Chevron Corp. is engaged in a “smear campaign” against Ecuador as it tries to convince an arbitration court to stick Quito with the bill for cleaning up an environmental mess in the Amazon, the Ecuadorian environment minister told Efe here Friday.
Ecuador will not bow before the oil supermajor’s legal offensive, Lorena Tapia said in an interview with Efe on the sidelines of the U.N. Climate Summit in Warsaw.
Prominent figures from around the world are coming to Ecuador to see for themselves the damage done by Texaco - acquired by Chevron in 2001 - during the 26 years it extracted oil in the Amazonian provinces of Sucumbios and Orellana, she said.
In 2011, a court in Sucumbios ruled in favor of 47 plaintiffs representing 30,000 mainly indigenous villagers who accused Texaco of dumping billions of gallons of toxic drilling waste in a 480,000-hectare (1,850-sq.-mile) jungle area.
That decision was upheld on appeal in 2012 and again last week by Ecuador’s National Court of Justice, although the damage award has been reduced from $19 billion to $9.5 billion.
Texaco’s activity “took place when environmental regulation was weak in Ecuador and a government that defends the rights of Ecuadorians did not exist,” Tapia said.
The Amazonian plaintiffs initially sued Texaco in New York in 1993, but Chevron succeeded in having the case moved from the United States to Ecuador in 2003, four years before President Rafael Correa came to power in Quito amid voter anger at corruption and traditional politicians.
Chevron, however, later said the case had become politicized under the leftist Correa, a U.S.-educated economist, and that it could not receive a fair trial.
The California-based energy giant is currently suing Ecuador before The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague for exploiting the Amazon lawsuit against Chevron and failing “to uphold its duties under decade-old contracts.”
Chevron argues that under the terms of a 1997 investment protection accord between Washington and Quito, the Ecuadorian government should be responsible for paying the judgment in the Amazon case.
Though the company maintains Texaco was released from liability after performing remediation work in the mid-1990s, plaintiffs say the 1998 agreement with the then-Ecuadorian government did not preclude third-party claims.
They also point out that Chevron pledged back in 2003 to abide by whatever decision was handed down by the Ecuadorian courts.
Besides the arbitration case, Chevron also brought racketeering charges in U.S. federal court against the plaintiffs’ lawyers and consultants, accusing them of engaging in fraud and trying to extort a financial settlement.
“Chevron has lied,” Minister Tapia said. “We have seen ourselves obliged to intervene because Chevron has initiated a smear campaign against the government of Ecuador, discrediting our image, saying that we as a government have intervened in the (Sucumbios) trial.”
“This has made it necessary that we defend ourselves and tell the world what has really happened,” she said.