Communities Mobilize Against Chevron

The plaintiffs in the case against Chevron (Texaco) represent a diverse group of over 30,000 indigenous people and campesino farmers living in and around the area affected by Texaco's past oil operations. They are represented by a grassroots organization, the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia (Amazon Defense Coalition), which includes representatives from all of the local communities and indigenous groups. Its leaders include a number of long-time residents of the region who have worked for years as human rights and social justice advocates.

Groups outside Ecuador, including Amazon Watch, cooperate with the Frente to help the Ecuadorians affected by the oil contamination tell their stories, and when possible bring them to the United States to speak for themselves in front of Chevron executives, shareholders, and the concerned public.

The existence of this advocacy network, organized by the affected people themselves to keep their communities connected to developments in the trial, is an important accomplishment. It not only represents years of tireless activism in pursuit of justice and a clean environment, but a remarkable social transformation in Ecuador in recent years that has given a voice on the national political stage to people who were long voiceless – Amazonian peasant farmers and indigenous people.

For years local people in the Oriente region of Ecuador suffered the effects of oil contamination and the social upheaval brought by Texaco operations, without any recourse. The government had effectively no presence in the region; the notion that anyone might have gone to it to register a complaint against Texaco was inconceivable. Texaco itself was utterly unresponsive to grievances: those who complained to the company of ill health were treated dismissively. The communities founded around the oil operations, including the regional capital of Lago Agrio, and smaller towns such as Shushufindi, exhibited the endemic violence and social ills characteristic of extractive industry boom towns.

In this harsh environment, determined locals organized around issues of labor protection and human rights in spite of the fact that the notion of holding an international company legally accountable seemed remote and unachievable. Many figures active in the case against Chevron were working on human rights in the region as early as 1990. Luis Yanza, who directs the case against Chevron for the Frente, long ago trudged great distances through isolated jungle communities collecting and collating data to bring the case to court.

The Frente was formed in November 1993, the same month the lawsuit Aguinda v. Texaco was filed in New York. The case was initially brought to a U.S. court on behalf of the 30,000 affected Ecuadorians, but in 2003 moved to Ecuador by order of the U.S. court which in so doing also bound Chevron to abide by the Ecuadorian court's ruling. The Frente has always served to keep local communities abreast of and involved in the trial process.

[ Back to top ]