Spotlight on Chevron as Official Warns His Life is in Danger
19 December 2007 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
San Francisco - The office of a court-appointed expert tasked with calculating the damages against Chevron (formerly Texaco) for dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the Ecuadorian Amazon has been robbed of information relating to the case.
On the night of December 13-14, a laptop computer and files went missing from his office in Quito, the official, Richard Cabrera said. He added that the information in the files was vital to his work assessing the damages.
The burglary appears to be just the latest chapter in a pattern of harassment against Mr. Cabrera and his team since he began his work for the court. It comes in the final stages of a landmark, class-action environmental lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador. Amazon Watch Executive Director Atossa Soltani called for Chevron to launch an independent investigation into the apparent intimidation.
In the court-case, 30,000 impoverished inhabitants, many indigenous, of a vast area of the Ecuadorian Amazon are demanding an environmental remediation they have calculated at $6.1 billion. The region is racked by cancers, birth defects and miscarriages after Texaco operated there from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Now that the judge has heard the evidence against Chevron, it is Mr. Cabrera's job, on behalf of the court, to come up with an independent estimation of what the damages would cost.
He told Ecuadorian news portal Ecuador Inmediato: "The seriousness of this matter lies in the fact that this is not the robbery of just any office. Rather, it involves the office in which resides all the information compiled in the field and different statements, which would support the drafting of the report regarding the forensic work that I have been tasked with in the aforementioned lawsuit."
Last month, in a written submission to the judge, dated November 5, Mr. Cabrera told the court Chevron's public campaign against him: "... makes me presume that my life, the lives of my family and the lives of the technicians and other helpers working on the forensic investigation are in grave danger."
Mr Cabrera added:
- He and his staff had been followed and threatened;
- His telephone may be tapped;
- He needs police protection.
The burglary now places Chevron and its dubious defense strategy, in and out of court, in the spotlight. In the last three years, the plaintiffs' lawyers and leaders have suffered death threats, assaults, an attempted kidnapping and the theft of legal files.
The pattern of human rights abuses has prompted both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and United Nations' human rights officials to publicly intervene in the case, calling for the culprits to be brought to justice and for the Ecuadorian authorities to guarantee the plaintiffs' safety.
"This is a deeply disturbing incident," said Amazon Watch Executive Director Atossa Soltani. "We call on Chevron's global management in California to immediately make a public statement denouncing this apparent harassment and committing to supporting the integrity of the judicial process in Ecuador.
"We also call on Chevron CEO David O'Reilly to guarantee the safety of the plaintiffs and the court officials and to personally launch a transparent investigation to ascertain what involvement Chevron employees or agents may have had in this burglary. Anything less puts the commitment of Chevron's senior management to a lawful, ethical defense strategy in this landmark case in grave doubt."
The break-in comes two weeks after the communities' lead lawyer Pablo Fajardo made international headlines by being awarded CNN's new Hero award in the Fighting for Justice category. Fajardo was chosen from more than 7,000 nominations from 93 countries submitted by viewers to CNN over five months. The international cable news station established the Fighting for Justice category to recognize leaders "advancing the cause of civil or equal rights".