New Internationalist

Chevron found guilty in Ecuador… again

A court of appeals in Ecuador has upheld the ruling of a lower court, confirming what 30,000 Ecuadorians suffering from Chevron’s oil pollution in the Amazon and activists the world over have known for decades: Chevron is guilty.

There is no question of Chevron’s responsibility for dumping some 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The only question, at this point, is: What ludicrous talking point will Chevron roll out this time to explain away its refusal to pay to clean up its mess?

So far, Chevron spokespeople have claimed everything from ‘Oil isn’t toxic’ to ‘Just because we bought Texaco in 2001 doesn’t mean we have to clean up its mess’ to ‘I have make-up on and there’s naturally occurring oil on my face, that doesn’t mean I’m going to get sick.’ They have vowed to fight against paying to clean up Ecuador until hell freezes over, and then ‘fight it out on the ice’. They’ve breathlessly reported that a ‘good Samaritan’ had exposed a bribe accepted by the Ecuadorian judge presiding over the case – even though they knew that good Samaritan was actually a Chevron contractor and there was never any bribe in the first place.

As you can see, Chevron is desperate and will say anything to evade taking responsibility for its toxic legacy in Ecuador. What’s also clear is that the company could use a little help in crafting its next PR offensive. Why don’t you help them by coming up with an absurd talking point or two?

Chevron has executed a brilliant legal and PR strategy for nearly two decades, but its house of cards is toppling. Evidence recently surfaced of the company’s secret labs used to hide dirty soil samples from Ecuadorian courts. Earlier this year, an appeals court in the US threw out the injunction barring enforcement of the $18 billion judgment against the company. That same week, diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks revealed that Chevron had been lobbying Ecuadorian officials to make the lawsuit go away, and just a couple weeks ago an attempt to buy its way out of liability for its pollution in the Amazon by funding Ecuador’s Yasuni-ITT Initiative blew up in the company’s face.

The real reason Chevron won’t take responsibility for its mess in Ecuador, of course, is unbridled greed and a complete disregard for human life. More than 1,400 Ecuadorians have died from Chevron’s oil pollution in the Amazon, but it’s all about money for the Big Oil behemoth. It’s certainly not that the company can’t afford to pay.

Late last year, Chevron announced third quarter profits of $7.8 billion, bringing its haul in just the first three quarters of 2011 to $21.7 billion.

But wait, you might say. Putting all concerns about human rights and justice aside, isn’t there a purely economic argument to be made for Chevron not to pay? Isn’t Chevron just doing what’s right for its shareholders?

The answer is: definitely not. If the company agrees to pay the $18 billion judgment, its stock will certainly take a hit. But when BP was ordered to pay $20 billion to compensate victims of its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the company not only agreed, but sold off some assets to raise the funds, and its stock recovered. At this point, it’s clear that the real threat to Chevron’s finances is continuing to NOT pay for cleanup in Ecuador. At least, that’s the way oil industry analysts and a growing number of Chevron shareholders see it (see here and here).

Continuing to refuse to pay is also jeopardizing Chevron’s future prospects in countries around the world which fear the company will pollute their land, poison their people, and then refuse to clean up after itself. Look no further than this Australian News broadcast for confirmation that Chevron is already meeting this type of resistance in countries where it seeks to expand its operations.

Shareholders are right to be concerned: Chevron’s recklessness and disregard for the impacts of its business operations are having a real impact on its future prospects. The company faces criminal charges and fines of up to $11 billion in Brazil for negligence that led to a recent oil spill off the coast of Rio de Janeiro and Chevron’s bungled response. If convicted, the company will be permanently banned from doing business in the South American country.

So, it’s clear the company should pay, if not because it actually wants to resolve the human rights and environmental crisis that has been ongoing for decades in the Ecuadorian Amazon, then because it’s really the best thing for the future of Chevron. But the company always bungles its excuses, and could really use your help in crafting its next absurd talking point. Go to this page, pick your favourite Chevron spokesperson, enter your ludicrous excuse, and we’ll post it to the ‘Excuse Gallery’ on ChevronThinksWereStupid.org.

This blog is reproduced, with permission, from the Rainforest Action Network's Understory website.

Mike G is an activist, writer, and musician who lives in San Francisco. He is the online campaigner for Rainforest Action Network’s Global Finance & Energy and Change Chevron campaigns. Mike can be found on Twitter: @MikeG2001

MORE FROM NEW INTERNATIONALIST ON CHEVRON:

Chevron in Ecuador: pay, baby, pay (21.02.11)

David vs Goliath (in Ecuador, 01.06.10)

Chevrong (in Nigeria, 12.12.08)


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