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.
What about the Indian kids dying of cancer? Texaco lawyer Rodrigo Perez asks, "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 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."
Even if the Indians can prove their case and win billions to clean up the jungle, collecting the cash is another matter. Chevron has removed all its assets from Ecuador.
But, this week, the political planet tilts toward the natives as Alberto Acosta takes office as President of Ecuador's new Constitutional Assembly. Newsnight catches up with Acosta - who gives Chevron a tongue-lashing. "Chevron is responsible for environmental and social destruction in the Amazon. And that’s why they’re on trial."
"He LOVES Chavez"
Little Ecuador does not seem like much of a match against big Chevron - whose revenue exceeds the entire GDP of the Andean nation. However, behind Little Ecuador is Huge Venezuela - and its larger-than-life leader, Hugo Chavez. "Acosta," complains one local pundit to the BBC, "loves - LOVES - Chavez."
And apparently, the feeling is mutual. That is, Chavez sees in Ecuador's new government, which won election campaigning to the tune of the Twisted Sister hit, We're Not Gonna Take it Anymore, a new ally in his fight with George Bush over control of Latin hearts and minds - and energy.
Chevron-Texaco's largest new oil reserves are in Venezuela; Venezuela stands with Ecuador; and Ecuador now stands with its "affectados," the Indians and farmers claiming the poisons in their bodies trace right back to the Texaco star.
Suddenly, the David-versus-Goliath story of Little Indians versus Big Oil is becoming part of the larger conflict between Uncle Sam and Uncle Hugo. The outcome is now a cliff-hanger. Indeed, Newsnight has learned that this month, Chevron will face a new legal challenge by Cofan attorneys before US securities regulators to investigate whether the company has fully disclosed to shareholders the massive potential legal liability from the equatorial Rumble in the Jungle.
Greg Palast's investigation of Chevron's oil drilling operations in the Amazon for BBC Television Newsnight is included in the DVD compendium Palast Investigates. Get a signed DVD or download the film.
Palast's investigations are supported in part by the Puffin and Cloud Mountain Foundations and the Palast Investigative Fund, a 501c3 charitable trust.