2 June 2015 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
New York, NY – The coalition of indigenous and farmer communities in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest who won a historic $9.5 billon environmental judgment against Chevron issued statements today lauding Karen Hinton as a "hero" for her work as a communications specialist for the past seven years.
Hinton, a native of Mississippi, is leaving the campaign of the indigenous groups to join the administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as press secretary. She previously worked for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo when he was a cabinet-level official in the Clinton Administration and for years had been president of her own public relations firm, Hinton Communications.
In a statement, Ecuadorian indigenous leader Humberto Piaguaje lauded Hinton as a "true hero" for her efforts to help the indigenous communities obtain a clean-up of Chevron's oil contamination on their ancestral lands. In 2013, after 11 years of legal proceedings in Chevron's chosen forum of Ecuador, the country's Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the oil giant had deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest, decimating indigenous groups and causing an outbreak of cancer.
The court, in imposing a $9.5 billion judgment, also found that Chevron abandoned almost 1,000 toxic waste pits filled with oil sludge that continue to contaminate soils and groundwater. Because the oil company has refused to pay the penalty, the affected communities have filed legal actions to seize Chevron's assets in Canada and Brazil – actions that Hinton helped to publicize alongside Maria Eugenia Garces, the lead communications strategist for the communities in Quito.
"On behalf of the thousands of indigenous and farmer inhabitants of Ecuador's rainforest, we wish to offer our heartfelt thanks to Karen Hinton for her profoundly important service to our campaign for justice," said Piaguaje, a leader of the Secoya tribe who also represents the organization of indigenous and farmer communities impacted by the contamination, known as UDAPT (Union of Persons Affected by Texaco).
"Karen Hinton will forever live in the lore of all of the communities in the deepest recesses of the Amazon jungle of Ecuador," he added. "She is a true hero to thousands of people."
Steven Donziger, the longtime U.S. legal advisor to the Ecuadorian communities who worked closely with Hinton, issued the following statement:
"We have learned over the last several years that Karen is much more than an excellent communications specialist. Karen set the bar as a strong advocate. She has a deep passion for justice, is a courageous voice for the downtrodden, and works as a top-notch strategist who is equally comfortable dealing with both farmers in the rainforest and world leaders. Those whose humble lives Karen touched will not easily forget her. Her work will continue to inspire as the Ecuadorian communities press forward to force Chevron to comply with the rule of law and pay for a comprehensive remediation of the contaminated area."
The environmental group Amazon Watch, which also worked closely with Hinton, said it is "incredibly grateful for the excellent work and commitment Karen Hinton has demonstrated for the communities affected by Chevron's environmental destruction in Ecuador.
"Her dedication and support for this epic struggle for justice against one of the world's most powerful corporations helped to achieve one of the most important victories in the history of the environmental and corporate accountability movement," said Paul Paz y Mino, an official with the group.
Since 2007, Hinton traveled on numerous occasions to the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador to assist the affected communities increase the visibility of the impact of Chevron's toxic dumping on their ancestral lands. Among the major media outlets to expose Chevron's wrongdoing in Ecuador during Hinton's tenure are 60 Minutes, Rolling Stone, and Vice News.
Those she accompanied to the region included U.S. Representative James McGovern (D-MA), who in 2008 wrote a scathing critique of Chevron's toxic dumping for then President-elect Barack Obama; human rights activist Kerry Kennedy, who wrote an article accusing Chevron of committing cultural genocide in Ecuador; Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who toured the devastated area in 2012; Ben Barnes, the former Lt. Governor of Texas and a major lobbyist; and Wayne Gibbens, a retired lobbyist for the oil and gas industry and a Board Member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Hinton for years worked closely with Barnes and former U.S. Representative Tom Downey to block a major Chevron effort to pressure the Bush and Obama Administrations to cancel bilateral trade preferences for Ecuador. Chevron had hired former Clinton Administration officials Mack McLarty and Mickey Kantor to lobby the U.S. Trade Representative to cancel the preferences to retaliate against Ecuador's government for letting its private citizens bring the lawsuit, even though it was Chevron that had insisted the trial be heard in the South American nation and had accepted jurisdiction there.
