Rex Weyler, author, journalist, and a co-founder of Greenpeace, slammed oil giant Chevron for its attack on the indigenous victims of the company’s pollution in the Amazon rainforest
6 October 2017 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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"In fifty years of environmental work," said author and Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler, "I have never before witnessed a corporation treat it's victims with the hostility and disrespect shown by Chevron against the indigenous communities in the Amazon."
Weyler is referring to the latest tactic by Chevron to avoid paying a court judgement for its pollution in the Ecuadorean Amazon. Three levels of Ecuadorean courts confirmed that Chevron's pollution led to destroyed lands, polluted rivers and water supplies, cancer, birth defects, and other health impacts on the indigenous and farming communities. The courts ordered Chevron to pay $9.5 billion for clean-up and reparations, but the company has refused, so far, to pay. Under interest provisions in Canadian law, the judgment is now worth $12 billion.
"Chevron's current tactic to avoid payment," said Weyler, "is to ask a Canadian court to impose a million-dollar cost order on its impoverished victims. Chevron wants the people they harmed with toxic pollution to pay for the company's own court costs. This corporation and their lawyers appear to have no moral compass."
In a recent article on the Greenpeace International website Weyler wrote, "After perpetrating what is probably the worst oil-related catastrophe on Earth – a 20,000 hectare death zone in Ecuador, known as the 'Amazon Chernobyl' – the Chevron Corporation has spent two decades and over a billion dollars trying to avoid responsibility. Chevron has probably spent more money trying to weasel out of this case than any corporation in world history." Chevron has since sold its assets in Ecuador to avoid seizure, left the country, and threatened the victims with a "lifetime of litigation" if they pursued compensation. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs have brought their case to Canada, where Chevron holds assets, for collection. A hearing in this case takes place at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, October 10 in Toronto at the Ontario Court of Appeal, 130 Queen Street West.
"This tragic story reveals almost unthinkable corporate irresponsibility, intimidation, and arrogance, not just by Chevron executives, but by their 60 law firms, 2,000 lawyers and paralegals, six public relations firms, squads of private investigators, thugs and bribed witnesses," saidWeyler.
Weyler will attend the hearing on Tuesday with former Canadian Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine and Grand Chief Edward John. "If we sometimes wonder why significant ecological progress appears so monumentally difficult," said Weyler, "this blood-curdling case will give us some clues."
"Chevron’s attempt to impose their own legal costs on impoverished indigenous communities is a cynical attempt to block access to justice for some of the most vulnerable people on Earth," said Weyler, "Chevron’s maneuver is designed to obtain impunity for one of the world’s worst corporate polluters. Canadian courts should have no part of this charade."
Canadian indigenous leaders support Ecuadorean victims of Chevron pollution
Prominent Canadian indigenous leaders, recently visited Ecuador with Weyler and the plaintiffs lawyers, and have promised to support the Ecuadorean victims. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine and Grand Chief Edward John have announced an alliance among Canadian and Ecuadorian indigenous communities.
"Canada’s judges need to keep the courthouse open for impoverished groups as well as the rich and powerful," said Fontaine, "They need to decide whether they are on the side of a major corporate polluter or on the side of access to justice for the people whose lives the company grievously harmed in ways that I have seen with my own eyes. I would like to think the days of aboriginal groups being denied access to the courts in Canada are long since over."
The indigenous plaintiffs from Ecuador have won a unanimous Canada Supreme Court decision backing their enforcement effort in Canada. Chevron for years has "tried to block the forward progress at every turn in Canada," said Aaron Marr Page, a lawyer for the Ecuadorian communities.
In response to the environmental claims against Chevron, originally filed 24 years ago in New York, Chevron has spend an estimated $2 billion to hire 60 law firms and 2,000 lawyers in an effort to avoid paying compensation for their pollution in the Amazon. Three layers of courts in Ecuador found the company dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest, decimating indigenous groups and causing an outbreak of cancer and birth defects among the indigenous and farming communities.
Grand Chief Ed John also urged Canadian courts to allow the affected Ecuadorians to litigate their enforcement claims without financial barriers. "Courts in Ecuador have decided that Chevron should pay $9.5-billion to Indigenous communities for massive damages it caused to their lands in the Amazon," said Grand Chief John, a lawyer and one of the drafters of the United Nations Declaration On the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. "Chevron has taken steps to avoid paying for the damages including selling its assets in Ecuador. Indigenous peoples are seeking redress in Canada’s courts. However Chevron is demanding that Canadian courts should force Ecuador Indigenous peoples pay for its legal costs incurred in Canada. Canadian courts should reject Chevron’s demands and proceed with the issue of ensuring Chevron pays the $9.5-billion which Ecuadorian courts have determined as proper compensation for remediation and other measures to be undertaken for the safety and health of Indigenous communities."
Weyler, Fontaine, and Ed John recently toured the area of the Amazon where Chevron operated under the Texaco brand from 1964 to 1992.
"When Chevron lost the case in Ecuador, its CEO and top managers squelched its Ecuador debt like common criminals," said Weyler. "The Canadian courts cannot let Chevron get away with these sorts of dirty tricks. If Canadian courts approved this outrageous motion by Chevron, the company could use this cost order to block enforcement of the Ecuador judgment. This would amount to effective impunity for any corporate polluter.
Despite the unanimous decision in 2015 from Canada’s Supreme Court giving the green light to enforce the judgment in Canada, Chevron has tied up the case in technical issues, claiming that its wholly-owned subsidiary in Canada should not be held accountable.
Luis Yanza, a longtime Ecuadorian community leader and Goldman Prize winner, thanked the Canadians for offering support to the affected communities.
"We really appreciate the solidarity of our Canadian brothers and sisters," said Yanza, who helps coordinate the 80 affected indigenous and farmer communities who led the case into court in 1993. "The principles underlying this case affect indigenous peoples in Ecuador and Canada and indeed throughout the world.
"For us, it is mind-boggling that one of the wealthiest fossil fuel companies on the planet is now trying to penalize some of the poorest people on the planet with a costs payment for trying to collect money the company owes them and refuses to pay," added Yanza. "That just seems backwards."
"I have witnessed many corporate crimes in fifty years of environmental work," said Weyler, "but I have never before witnessed a corporation treat the victims of its crimes with such disdain, as Chevron and their lawyers have exhibited."
"Canada has a treaty relationship with Ecuador, that compels Canadian courts to honour the Ecuadorean decision awarding compensation to Chevron's victims. Those victims have a right, under Canadian and international law, to collect that judgement in Canada. Chevron is now trying to bully Canadian courts just as they have bullied their victims in Ecuador. The Canadian judicial system, however, remains independent, and should not be intimidated by Chevron's corporate power."