who have resisted and acted to preserve their identity, their honor, their resources and their lives," said Perez Esquivel. He referred to the 20-year fight by indigenous people and subsistence farmers in the Lago Agrio drilling area where Texaco, now part of the Chevron Corporation, over two decades poisoned the soil and water in a region occupied by 30,000 people. He called on the court to revisit its finding. The statement is here.

"I wonder if Ricardo Lorenzetti, who chairs an International Council of Judges to protect the environment (as part of the United Nations Environment Program) knew when he signed that Texaco-Chevron threw about 16 billion gallons of toxic water to the estuaries and rivers of the Amazon, that they intentionally poured 650 000 barrels of oil and built 880 unlined pits that they then filled with oil deposits and waste, "said Perez Esquivel. Lorenzetti is the President of the Supreme Court of Justice, Argentina's highest court.

He criticized the other five justices who made up the majority in the 6-1 decision to free chevron from an embargo as a first step toward partially paying a $19 billion judgment by courts in Ecuador to compensate the victims for health and economic damages. The courts in Ecuador found Chevron liable in 2011 and sustained the finding at the appellate court level in 2012. Because Chevron removed its assets from Ecuador, the plantiffs sued in Argentina, Canada and Brazil to attach assets in each country. Argentina has a treaty with Ecuador that recognizes civil awards from the other country.

Perez Esquivel, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1980 for human rights bravery after being jailed and tortured for opposing the violence and murders of the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s, linked the damage chevron has done in Ecuador to its potential for doing similar harm in Argentina. Before the court decision the oil company said it would invest $1.5 billion in a partnership with YPF, the state energy company, to exploit Agentina's Vaca Muerta oil fields.

The government's attorney general, Alejandra Magdalena Gils Carbó, recently asked the Supreme Court to lift the embargo which the Argentine courts had entered in 2012 under the Inter-American Convention on Execution of Preventive Measures. Earlier Chevron had suggested that the embargo would make it impossible for the company to invest in Argentina.

Perez Esquivel said the court decision and investment opened the door for the multinational company to act against Argentine interests, but also emphasized that this ruling will "allow the government to hold through YPF, a contract with Chevron very unfavorable for Argentines."

"I wonder what she means when she speaks of democratizing access to justice," he said of the attorney general, noting that her recommendation to the court ignored legitimate social protests of indigenous peoples in favor of "corporations that violate our rights as humans," he said.

Argentina's supreme court held on June 4 that the freeze order was premature because the affected subsidiaries had not participated in the judicial process in Ecuador. Two courts in Argentina previously had ordered Chevron's assets with $2 billion placed under an embargo that prevented their removal or sale and placed into escrow 40 percent of the Chevron subsidiaries' earnings in the country. The litigation will continue in Argentina as well as in allied cases in Brazil and Canada.

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