Understanding Recent Developments in the Landmark Chevron-Ecuador Case
After more than 17 years of litigation, the monumental class action against oil giant Chevron (formerly Texaco) for widespread environmental devastation in the Ecuadorian Amazon is nearing an end. In December 2010, the judge presiding over the trial in Ecuador announced the formal close to the evidentiary phase, and a verdict is widely expected to be delivered by the Fall of 2011. In January, both Chevron and the plaintiffs filed their final arguments in the case.
In an award-winning 60 Minutes report on the case, a Chevron spokesperson admitted that the company expects an adverse judgment in Ecuador. Mountains of evidence—including thousands of contamination samples taken by Chevron—prove the company is responsible for oil contamination in the rainforest region of northeastern Ecuador called the Oriente. In April 2008, a court- appointed expert released a report recommending that Chevron pay $27.3 billion in damages. It's useful to compare this figure with estimates of BP's liability for the Gulf Spill, which some analysts suggest could exceed $50 billion, for the estimated 185 million gallons of crude spilled. Over the course of its operations, it is estimated that Texaco spilled or deliberately dumped the equivalent of 345 million gallons of crude in Ecuador's rainforest.
Expecting to be hit with a massive verdict against the company in Ecuador, Chevron has poured immense resources into a scorched- earth legal and public relations strategy designed to exhaust the plaintiffs' resources, portray the case and the courts as corrupt, and lay a basis for evading enforcement of the judgment. Instead of dealing with the indisputable evidence of its responsibility, the company has instead launched a strategy of intimidation, distraction, and delay. There are major implications to Chevron's latest offensive, not only for Ecuador's indigenous people and campesino communities, but also for international human rights and environmental law, and movements for corporate accountability.
This briefing paper provides a brief background on this historic legal battle, followed by an outline of some of Chevron's strategies to evade accountability for one of the world's worst ecological disasters.