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February 15, 2011

Chevron Sentenced to Pay for Destruction in Ecuador's Amazon

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Yanza (left) and Fajardo receiving the Goldman Prize in 2008 in Washington, DC.

An Ecuadorian judge ordered oil giant Chevron, which also owns Texaco, to pay $8 billion in damages inflicted by Texaco's oil exploitations in the Ecuadorian rain forest.

The case, known as "the ecological trial of the century" because of the enormous bearing it could play on the activities of multi-national corporations in developing countries, was the culmination of 17 years of litigation between the indigenous population and the oil company.

The 30,000 plaintiffs of the class action suit demanded $27 billion to clean up thousands of square miles of pristine rain forest polluted by toxic byproducts of oil extraction.

Pollution has sickened hundreds of people, caused the death of thousands of animals, and ruined ancestral land the native population depended on for survival and wellbeing.

The two attorneys that led this long battle against Chevron and Texaco, Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajardo, received the 2008 Goldman Prize — considered the Nobel of ecology. In an old interview with the Sierra Club they made clear the magnitude of the ecological crime committed against the Ecuadorian Amazon and its inhabitants.

"We can state that more than 80 percent of both the surface and underground water is polluted with hydrocarbons from Texaco’s oil operation," Yanza said.

From 1964 to 1990, Texaco allegedly spilled some 17 million gallons of crude and 20 million gallons of polluted water in the Amazon forest with catastrophic consequences. This has translated in the slow death of 30,000 residents of the devastated area. Respiratory illnesses and birth defects have skyrocketed. Cancer rates among this population are seven times worse than for the rest of Ecuadorians.

The problem now is how to force Chevron, which purchased Texaco a decade ago, to pay the money it owes to the 30,000 plaintiffs. The company owns no assets in Ecuador that can be confiscated. Also, as expected, Chevron has rejected the sentence, calling it illegal and a blackmail attempt.

Now, the only option for the victims to receive their money would be to start new legal proceedings in another country where Chevron does have business or oil interests.

Unfortunately for them, this decision constitutes only one more chapter in "the trial of the century."

(Photo credit: Javier Sierra.)

-- Javier Sierra, a Sierra Club bilingual media consultant, writes for Sierra Club's Ecocentro blog. Follow him on Twitter.



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