Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Holding Chevron accountable, from Richmond, CA to Ecuador, SA!

"Standing Together to hold Chevron Accountable: A visit to Ecuador to build Solidarity"

2013-09-25 Message from Mayor McLaughlin:

As many of you may know, I was in Ecuador last week at the invitation of the Ecuadorian government to view the contaminated areas of the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest by Chevron-Texaco.  
As we continue to stand strong for the rights of people to hold corporations responsible for the damage they do in the world... It's true that corporations have massive power, money and influence, but all that pales when compared to the power of people when organized!
At the invitation of the Ecuadorian government and President Rafael Correa, on Sept 15th I left for a deeply informative, one-week, all expense paid trip to Ecuador to see the Chevron-Texaco contaminated areas of the Ecuadorian rainforest.  Accompanying me on my trip were Doria Robinson, reporting for La Voz (a new community newspaper []) and John Geluardi , a local reporter from the East Bay Express. 
Our trip coincided with a campaign launched by President Correa called “The Dirty Hand of Chevron” to expose the massive damage done in the Amazon Rainforest by Texaco (now Chevron).    While I had seen pictures and heard testimonies of the environmental and health damage, seeing this contamination up close made a profound impact on me.  This catastrophe occurring over 26 years of Texaco’s dumping crude oil and toxic wastewater into the rainforest is unconscionable.  Crude oil was dumped in the rivers and streams and on the roads. 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater was dumped into the rainforest.  All this is quite extensively documented.  There currently exists nearly 1,000 unlined pits with toxins seeping into the groundwater and migrating into the rainforest as we speak.   I visited one of the pits and experienced first-hand the sludge that fills these pits left by Texaco.    Texaco (now Chevron) clearly disregarded the environment and simply disposed of its toxic products in the most cost-saving way…..just tossing them into the rainforest, its rivers, streams and roads!  As a result, the indigenous community who drank the water, bathed in the rivers, cooked their food and washed their clothes with the water, as well as fished from the rivers and streams, suffered monumentally and continue to suffer from cancers, birth defects and miscarriages.
We in Richmond also know all about the “dirty hand of Chevron” and the impact of their pollution on our community and the impact of their repeated “incidents” like the explosive fire that occurred last August 6 (2012).  
It is for that reason that part of my trip centered on networking with the affected community members of Ecuador.  I made contact with the Mayors of Lago Agrio and Shushufinda, both areas deeply impacted.  I proposed that we set up a sister city relationship between Richmond and the affected areas of the Ecuadorian rainforest, and these mayors were excited to join with Richmond is such an endeavor.   I also met directly with the Union of Affected Peoples (who are suing Chevron) and talked about creating an international union of people affected by Chevron internationally.  From Richmond to Ecuador to Nigeria to Brazil and to Argentina, there is a great swelling of people who have felt the “dirty hand of Chevron.”  It is in our interest to join together and say “enough is enough!”  Chevron needs to take responsibility for its actions the world over.
I also had the opportunity to speak directly with those indigenous community members who have sued Chevron and won an 19 billion  dollar ruling from the Ecuadorian courts.   Rather than pay up for the damage they have caused to the largest rainforest on the planet, which sustains us all,  Chevron is contesting that ruling in the court system in New York.    Chevron runs from its responsibility again and again.  In Richmond, they have called our local lawsuit against them (as a result of the fire last year) “without merit.”
But we know better.  We know what the local regulatory agencies and the Chemical Safety Board have released.  Chevron has been fined millions of dollars recently for dozens of violations  of criminal willful neglect at their Richmond refinery and they continue to have 3,000 clamps in place rather than replacing pipes with the best technology available.
When I returned to the office on Monday after my trip to Ecuador, I was greeted with a package from Chevron stating that they knew about my trip, and once again stating misinformation and downright lies about their actual liability.   They misstate information from a recent Abitration Tribunal to make their case.  However, the tribunal does not state what Chevron says it states.   Chevron deliberately attempts to confuse the matter presenting the Ecuadorian lawsuit as a suit between the Ecuadorian State and Chevron and saying a previous Ecuadorian administration signed an agreement releasing Chevron-Texaco from liability.  What they fail to say is that the lawsuit was filed by individuals of the indigenous, affected communities - independent of the State of Ecuador - and NO RELEASE of liability is considered, let alone decided, in the findings of the Tribunal in regard to this case.   Chevron needs to step up to the plate and comprehensively clean up the rainforest, the lungs of the planet, and compensate the Ecuadorian indigenous communities whose life-style and health has been compromised dramatically. 19 billion dollars is not even enough to turn around the biggest environmental catastrophe on the planet (larger than the Exxon/Valdez and the BP Gulf Coast catastrophes).  But rather than “own up” and begin the clean-up, Chevron would rather shift responsibility to Petroecuador, an Ecuadorian oil company, which did not even come into existence until after 26 years of Texaco’s mammoth contamination!
We, the people, of affected communities everywhere must unite in solidarity.  This is a David vs. Goliath struggle.  Let’s make sure there are many Davids joning hands to demand that we shift the focus of our world away from corporate domination and irresponsibility and onto people’s needs.   This will not happen overnight.  It is a long-term international struggle.  But the time to begin is now.  Toward that end, I am inviting members of the Union of Affected Peoples and their lawyer from Ecuador to join us in Richmond for an event in mid-October.   This event will be a report-back on our recent trip, as well as an update on the Ecuadorian indigenous struggle to acquire the 19 billion dollars from Chevron, as a result of their lawsuit and mandated by the Ecuadorian court.  Stay tuned for more information on this upcoming event!
Sincerely, Gayle McLaughlin, Mayor, City of Richmond

