Cofan Indian leader Emergildo Criollo.. (Images courtesy of Greg Palast)
Chevron Petroleum Corporation is attempting to slither out of an $8 billion judgment rendered yesterday by a trial court in Ecuador for cancer deaths, illnesses and destruction caused by its Texaco unit.
I've been there, in Ecuador.
I met the victims. They didn't lose their shrimp boats; they lost their kids. Emergildo Criollo, chief of the Cofan natives of the Amazon, told me about his three-year-old. "He went swimming, then began vomiting blood." Then he died.
And, then, I met Chevron-Texaco's lawyers.
When I showed Texaco lawyer Rodrigo Perez the epidemiological studies tracing childhood cancers to their oil, he sneered and said, "And it's the only case of cancer in the world? How many cases of children with cancer do you have in the States, in Europe, in Quito? If there is somebody with cancer there, [the Cofan parents] must prove [the deaths were] caused by crude or by the petroleum industry. And, second, they have to prove that it is OUR crude - which is absolutely impossible."
The Texaco man stated, "Scientifically, nobody has proved that crude causes cancer."
President Barack Obama has said that the British-based BP must pay for all the damage it caused in the Gulf.
I've just returned from the Gulf and I can tell you, it's grim; it's terrible. But compared to the damage caused by Chevron-Texaco, the Gulf blow-out is a picnic.
So now, Mr. President, will you stand by your words and tell this renegade, deadly US corporation to pay for the damage they have done?
At the end of my meeting with the oil company lawyers, I showed them a document in which Chevron-Texaco directed its underlings to destroy evidence.
The oil company men said they would get back to me with an "explanation." It's been three years, and I'm still waiting.
There is another insidious game being played by Chevron. The oil company's ethically-challenged law firm, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, has attempted to block the Cofan and other victims of Chevron from having legal counsel. They have even convinced some pinhead judge to block collection of Ecuador's judgment because harming Chevron would be a blow to "global business."
It would - and it should.
Read the original investigative report, below.
"War Paint and Lawyers: Rainforest Indians versus Big Oil"
Greg Palast, BBC Newsnight
Monday 26 November 2007
BBC Television Newsnight has been able to get close-in film of a new Cofan Indian ritual deep in the heart of the Amazonian rainforest. Known as "The Filing of the Law Suit," natives of Ecuador's jungle, decked in feathers and war paint and heavily armed with lawyers, are filmed presenting a new complaint in their litigation seeking $12 billion from Chevron Inc., the international oil goliath.
It would all be a poignant joke - except that the indigenous tribe is suddenly the odds-on favorite to defeat the oil company known for naming its largest tanker, "Condoleezza," after former Chevron director, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
For Newsnight, reporter Greg Palast, steps (somewhat inelegantly) into a dug-out log canoe to seek out the Cofan in their rainforest village to investigate their allegations. Palast discovers stinking pits of old oil drilling residue leaking into drinking water - and meets farmers whose limbs are covered in pustules.
The Cofan's leader, Emergildo Criollo, tells Palast that when Texaco Oil, now part of Chevron, came to the village in 1972, it obtained permission to drill by offering the Indians candy and cheese. The indigenous folk threw the funny-selling cheese into the jungle.
Also See Amy Goodman's Interview with Greg Palast:
Criollo says his three-year son died from oil contamination after, "He went swimming, then began vomiting blood."
Flying out of the rainforest, past the Andes volcanoes, Palast gets the other side of the story in Ecuador's capitol, Quito. "It's the largest fraud in history!" asserts Chevron lawyer Jaime Varela reacting to the Cofan law suits against his company. Chevron-Texaco, Varela insists, cleaned up all its contaminated oil pits when it abandoned the country nearly 15 years ago - except those pits it left in the hands of Ecuador's own state oil company.