Ecuadorian Villagers Urge U.S. State Department Official to Demand Chevron Pay $9.5 Billion Pollution Judgment

High-level Diplomat Roberta Jacobson Told Not to Lobby for Chevron During Visit to Quito to Meet Government Officials

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Quito, Ecuador – Rainforest indigenous groups are urging a top-level official from the U.S. State Department to demand Chevron abide by the rule of law and pay its $9.5 billion Ecuador pollution liability when she makes a surprise visit to the Andean nation's capital this week.

The villagers are also demanding that the official, Roberta Jacobson, reject the State Department's longstanding practice of lobbying top Ecuadorian government officials on Chevron's behalf, said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for dozens of rainforest communities who won the judgment against the oil company. Jacobsen is the Assistant Secretary of State overseeing U.S. foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere.

"We are respectfully calling on Ms. Jacobson to abide by the rule of law in Ecuador during her visit and not interfere in the community-based lawsuit that has been used to hold Chevron accountable for its poisoning of our ancestral lands," said Fajardo. "Any effort by the State Department to bypass court proceedings and help Chevron via political or diplomatic means would be completely inappropriate, violate human rights norms, and be contrary to the U.S. foreign policy goals of promoting democracy and civil society institutions."

Fajardo also called on the U.S. government to "reverse course" in Ecuador and demand that the oil giant pay the judgment, which was issued in 2011 after 18 years of litigation where Chevron repeatedly tried to sabotage the proceedings by filing frivolous motions and threatening judges who did not rule in its favor.

"Through this historic case, the U.S government now has the opportunity to signal to the people of Latin America that it stands for the rule of law rather than on the side of one of its mighty oil conglomerates that has repeatedly violated the law in our country by dumping toxic waste," he said. "It can do this by demanding that Chevron and all U.S. companies meet their legal obligations in Latin America and cease efforts to undermine local courts that are the only place impoverished persons can go to access justice."

Jacobson announced just Friday that she will be in Quito this week to meet with Ecuadorian government officials at a time when Chevron is working furiously to undermine the pollution judgment, which has been affirmed unanimously by two separate appellate courts in the South American nation. Chevron admitted during the trial to dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste, decimating indigenous groups and farmer communities who suffer from high rates of cancer and other oil-related diseases.

(For a summary of the overwhelming evidence against Chevron, see here; for a video about Chevron's deliberate dumping in Ecuador, see here; for a 60 Minutes segment on the case, see here; for an article in Rolling Stone magazine about Chevron's unethical litigation tactics, see here; for a summary of a complaint filed against Chevron CEO John Watson before the International Criminal Court, see here.)

Because Chevron refuses to pay the judgment despite forcing a transfer of the case from U.S. federal court to Ecuador in 2001, the villagers have filed lawsuits to seize company assets in Canada, Brazil and Argentina. Canada's Supreme Court will hear argument on the Canadian enforcement action next month.

Fajardo said the concerns of the rainforest communities are grounded in a public history of political interference in the case by the State Department and the U.S. embassy in Ecuador. Chevron continues to pay huge consulting fees to several former U.S. government officials to try to pressure Ecuador's elected leaders to quash the quest of the country's citizens for environmental justice, he said.

Chevron's paid lobbyists on the case include Mac McLarty, the former special envoy to Latin America under President Clinton; Alexander Watson, a high-level State Department official under President Clinton and a former U.S. ambassador to Peru; Carla Hills, the U.S. Trade Ambassador under President Bush; and Richard Holwill, a former U.S. ambassador to Ecuador during the Clinton Administration. The company also has used Mickey Kantor, the former U.S. Trade Representative during the Clinton Administration.

The U.S. embassy in Quito also has a history of trying to assist Chevron's efforts to corrupt the legal proceedings in Ecuador. Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks demonstrate that two U.S. ambassadors to Ecuador (Linda Jewell and Heather Hodges) actively consorted with Chevron officials to deny the claims of the Ecuadorian communities.

Fajardo said examples of U.S. government collaboration with Chevron to undermine the ability of the Ecuadorian villagers to obtain a fair trial include:

  • In 2006, as the scientific evidence in the Ecuador trial mounted against Chevron, the company launched a furious lobbying campaign to cut U.S. trade preferences for Ecuador to "punish" the government for allowing its citizens to bring the litigation in their own courts – even though it was Chevron that had insisted the trial take place in Ecuador. A letter signed by then-Senator Barack Obama helped to block that effort, which if successful could have cost Ecuador an estimated 300,000 jobs.
  • In 2008, facing an imminent multi-billion dollar liability in Ecuador based on overwhelming evidence of its misconduct, Chevron began to work closely with the U.S. embassy in Quito to design "social programs" for the affected communities that would be funded by the company. In exchange, the company sought a commitment by Ecuador's government to kill off the legal case.
  • Chevron also convinced a former U.S. ambassador to Ecuador (Linda Jewell) to help the company pressure Ecuador's government to dismiss a criminal indictment against Chevron lawyer Ricardo Reis Veiga for overseeing a sham remediation of the company's contamination. For more details and links to the relevant diplomatic cables, see here.
  • In October 2010, a Chevron-paid consultant met at the State Department with Arturo Valenzuela, then the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, to craft a $700 million package of "debt relief" for Ecuador's government. The plan was to use the State Department as an intermediary between Chevron and Ecuador President Rafael Correa to broker a deal that would – in exchange for the "debt relief" -- lead to a government "release" that would kill off the private lawsuit. Under the plan, the State Department would hold out the benefit of "improved relations" with the U.S. government if Correa could go along with Chevron's plan.
  • In the 1990s, Chevron officials ghostwrote a letter to a U.S. federal judge that was signed by Ecuador's then-ambassador to the U.S., Yvonne Baki. The letter argued that the case brought by the villagers – which originally had been filed in New York -- should be tried in the South American nation over the objections of the indigenous plaintiffs. Chevron eventually moved the case to Ecuador by promising to abide by any adverse judgment, a promise which it has since violated. Baki later reappeared in 2010 trying to broker a $1 billion Chevron "donation" to the country's Yasuni national forest in exchange for a dismissal of the environmental case, according to reports.
  • Chevron also hired a former U.S. ambassador to Ecuador during the Clinton Administration, Richard Holwill, to lobby Ecuador's government for a politically-engineered dismissal of the case in the early 1990s. For a Holwill memo to Chevron about the effort to kill off the case, see here.

Fajardo called on Jacobsen to disclose whether she or any staff members has had contact with Chevron officials or any of the company's numerous consultants about the case prior to, or during, her trip.

Separately, more than 250,000 American citizens have sent messages to several U.S. Senators urging them to stop Chevron from trying to ignore various court orders that it clean up its Ecuador contamination. That effort was organized by the Sierra Club, one of the country's largest environmental organizations. In addition, 43 U.S. civil society organizations – including Greenpeace, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Amazon Watch, and the Sierra Club – have called on Chevron CEO John Watson to stop using U.S. racketeering laws to try to silence critics of the company's scorched-earth litigation strategy.

In a short announcement on the State Department's website, Jacobsen said the purpose of her trip was to reinforce "bilateral cooperation" between Ecuador and the U.S. on education, trade, security, cultural patrimony, and clean energy. She said she also planned to meet with civil society and media representatives. Since arriving in Quito, she has posted messages on social media about the beauty of Quito's historic district and how she has enjoyed the nation's traditional food.

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