"Building an International Union of Affected Peoples"
2013-09-20 by Doria Robinson []:
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin working with the Union of Affected Peoples of Ecuador to build an International Union of Affected People!Now is the time for people to stand together for the rights of PEOPLE to hold Corporations responsible for the damage they do in the world, despite their IMMENSE power, money and influence.’This is a marathon, not a sprint.More to come…

"Hard to tell if Chevron stock hurt by Ecuador case" 
2013-10-21 by Paul M. Barrett from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
How much value have Chevron shareholders lost as a result of two decades of furious courtroom battle over oil pollution in the rain forest of Ecuador? Sorry to disappoint: It's hard to say.   
Whatever dent the Amazonian liability risk has left on Chevron's share price, the San Ramon energy titan has outperformed its main rivals and looks like a potentially savvy buy, a leading industry analyst Oppenheimer's Fadel Gheit told the Globe and Mail.  
"Chevron has been the best-performing major integrated oil stock this year and the last few years and the last 10 years," said Gheit. "But the stock and the company would have been better off if not for the litigation."    Chevron shares closed slightly higher Friday, at $119.65, reflecting a 5.5 percent gain over the past year.    Gheit's opinion has salience as Chevron's legal team prepares for the second week of an unusual lawsuit in New York, in which the company seeks to extinguish a $19 billion liability it faces in Ecuador. That record-setting environmental judgment was handed down by a provincial court in the Amazon in February 2011. Chevron has refused to pay a dime and has few assets in Ecuador. To preclude enforcement of the judgment in other countries, the company is pursuing a civil-racketeering suit against the plaintiffs' lawyer who won the mammoth verdict, Steven Donziger of New York.   
If it can discredit Donziger, Chevron assumes the attorney's legal victory - won on behalf of poor rain forest residents - will appear worthless in the eyes of judges in other countries such as Argentina and Canada, where Donziger's allies are seeking enforcement.   
Gheit told The Globe and Mail that if Chevron succeeds in turning the tables on Donziger, the company's share price would probably rise modestly, adding to the attractiveness of the stock. Still, Gheit has publicly advocated that Chevron settle the environmental litigation, which began in 1993 against Texaco, a company Chevron acquired in 2001.   
Chevron has vowed it will never settle with Donziger because it considers him the mastermind of an extortionate plot to shake down the company, an allegation he denies. This week in federal court in New York, Chevron's attorneys will continue to present testimony that Donziger fabricated evidence in Ecuador, bribed judges and even participated in the "ghostwriting" of the February 2011 judgment - more allegations he denies.   
In an e-mail, Chris Gowen, one of Donziger's lawyers, called Chevron's New York counterattack "a disgraceful abuse of the American justice system."   
Perhaps even more difficult to calculate than the litigation discount in Chevron's share price is the opportunity cost of management distraction: the time and energy top executives have had to invest in overseeing two decades of legal maneuvering. Finally, there are the legal fees. All told, it seems fair to estimate that $1 billion has been spent over 20 years. That sum could have cleaned up a lot of contamination in Ecuador, or been invested in finding new oil reserves elsewhere.

"The Dirty Hand of Chevron-Texaco"
2013-09-19 by Doria Robinson []:
Heading to the Amazon. Tuesday, September 17th, 2013, our group woke up early so we could be on the road to the Quito airport at 5:30am to catch a Petroamazonas flight to Lago Agrio one of the principle areas of oil contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Our mission for the day was to follow Mayor McLaughlin as she met with President Raphael Correa to tour sites contaminated by Chevron-Texaco so we could see first hand the damage Chevron both claims not to exist and not to be responsible for.
The flight was breathtaking. Our plane, full of members of both the national and international press, took off from Quito rising above the Ecuadorian Andes. The anticipation built as we watched the massive, yet closely bunched burnt umber mountains below slowly give way to the lush green of the rainforest.
After a quick 30 min flight we were back on the ground at the private Petroamazonas airport and then onto a bus for a one and half hour drive down the winding Lago Agrio highway at break neck speed. Our caravan also included the Minister of Communication, Ferando and members of his staff, so our movement through Lago Agrio was incredibly dramatic, police escorts in front and behind and along the roads stopping traffic so we could continue moving towards the site of the tour and press conference.

