Suggested U.S. Government Shouldn't Allow "Little Countries" To "Screw Around" With Big Companies
Amazon Defense Coalition
13 August 2008 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Washington, DC -- With pressure mounting from a major environmental lawsuit in Ecuador, Chevron has publicly rebuked one of its Washington lobbyists who had suggested "little countries" like Ecuador shouldn't be allowed by the U.S. government to "screw around" with large companies by letting lawsuits proceed against them in foreign courts.
The anonymous lobbyist was quoted in Newsweek article about Chevron's high-pressure campaign in Congress to cut Ecuador's trade preferences for allowing the lawsuit to proceed in Ecuador's courts. A court-appointed Special Master in Ecuador recently submitted a 4,000-page study that found that Chevron faces a liability of up to $16.3 billion for dumping 18.5 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways, causing an outbreak of cancers and the decimation of five indigenous groups.
Scientific experts have called the area of the rainforest where Texaco (now Chevron) operated from 1964 to 1990 the "Amazon Chernobyl". Ironically, much of the evidence of contamination relied on by the Special Master - which includes tens of thousands of sampling results verified by independent laboratories -- was provided by Chevron's technical team from sites that had been operated exclusively by the company.
For nine years Chevron's lawyers had pressed a U.S. federal judge in New York, where the case was originally filed, to send the matter to Ecuador over the objections of the plaintiffs. When the U.S. judge granted Chevron's motion in 2002, the company voluntarily submitted itself to jurisdiction in Ecuador and is likely bound by any ruling.
According to the Newsweek article - titled "A $16 Billion Problem" and written by Michael Isikoff - once the damages assessment became known Chevron hired a team of A-list Washington lobbyists to "squeeze" Ecuador by convincing Congress to cut free trade preferences for the four Andean nations (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia). The trade preferences expire on December 31 unless Congress votes to extend them.
Newsweek reported that Chevron's lobbying team on the issue includes Wayne Berman, national finance director of the McCain campaign, former Senators Trent Lott and John Breaux, and Mac McLarty, who served as Chief of Staff in the Clinton White House.
In a letter to Newsweek signed by Dave Samson, Chevron's General Manager for Public Affairs, the company said "comments attributed to an unnamed lobbyist working for Chevron do not reflect our company's view regarding the Ecuador case. They were not approved by the company and will not be tolerated."
The comment by Chevron's lobbyist was blasted by an indigenous leader in Ecuador, who accused the company of trying to undermine the rule of law.
"We believe that the arrogance reflected in the anonymous comment accurately reflects a pervasive attitude within Chevron's culture that led to the destruction of our precious rainforest," said Humberto Piaguaje, a leader of the Secoya indigenous group.
The comment also "confirms how Chevron cares little for the rule of law in any country where it might be held accountable, be it Ecuador or the U.S.," he added. "No court that actually hears the evidence appears to be good enough for Chevron."
Leaders of the 80 communities and five indigenous groups behind the lawsuit plan to travel to Washington, DC in September to meet with members of Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative. The leaders have accused Berman of misleading Congress by claiming a release Chevron received in 1995 from Ecuador's government covers private claims of the sort being used in the current lawsuit, when in fact it does not.
No court in either the U.S. or Ecuador ever has accepted Chevron's expansive interpretation of the release.
Indigenous leaders also charge that Chevron's so-called remediation (for which the limited release was given before any work was actually done) covered less than 1% of the actual damage and in any event simply amounted to dumping dirt over open waste pits. Chevron's remedial work has been the subject of a fraud investigation in Ecuador.
"Not a single court in the world ever has agreed with Chevron's interpretation of this release, but that has not stopped Chevron's lobbying team from playing judge and jury to the U.S. Congress," said Pablo Fajardo, the Ecuadorian lawyer for the plaintiffs.