Says Singer Helping Oil Giant Hide $16 Billion Liability from Shareholders
16 April 2008 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
San Francisco - Amazon Watch today blasted San Francisco consultant Sam Singer for letting himself be used by Chevron to wage a personal and unsubstantiated attack on two renowned Ecuadorian environmental activists who were in town to receive the prestigious Goldman Prize this week.
"Sam Singer should be ashamed of himself for helping Chevron do its dirty work against two environmental heroes who are trying to hold the company accountable for its blatant legal violations in Ecuador," said Atossa Soltani, the executive director of Amazon Watch, a San Francisco-based NGO that for nearly ten years has been working closely with Amazon communities affected by Chevron's pollution.
The activists, Pablo Fajardo and Luis Yanza, have been leading a lawsuit in Ecuadorian courts that is considered the largest environmental damages case in the history of Latin America. Both were being recognized this week by the Goldman Foundation, whose award is considered the "Nobel" prize of the environment.
Today, Fajardo and Yanza are being honored in Washington at a Goldman Prize ceremony at the National Geographic Society expected to draw several Washington dignitaries. With the other prize-winners, the pair are slated to have lunch with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday.
Chevron announced over the weekend that it had hired Singer, who fashions himself an expert in crisis communication, to deal with the growing controversy over the company's long-running Ecuador lawsuit. Earlier this month, an independent court-appointed expert found Chevron was responsible for extensive toxic contamination and might have to pay up to $16 billion in damages.
The court expert also found that Chevron was responsible for 428 excess cancer deaths to human exposure to oil-related contaminants in the area of the Amazon where it operated from 1964 to 1990. Indigenous groups claim they have been decimated by Chevron's practices, which include the dumping of 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways.
Chevron was ready to pounce when Fajardo and Yanza arrived in San Francisco a few days ago. The company initiated a series of attacks that claimed the winners were trying to scam the company, the same argument Chevron has been using against Nigerian plaintiffs suing in San Francisco over the oil company's alleged human rights violations in that country. Yesterday, Chevron bought a full-page ad in the Chronicle that attacked Fajardo as a fraud and blamed the problems on Ecuador's state oil company.
Fajardo, an internationally-renowned lawyer who grew up in abject poverty cleaning oil spills as a child, was recognized by CNN in December as a "Hero" and was featured in a positive 15,000-word article in Vanity Fair by award-winning writer William Langewische.
Fajardo and Yanza have received death threats in Ecuador during their work on the case, and the brother of Fajardo was murdered in 2004 in what observers think may have been a case of mistaken identity.
The damages claim in the Ecuador court is primarily to clean up 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater, laced with carcinogens, heavy metals and crude oil, dumped directly by Texaco (now Chevron) into a vast area of rainforest where tens of thousands of people live. Those communities are now suffering a public health crisis and are awaiting the judge's decision, expected later this year, on Chevron's liability.
Mr. Singer's corporate and non-profit clients have included the Alameda Alliance for Health, BART, the San Francisco 49ers, and Sony. On the website of his company, Singer claims expertise at handling corporate crises including "layoffs, bankruptcy, or an explosion at a factory".
Soltani said: "Sam Singer's fingerprints are all over this. The Bay Area business community should be aware that Singer has become a corporate hit-man for Chevron's campaign to misinform the public about the worst oil-related environmental disaster on the planet and hide its potential liability from shareholders.
"We refuse to let consultants like Singer operate with impunity in corporate-financed campaigns that try to cover up environmental problems or that deny human rights to vulnerable people in other countries. We are calling him out and informing his roster of clients of his leading role in designing and executing this hit-and-run attack for Chevron against two people who have been welcomed to the Bay Area."
Since taking on the case against Chevron in 2004, Fajardo has been subjected to death threats and the lawyers for the plaintiffs have suffered two mysterious robberies. Both the UN and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have publicly called for an end to the pattern of humans rights abuses against the plaintiffs. In a separate incident, Yanza's nine-year-old daughter suffered an attempted kidnapping.
The damages in Ecuador occurred when Texaco (now Chevron) was the sole operator of a consortium that built 356 wells that produced millions of barrels of oil over a 26-year period. The plaintiffs estimate that Chevron's limited attempts at clean-up applied to less than 1% of the actual damage, and even those efforts were ineffective.
To view syndicated cartoonist Mark Fiore's animated satire of Chevron management's mishandling of the company's Ecuador disaster, visit: http://youtube.com/watch?v=rdJ9W39HdDU