3 Mayors exposing the Dirty Hand of Chevron-Texaco -
When I arrived I was taken aback by the staging of the event. Our caravan pulled into a clearing in the jungle. There were soldiers holding the perimeter, a large tent with video screens. The contaminated pit site, Aguarico 4 well,  itself was down a narrow dirt trail through relatively dense forest about 20 feet from the clearing. The trail looped around the pit and back to the clearing where the press conference would take place. Due to the narrow trail there would be limited access to the pit so cameras were set up around the pit and streamed video back to the tent.
Aguarico 4 well, which was the focal point of the press conference, was only one of over 800 unlined, dumping sites in the Ecuadorian Amazon that Chevron-Texaco said they “cleaned” up as apart of a disputed settlement with the previous government of Ecuador. This site is situated above a tributary of one of the rivers running through this region of the Amazon and has been leaching oil and other contaminates into the water supply for over 30 years.
Many of the contaminated pits were covered with a thin layer of dirt by Chevron-Texaco before they left Ecuador as a remediation measure. This soil acts like a gelatin like cover.  When you step on it it feels like walking on a water-bed with small holes where water seeps through.This remediation technique leaves the contaminated water in place, allowing it to seep into ground water and neighboring streams. The Affected Peoples and the Ecuadorian government claim that Chevron-Texaco’s did not follow the remediation protocol they agreed upon in the government settlement and that this soil cover technique amounted to fraud, following no international norms petroleum contamination remediation.
Reporters milled around exploring the pit for themselves, stepping on its strange surface, commenting on the rank smell in the air, taking photographs and film footage and interviewing a few members of the Union of Affected Peoples who were also present at the press conference and the Mayor of Lago Agrio Yofre Poma, Shushufindi and Mayor McLaughlin.
At 11:00 President Correa arrived. Correa, 50-year-old, tall, charismatic figure with a strong presence briefly greeted the Mayors present and a few of the Affected People’s then immediately moved through the jungle along the trail towards the pit. He climbed down onto the surface of the pit with his rubber boots on, passionately speaking to the cameras about the Affected People’s case against Chevron-Texaco, the truth of the contamination and the need for Chevron-Texaco to take responsibility for its actions and abide by the judgment of the Ecuadorian courts.
He ended his tour of the pit by launching his Dirty Hand of Chevron Campaign by immersing his hand into the pit then raising his sludge covered hand for the Dirty Hand photo-op of the day. After leaving the pit he walked back to the tented area of the press conference directly to Mayor McLaughlin who was seated in the front row with his dirty hand outreached to her showing her that Chevron-Texaco must be held responsible.
The press conference continued with a presentation of the facts as they are understood by the Ecuadorian government. Then there was a period of questions from selected members of the press. This was definitely a carefully orchestrated and timed event with a few goals, increasing national and international attention and pressure on Chevron to come clean, counter Chevron’s smear campaign that has damaged the international reputation of Ecuador and President Correa and, some say, shore up Correa’s reputation as a defender of the forest and the Indigenous Peoples after the disappointing and controversial failure of the Yasuní-ITT Initiative and subsequent opening of the National Park to drilling by PetroAmazonas at the behest of the Ecuadorian government in order to support the radical and necessary effort to continue  infrastructural and social improvements in Ecuador.
But it was not the staging itself that moved me, it was the recognition that this case, which has been struggling for over a decade to get the attention of the national and international media, with President Correa’s help had broken through the deafening silence. A silence that makes it possible for people not directly connected to this tragedy to deny that it exists, or to downplay the devastating effect it has had on the people of this region.  In terms of trying to turn the tide of national and international opinion towards pressuring Chevron-Texaco to take responsibility, President Correa’s press conference at Lago Agrio was a necessary production, shining a light on a clear violation of human rights and international decency.

3 Mayors Expose the Dirty Hand of Chevron.

After the press conference, Mayor McLaughlin accompanied the Mayor of Lago Agrio and Shushufindi on a short tour of the pit. Followed by an entourage of national and international media McLaughlin walked the perimeter of the pit, then stepped down onto its water-bed like surface and reached down dripping one gloved hand into the black sludge and bringing it out again to show the cameras.
The 2 Mayors of the region followed and at the request of one of the reporters they all three lifted their oil stained hands together in an act of acknowledgement of that the contamination exists and has not in fact been cleaned up by Chevron-Texaco. In statements following this dramatic moment McLaughlin and the Mayors agreed to purse a sister city relationship between Richmond, California and the Affected Areas of Lagos Agrio. This ongoing translocal organizing effort

The Case Against Chevron-Texaco Brought by the Union of Affected Peoples -
In 2004 the Affected Peoples of Lago Agrio filed a lawsuit against Chevron-Texaco for the environmental damage they cause to the Peoples land and the subsequent detrimental affects on the water supply and physical health. In 2011 after 7 years of presenting evidence, the Union dramatically won a $19 Billion dollar lawsuit against Chevron. During the length of the trial but Chevron-Texaco picked up and moved out of Ecuador with all of their assets. Now Chevron refuses to pay the judgment.  The people of Lago Agrio are now fighting in International courts to enforce the judgement.

“The Dirty Hand of Chevron” Campaign -
“The Dirty Hand of Chevron” Campaign launched by President Correa at Lago Agrio seeks to raise awareness about the environmental injustice and hold the Giant Multinational Energy Corporation responsible. []

All photographs created 2013-09-17 by Doria Robinson

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