Amazon Defense Coalition
8 October 2017 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
On the eve of a critical court hearing in Canada, Greenpeace Co-founder and author Rex Weyler harshly criticized Chevron for showing "hostility" and "disrespect" toward Amazon indigenous groups in Ecuador to whom the company owes a $9.5 billion environmental judgment after admitting to dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste onto their ancestral lands.
"In fifty years of environmental work," said Weyler, "I never before have witnessed a corporation treat it's victims with the hostility and disrespect shown by Chevron against the indigenous communities in the Amazon.
"Chevron now wants the very indigenous communities it harmed with toxic pollution to pay for the company's own court costs in Canada," added Weyler. "This corporation and its lawyers appear to have no moral compass."
(A court hearing in Canada over Chevron's attempt to block enforcement of the environmental judgment in Ecuador will take place at 10:00 a.m. Tuesday, October 10 in Toronto at the Ontario Court of Appeal, 130 Queen Street West. A public show of solidarity in support of the Ecuadorian indigenous groups is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in front of the courthouse.)
Weyler, who recently toured Chevron's contaminated sites in Ecuador with Canadian national Indigenous leaders Phil Fontaine and Grand Chief Ed John, is referring to the latest attempt by the oil major to avoid paying a 2011 court judgment for its pollution in the Ecuadorean Amazon. Three levels of Ecuadorean courts – in the country where Chevron insisted the trial be held and where it had accepted jurisdiction -- 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. Chevron has no assets in Ecuador.
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."
Ecuador's highest court in 2013 denied a Chevron appeal and ordered the company to pay $9.5 billion for clean-up and reparations, but the company has threatened the indigenous groups with "a lifetime of litigation" if they persist in enforcing their judgment. The indigenous groups now have been litigating for five years in Canada trying to seize Chevron's assets to force compliance with Ecuadorian law under what are normally routine foreign judgment enforcement procedures.
Ecuadorian indigenous groups already have a unanimous decision from Canada's Supreme Court in 2015 backing their effort, but Chevron has hired four major Canadian law firms to try to erect a series of procedural and technical roadblocks to delay resolution of the case. Chevron used at least 60 law firms and 2,000 lawyers to try to kill off the case in the United States and Ecuador, to no avail.
Chevron's latest attempt to impose a million-dollar costs order on the impoverished indigenous groups is retaliation for efforts to collect the environmental judgment – a request called "unconscionable" by Aaron Page, a longtime lawyer for the Ecuadorians. If the Chevron costs order is approved, the enforcement case in Canada likely will end given that the indigenous groups have no funds to pay it, said Page.
"Chevron's latest request that the very people it poisoned must now pay the company's court costs not only is preposterous, it is unconscionable," said Page, a human rights lawyer who has represented the affected communities since 2005. "Chevron's indigenous victims live in huts or makeshift houses with no running water while the company pays its Canadian lawyers $1,000 per hour to try to harass them. Now Chevron wants to charge the indigenous groups to keep the courthouse doors open in Canada."
National Chief Fontaine also urged Canadian courts to reject Chevron's request for a costs order.
"Canada's judges need to keep the courthouse open for impoverished groups as well as the rich and powerful," said Fontaine, who three times was elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Canada, which represents 640 nationalities. "They also 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 were grievously harmed by Chevron in ways 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."
Under interest provisions in Canadian law, the judgment against Chevron is now worth $12 billion or a fraction of the $50 billion BP has paid out for its much smaller and accidental spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Chevron, which operated in Ecuador under the Texaco brand from 1964 to 1992, was found by Ecuador's courts to have deliberately discharged 15 billion gallons of benzene-laced to toxic oil waste into waterways as a cost-saving measure.
Ecuador's courts also found that Chevron abandoned roughly 1,000 open-air toxic waste pits gouged out of the jungle floor, many with pipes that flow into nearby streams relied on by the local population for drinking water. The pits still contaminate groundwater and rivers and streams, according to findings by Ecuador's courts which reviewed 64,000 chemical sampling results and 105 expert evidentiary reports. Here is a summary of the overwhelming evidence against Chevron.
"Canada has a treaty relationship with Ecuador, that compels Canadian courts to honor the Ecuadorean decision awarding compensation to Chevron's victims," added Weyler. "Those victims have a right, under Canadian and international law, to collect that judgment 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."
"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," said Weyler.
Weyler will attend the hearing on Tuesday with former National Chief Fontaine and other supporters of the Ecuadorian indigenous groups. "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," added 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."
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," added Yanza. "That just seems backwards."