U.S. Water News Online
LA VICTORIA, Ecuador -- Leftist President Rafael Correa
went deep into Ecuador's Amazon jungle to show his disdain for
Chevron Corp., which is on trial here for allegedly failing to clean
up billions of gallons of toxic wastewater.
"Soil with oil, friends," Correa said as he lifted a fistful of
greasy dirt from a small farm in the rain forest where Texaco
Petroleum Co. spent three decades extracting oil before it merged
with Chevron in 2001.
Correa, a U.S.-trained economist in power since January, is the
first Ecuadorean president to support the estimated 30,000 settlers
and Amazon Indians who are suing the U.S. oil giant.
He accused the company of causing 30 times more damage than the
11-million gallon Exxon Valdez spill off the Alaskan coast in 1989.
"But it would seem that what happens in the Third World doesn't
matter," the president said.
Farmers say the oily muck keeps them from cultivating their land
and has caused stomach and skin ailments among the area's residents.
The plaintiffs are seeking $6 billion in damages, alleging that
Texaco dumped more than 18 billion gallons of oily wastewater into
the verdant rain forest, and failed to properly clean it up. Their
evidence includes studies showing elevated cancer rates in the area.
San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron, has reported another quarter of
record earnings, $4.7 billion, and says there is no proof oil
contamination caused the cancers. It also says that Texaco, which
ended its operations in 1992, followed Ecuadorean environmental laws
in a $40 million cleanup that began in 1995.
Just three years later, Ecuador's government certified the cleanup
Correa called that a "fraud for the country."
"There was no cleanup here," he said -- the damage was simply
covered up with dirt dumped over contaminated soil and wastewater
The Indians tried for a decade to have their case heard in U.S.
federal court before shifting their battle to a makeshift courtroom
in the ramshackle jungle town of Lago Agrio, which means "sour lake,"
where an Ecuadorean judge is hearing evidence.
Pablo Fajardo, a former farmer who became the plaintiffs' lead
attorney, said they welcome Correa's support for the suffering
people, but aren't looking for him to intervene in the judicial
A Chevron lawyer, Rodrigo Perez, told The Associated Press he is
"sorry the president has taken sides."
"The trial must continue according to the evidence," Perez said,
"based on the proceedings, not on statements by the executive branch
or the press."
Chevron, which said it won't settle the case out of court, also
expressed concern that political pressure might threaten its chances
for an impartial trial in Ecuador. The judge's decision isn't
expected until at least next year, and an appeals process could take
another three years.
The trouble in Ecuador hasn't harmed Chevron's bottom line.
Chevron has earned $45 billion during the past three years, its
profit growing progressively higher each year.
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