In Ecuador, Chevron found contamination — and comedy — in soil they testified was clean

In my last post, I wrote on the side of large corporations, encouraging forgiveness for well-intentioned but tone-deaf actions on the part of social good. That’s because Starbucks is a bastion of justice and equality when compared to deeply polluting, institutionalized evil as embodied in Chevron’s dealings in Ecuador.

This is not new news, but rather a recently resurfaced hydra head of the ages-long lawsuit of Chevron versus the Ecuadorian plaintiffs as represented by the Amazon Defense Coalition. This story, beginning in 1993, features Texaco-turned-Chevron drilling in Ecuador, systematically ignoring pollution and waste hazards, subsequently contaminating the land and water so badly that Ecuadorian residents are still suffering from it. Ecuador’s 1993 class-action lawsuit against Chevron has since bounced around in a really complicated fashion from court to court, as both sides have appealed any decision that did not come out in their favor.

But last week, proving that nothing embarrassing on the Internet ever goes away, some leaked footage began circulating online — evidence from supposedly “cleaned up” Texaco drilling sites that proved just how much the oil company knew about the reach of its pollution:

In the videos, consultants hired by Chevron to do inspections of the area “keep finding petroleum where it’s not supposed to be,” as one of them joked. He and another inspector lightheartedly bicker back and forth about the inconvenience of finding contaminated soil cores even in the areas that they had specifically selected for off-site, supposedly clean sampling. After pulling up a few more samples so polluted that a simple sniff can detect petroleum, they call off the hunt and discuss plan B, which is “not beating it to death” with a rigorous lab test. The audio and transcript hint at unsurprised impatience for the discovery of oil in places that Chevron would later testify were clean — concern for the complications that might ensue for the legal process, but no concern for the effects on humans or land beyond Chevron’s own.

Sign at a contamination site in Ecuador, via Wikimedia Commons

Sign at a contamination site in Ecuador, via Wikimedia Commons

The Chevron Tapes,” as people are calling them, were last aired in 2011, during a trial in Ecuador in which Chevron was ordered to pay 9.5 billion dollars in damages to the affected communities and the Amazon Defense Coalition, the group formed to represent them, as well as to help clean up their mess. The judge also ruled that this amount would double if Chevron did not issue a public apology to the affected groups in Ecuador. Not only did Chevron flip Ecuador the bird and refuse to pay, it also filed a civil suit against the group, claiming that their evidence was bunk. Chevron won that round last year and, the next appeal is set to be heard next Monday in New York.

The tapes will not be used as evidence in the proceedings, but Amazon Watch wants you to watch them now. They would like to remind the public that despite the legal quibbling — 22 years of it — over cost, accountability and enforcement, one of these sides in the trial is audibly, visibly, morally wrong:

What’s really frustrating, apart from the ongoing contamination in Ecuador that is lowering the living standards of residents in the affected areas, is how long the struggle has been allowed to play out.  Following the bouncing court case from local to regional — from Ecuador to the United States to Canada — the tangled web of non-resolution shows that no one knows who can or should be the law enforcer for large international corporations, who wield their limited liability with a sneer and a joke.

If we have no cohesive mechanism to hold large corporations accountable for their actions, we’re going to get even more of this: perpetrators laughing in the face of pollution.

Ariana Chomitz
Ariana Chomitz is a Kenyon College graduate with a B.A. in Anthropology. A specialist in international and experiential education, she has lived, studied and taught in urban Asia. She likes talking about culture, education and the environment.

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  • ComradeRutherford

    This is why the Conservatives and Neo-Liberals want the TPP passed so badly. The TPP will delete entire sections of US law and the Constitution itself, and make any kind of legal action, criminal or civil, against a corporate citizen illegal.

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  • Indigo

    I think you’re right. A control mechanism is needed but at the same time, it looks as if the international corporations and conglomerates are succeeding in setting themselves above national governments and even international organizations such as the United Nations, the Vatican, and the like. We’re going to need a World Government with the capability of enforcement to pull those international businesses into compliance. It’s not happening. It’s not even likely to happen. And so they get to run rampant like a 19th century Belgian government in the Congo.

  • hidflect

    All the companies with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility departments) are usually the most evil. It’s Fun Runs and Death Squads.

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  • cambridgemac

    Well done. Thank you.

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