Hinton also published dozens of blogs under he own name exposing Chevron's distortion of facts, manipulation of evidence, and attempts to bribe officials in Ecuador. These blogs appeared largely on The Huffington Post, the Chevron Pit, and other websites. Earlier this year, she worked with the environmental group Amazon Watch to disclose internal Chevron videos that show company field technicians secretly finding contamination at the company's former well sites in Ecuador and plotting ways to hide it from the court.
Hinton also played a major role in working with award-winning photojournalist Lou Dematteis to publish his photos of Chevron's victims via social media. See here for one such article, called "Chevron Says These People Don't Matter".
Hinton also served as the personal spokesperson and advisor to Donziger, a New York-based human rights attorney who has represented the Ecuadorian communities since the inception of the case in 1993. Chevron has used six public relations firms and at least 60 law firms to target Donziger and his colleagues in an avowed "demonization" campaign to distract attention from the company's $9.5 billion liability in Ecuador. Hinton recently helped Donziger place a lengthy article on a legal website explaining the case against Chevron and responding to some of the company's allegations.
As a result of her efforts, Chevron targeted Hinton as an alleged "co-conspirator" in what it claimed was a "racketeering" conspiracy headed by Donziger in Ecuador. Hinton and Donziger repeatedly exposed the allegation as a smokescreen designed to distract attention from the company's significant setbacks in various courts in recent months. (For background on how Chevron's defenses are crumbling in court, see here and here.)
Just this week, in her distinguished style, Hinton published a farewell column in The Huffington Post again outlining the legal findings against Chevron and thanking those on the team who have stood up to the company's intimidation campaign.
Among those thanked: the Ecuadorian lawyers Pablo Fajardo, Julio Prieto, and Juan Pablo Saenz; Ecuadorian community advocates Piaguaje and Luis Yanza, the latter a winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize; lawyers from the Patton Boggs law firm who worked for years to help the communities before their partners forced them to stop under pressure from Chevron; former Donziger law associates Andrew Woods and Laura Garr; and Ecuadorian press spokesperson Maria Eugenia Garces, among others.
"Seven years ago this month, I traveled to Ecuador's rainforest to learn about one of the world's largest environmental oil disasters," Hinton wrote in the farewell column. "It was a life-changing trip.
"I wish I were a good enough writer to describe the experience and do it justice," she added. "Words and pictures are all that I have ever had to fight Chevron's efforts to deny justice to the 30,000 or so people forced to live with five decades of extremely toxic oil contamination left by Texaco's exploration."
In reference to Chevron CEO John Watson and General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate, Hinton offered a challenge: "Will they help? Or, will they become known as the two men who spent at least $1 billion in legal fees to block assistance to the poorest and most disenfranchised people in Ecuador?"
Piaguaje's full statement regarding Hinton on behalf of the UDAPT is as follows:
"On behalf of the thousands of indigenous and farmer inhabitants of Ecuador's rainforest, we wish to offer our heartfelt thanks to Karen Hinton for her service to our campaign to hold Chevron accountable for its crimes and fraud in Ecuador. When Chevron tried to corrupt the trial in Ecuador, Karen was always there to advise us on how to expose the company's wrongdoing so the process could move forward. The success of our media work was due in great part to Karen's brilliant and tenacious advocacy. It was also an essential component of our strategy to ensure that the historically marginalized peoples of the Amazon were able to secure a fair trial in the face of Chevron's inappropriate, unethical, and illegal efforts to undermine the court proceedings. Karen Hinton will forever live on in the lore of all of the communities in the deepest recesses of the Amazon jungle of Ecuador. She is a true hero to thousands of people."
The full statement from Amazon Watch is here:
"Amazon Watch is incredibly grateful for the excellent work and commitment Karen Hinton has demonstrated for the communities affected by Chevron's environmental destruction in Ecuador. Her dedication and support for this epic struggle for justice against one of the world's most powerful corporations helped to achieve one of the most important victories in the history of the environmental and corporate accountability movement. Despite Chevron's many personal and professional attacks on Karen for being an outspoken critic she never once backed down. We thank her for her tireless efforts and countless contributions to this campaign over the course of many years."