Chevron Amazon Disaster on 60 Minutes/UPDATE with clip
We're in the home stretch for the legal proceedings against the largest environmental disaster of this new century. Some tribal people in the Ecuadorian Amazon have got a strong case against the giant Chevron Corporation of the Estados Unidos for damages of up to 27 billion dollars.
Hold this image. Some barefoot indigenous folks who never drove a car, who haven't even seen many cars, are being led by a heroic Ecuadorian lawyer in the case of his life, hell, in the case of Big Oil's life and all of the trans-national oil companies' lives. Because later this year, when the mallet comes down, natural life for the planet - Pachamama, as empowered by the Ecuadorian constitution - will have stepped from the shadows to take her place alongside humanity, and humanity itself down to the most anonymous forager in the steaming jungle will have finally won out over the greed, arrogance and power of some of the planet's most abusive corporate elites.
This is not hyperbole.
And oh yes, "little" countries once derided by Big Oil lawyers as insignificant will have won a huge victory, especially Latin American countries.
Here's a wicked parody of the arrogance that was the hallmark of the Bush/Big Oil era.
The spill of 18 billion gallons of oil sludge in a sensitive area over several decades - and sensitive is an understatement - is said to dwarf the impact of the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound. Nothing should minimize the horror that went down in Alaska, or Exxon's cowardly evasion of responsibility there, but in terms of every biological measure the Amazon spill is exponentially greater. The jungle contains a much denser fabric of species, much of it still unknown to science. Hundreds of square miles of it have been affected.
Ecuador has oil under its jungle. They once let American oil companies drill for it. Texaco played fast and loose where nobody could see the shortcuts they took, and if they did, so what? Over three decades they simply dumped their waste in jungle streams and in over 600 pits. They couldn't get away with it in North America but they could in South America. That's just how it was.
Then Chevron bought Texaco and inherited all of its liabilities. There had been some problems in Ecuador but Texaco had spent 14 million basically staging a cleanup and Chevron thought they were free of that legacy.
But the tribes that were affected brought a case, citing abnormal cancer rates and fouled water. By 2003 Chevron was having some problems with their case in the US, what with pesky facts getting in their way, and asked that the trial be moved to Ecuador. They figured they could pretty much buy a favorable verdict there. But the outrage against George Bush had instilled a climate of resentment that bribe money couldn't dissolve. Chavez in Venezuela was arousing populist sentiment in South America. Changes were coming. Chevron asked the Bushies to kill trade with Ecuador until this little misunderstanding in the jungle was cleared up. A good old embargo in the mold of the perpetual war on the Cuban people might bring the stubborn latinos around.
But a guy named Obama was on it.
In February, 2006, Sens. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois and Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont sent a letter to US Trade Representative Rob Portman urging him to ignore an apparent campaign by Chevron to exclude Ecuador from trade negotiations until the Ecuadorean government shuts down the lawsuit. "While we are not prejudging the outcome of the case, we do believe the 30,000 indigenous residents of Ecuador deserve their day in court," the senators wrote.
Ecuador's next president, Rafael Correa, was a socialist, not a ruling class conservative on the take from Uncle Sugar.
Correa, who took office in 2007 and has frequently tangled with oil companies, has said that Texaco's "savage exploitation" of oil "killed and poisoned people." He has also called Texaco's cleanup a charade, in which the company simply covered polluted sites with dirt, and labeled Chevron's Ecuadoran attorneys "sellouts."
And when he came into office he led the move to install the rights of nature in the new constitution.
Correa is watching the trial closely. He has a keen eye for foreign interference. Recently he expelled two Americans who were apparently manipulating the Ecuadorian police forces, calling them spies. (The US State Department's silence toward this accusation was deafening.) Chevron's lawyers, sensing the coming defeat, began to behave like the remainders of the Republican Party post Obama's inauguration: really crazy - insulting the prosecution, picking fights and defending sketchy representations of evidence from the spill sites.
The evidence of pollution is overwhelmingly stark and scientifically verified. As for the torts over human suffering I don't know the details of the health claims, but everyone expects there to be a sizeable ruling against Chevron, perhaps in the Fall. Chevron announced May 1 that they'll "appeal any adverse ruling" and refuse to pay up, maybe stretch it out for years, even though they don't believe the penalty will be too much. Really?
Thanks to groups like Amazon Watch, the trial and its backstory have been seeping through the net. I tried to get the local Portland public broadcasting to allow some debate on the case, seeing as how viewers have to endure Chevron propaganda ("Join us...") every night when we turn on the news, but I was told that its call-in show Think Out Loud only deals with "local" events. There Sarah Rothenfluch said,
The Chevron story really seems to be an international story, with few local ties, so I am afraid we will have to take a pass this time.
That's not true. They recently did a show about the Electoral College, which last time I checked doesn't have a campus in downtown Portland. Oregon's own Earl Blumenauer (the US Congressman for Portland's district) was actively involved in getting Chevron to cease their attempts to kill trade with Ecuador. Few local ties? Uh, let's count the number of Chevron gas stations in Portland. I found 19 in the Portland area. There are likely over a couple hundred in the state. These are ties that have local economic, ergo socio/political, implications, Sarah. You may not have been around when Stewart Brand, the publisher of the Whole Earth Catalogue, said, "Think Globally, Act Locally." I highlight this aphorism to remind us all that "all politics is local," as a decidedly non-countercultural figure, Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, once proclaimed. You cannot get any more local than up to 19 company gas stations in every town in your state. So there is relevance, no?
Luckily, PBS has stations with more guts, such as Boston's, which isn't afraid of offending its corporate donors. And to PBS's credit, last week NPR aired a national feed segment on the lawsuit. The likely high point of this media flurry will be the 60 Minutes piece, billed as "the biggest environmental crisis you never heard of."
MUST SEE: 60 MINUTES Segment on the Chevron case (CBS), Sunday, May 3, 7PM
WASHINGTON, May 01, 2009 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- -- link
The CBS investigative news show 60 Minutes has announced it will air a segment this Sunday about Chevron's complicity in the contamination of pristine rainforest deep in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador. The highly acclaimed news show is expected to focus on the sub-standard practices used by Texaco, now owned by Chevron, for oil exploration from 1964 to 1990 when it extracted more than one billion barrels of oil from a pristine area of rainforest that was once home to six thriving indigenous groups.
that was once home to six thriving indigenous groups.