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Indigenous Ecuadorians Take Their Struggle Against Chevron to International Courts

The environmental lawsuit against Chevron is heading for international courts, which means wherever Chevron is operating stated the plaintiffs attorney Pablo Fajardo in a press conference in Quito, Ecuador on January 4.
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The environmental lawsuit against Chevron is heading for international courts, which means wherever Chevron is operating stated the plaintiffs attorney Pablo Fajardo in a press conference in Quito, Ecuador on January 4.

On the day prior to the announcement, Tuesday, January 3, the Provincial Appellate Court of Ecuador ruled that the 2010 order against Chevron would stand and that the company had to pay $18.6 billion to remedy the environmental and health related damages caused by the firm’s oil spills and pay $860 million to the indigenous communities most affected by the disaster. Part of the order had required Chevron to issue a public apology, which the company has not issued to date. The ruling also specified that the plaintiffs can start collecting the fees associated with the lawsuit.

“We are going to initiate the actions of execution in the different continents and countries where Chevron is active, and we are going to the different courts throughout the world to urge that Chevron pay for the crimes they committed in the Amazon,” said Fajardo, who won a Goldman Environmental Prize in 2008 for his work on behalf of the mostly indigenous and rural plaintiffs.

“We are not going to back down nor pardon one cent from Chevron for the crime committed,” Fajardo continued. “This is not the end, more years of work remain for us still so that the company pays for this environmental, social and cultural crime.”

While Chevron did not respond to a request for comment, according to the Ecuadorian judicial system the company could further appeal the decision to the National Court of Justice of Ecuador.

In a press release issued after the January 3 ruling, Chevron stated, “Today's decision is another glaring example of the politicization and corruption of Ecuador's judiciary that has plagued this fraudulent case from the start…Chevron does not believe that the Ecuador ruling is enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law."

Chevron maintains a page on their website that details some of the company’s responses to the suit as well as stating that Chevron went to another international court as part of their legal strategy. (This could become the third general venue for the lawsuit – it was first filed in 1993 in the U.S., and then Chevron successfully argued that the case should be heard in Ecuador, where proceedings began in 2003.)

“On February 9, 2011, an international panel of arbitrators presiding in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ordered the Republic of Ecuador to "take all measures at its disposal to suspend or cause to be suspended the enforcement or recognition within and without Ecuador of any judgment" against Chevron in the Lago Agrio case pending further order or award from the international tribunal,” said the post on the Chevron site.

In a separate interview on January 13, Fajardo noted that Chevron did have the right to appeal but that if they do, “we will defend ourselves.”

“We have the conviction that finally we will win this battle,” Fajardo asserted. “If we reach that point where they repair the damages, the indigenous nationalities of Sionas, Secoyas, and Cofanes Wuaoranis can live in an environment of respect, devoted to their cultural traditions.”

Fajardo noted that he did not have any further information about the Arbitration case that Chevron filed in The Hague.

“But it must be made clear,” Fajardo said, “that everything Chevron is doing today are attempts to deny the right of access to justice for the plaintiffs. Chevron has a hugely racist attitude, they believe that the indigenous and country people of the Amazon do not have a right to justice, that they don’t have the right to a healthy environment or to a life of dignity. Everything that Chevron is doing are acts to deny these rights to our brothers and sisters.”

The people that Fajardo was referring to are the approximately 30,000 indigenous and rural farmers living in the northern Amazonian region of Ecuador, which is home to Fajardo as well. In 2008, the Goldman Prize Committee described the background of the case this way:

“By the company's own estimates, it spilled nearly 17 million gallons of oil into soils and waterways, and another 20 billion gallons of formation waters…To this day, the region’s 30,000 inhabitants primarily drink water that has been deemed contaminated by experts involved in the case. According to the plaintiffs, many of the waste pits continue to pollute the rivers, streams and groundwater. In some areas, all water sources are contaminated and few fish survive in the rivers. The plaintiffs claim that prolonged exposure to toxic substances has led to a serious health crisis, and caused people living in such proximity to pollution to suffer dramatically increased incidences of skin disease, respiratory ailments, reproductive disorders and a cancer rate seven times higher than the rest of the country’s population. They also claim that the regional devastation includes more than two million acres of deforestation.”