THE AMAZON PINK DOLPHIN’S VOICE
Rigs at the Edge of Yasuni
More Amazon country falls prey to our need for energy.
Since November, the Ecuadorian government has been moving to auction off oil blocks on 10 million acres of still-wild, roadless tropical rain forest in the Amazon region. Ecuadoran leaders hope to attract $1 billion in investments with the tender; they want contracts to be signed by September of this year.
The area for which foreign oil companies are currently bidding borders the Yasuni National Park, one of the richest, most exquisite biopreserves in the world. Jaguars, giant anteaters, white-bellied spider monkeys, harpy eagles and grunting Hoatzins, high-crested birds with claws on the wing digits of their young, flourish there. An average 2.5 acres in Yasuni is home to 655 species of trees, more than the combined number of native species in the continental U.S. and Canada.
This part of the Amazon region is particularly valuable to humans because of its wealth of plants—a garden of genetic diversity for potential pharmaceuticals and other uses—and because it is one of the most vital areas on earth for maintaining the equilibrium of the climate.
Earlier this month, when Ecuadorian officials came to Houston for the North America Project Expo trade fair—an event hosted by the oil exploration and production industries—a coalition of activists opposing more oil drilling in the Amazon region turned up to protest the auction. Amazon Watch, Tar Sands Blockade and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services teamed up with groups of indigenous people from Ecuador and the United States to warn against the destruction of the rain forest, not only by drilling but by the building of roads through previously undisturbed areas.
Representatives of the Achuar Nationality and the Shuar Nationality, Ecuadorian communities that gained experience in the 1980s and 1990s fighting American companies like ARCO and Burlington (now Conoco Philips) in the area now up for auction, tried to intercept and deter potential investors who came to meet with Ecuadorian officials. Supporters, including members of Gulf Coast Idle No More, a group of American First Nations activists, held posters outside the Westin Galleria Hotel, where the trade fair was going forward. Police kept the protesters from going inside the hotel—a standoff that may be a harbinger of more serious things to come, since some indigenous people have vowed to defend the pristine area with their lives.
The Expo, held at one of the global centers of the oil industry, is a sign of the U.S.’s importance in the situation; other aspects of the Ecuadorian tender suggest that American interests are experiencing growing competition from emerging markets. The U.S. is still Ecuador’s leading customer for crude oil, but according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Ecuador has begun to look towards the Asian market, namely China, as an alternative export market and source of investment.”
At press time, the Ecuadorian government and Halliburton were in negotiations about projects in two of Ecuador’s mature oilfields, but Chinese companies, together with Spanish, Italian and Chilean firms, are the major foreign interests currently involved in oil production in Ecuador. With a yield of 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day, Ecuador is the smallest producer in OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), and is one of only two OPEC members in this hemisphere (the other is Venezuela). Ecuador is the 11th largest supplier of oil to the U.S., but the second largest source of oil for the West Coast.•
In Shift, Chevron Drops Key Legal Claim and Now Concedes Pollution Does Exist In Ecuador
NEW YORK, Feb. 19 /CSRwire/ – In a significant tactical retreat that likely will hurt its efforts to resist international enforcement actions, Chevron has told a New York judge that it is withdrawing its claim that the $19 billion Ecuador judgment was the result of “sham” and “objectively baseless” litigation and is in effect conceding that there is evidence that the company caused pollution in the country.
The formal withdrawal of Chevron’s “objectively baseless” litigation claim – made in a recent procedural filing (also see here) to New York federal judge Lewis A. Kaplan – represents a key retreat in that it was the linchpin of the company’s defense to enforcement actions brought by the Ecuadorians targeting billions of dollars of assets in Canada, Brazil, and Argentina.
“This move severely weakens Chevron’s ability in enforcement actions to attack the Ecuador judgment, which is premised on extensive evidence the oil company committed massive contamination in Ecuador,” said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer of the dozens of indigenous and farmer communities that brought suit against Chevron.
The “sham litigation” argument also was the centerpiece of Chevron’s so-called fraud and racketeering case in New York, which is slated for trial in October. The latest procedural retreat is certain to weaken Chevron’s claims in that case as well, said Craig Smyser, who represents the Ecuadorians in that action.
(Chevron has been hit with counterclaims in that case from New York attorney Steven R. Donzigerand Stratus, a Colorado-based group that does environmental consulting. Some of the counterclaims allege Chevron committed environmental crimes in Ecuador and then tried to cover it up with a fraudulent remediation and by trying to spy on and intimidate the lawyers representing the rainforest villagers.)
Chevron’s decision to narrow its claims comes on the heels of a series of courtroom setbacks in recent months on Argentina, where an appeals court upheld a freeze order against the company’s revenue stream, and the U.S., where the Supreme Court and five separate federal appellate courts have rejected or refused to adopt the company’s claims that the trial was tainted by fraud.
Chevron withdrew the “sham” and “objectively baseless” litigation claim at the suggestion of Judge Kaplan as a way to avoid having to release internal documents during discovery in New York that might prove it engaged in an elaborate ruse to cover up evidence of its own pollution. Judge Kaplan repeatedly has been accused of bias against the Ecuadorians and of trying to engineer a verdict in Chevron’s favor. See here and here.
“Chevron’s withdrawal of this claim underscores the lengths the company will go to suppress the truth about its environmental crimes even though that truth obviously exists in its own internal files,” said Humberto Piaguaje, who coordinates the litigation for the 80 indigenous and farmer communities who lives in an area contaminated by Chevron’s operations.
“The change reflects an adjustment to Chevron’s trial strategy to avoid having the jury hear and see evidence of its contamination of the rain forest and use of substandard drilling practices,” said Smyser, who represents the Ecuadorians in the New York action.
Before its latest retreat, Chevron had maintained that the underlying lawsuit had no valid scientific basis to support the claims of pollution to the land, water, and lives of those in the Amazon rain forest living where Chevron drilled under the Texaco brand for more than 30 years. Chevron made this claim despite the fact its lead executive in Ecuador, Rodrigo Perez Pallares, admitted that company had dumped more than 16 billion gallons of benzene-laden toxic formation water into the Amazon when it operated in the country from 1964 to 1992.
Chevron sought the change after the Ecuadorians filed discovery requests that Chevron produce documents about the more than 300 wells and 900 open toxic waste pits it abandoned in 1992. Chevron objected to producing any documents about its drilling practices and withdrew any allegation that the rain forest was not polluted to avoid the jury receiving evidence of those facts, said Smyser.
The Ecuadorians and their counsel also requested that Chevron produce all records of the operations of its well sites in Ecuador, the company’s internal audits and inspection reports about the pollution, and any information the company had hidden from its own experts who testified on behalf of the company during the trial.
When Chevron filed the New York racketeering case in 2011, it alleged more than 20 times in its lawsuit that the Ecuadorians “initiated a sham litigation… to remediate alleged petroleum contamination in Ecuador’s Oriente region” or that the case was “objectively baseless, improperly motivated sham litigation.”
The “sham” and “objectively baseless” litigation claim also has been used by Chevron’s six public relations firms to try to taint the Ecuador judgment, which the plaintiffs always have maintained was based overwhelming on scientific evidence as affirmed unanimously on appeal in Ecuador. A summary of that evidence can be found here.
Now that Chevron has simply dropped much of its claim to avoid its discovery obligations, Judge Kaplan has asserted that the only issues left in the U.S. trial concern whether the Ecuador proceeding was conducted in a fair manner in accordance with Ecuador law – an absurdity if there ever was one, said Fajardo.
“This is another example of U.S. judicial arrogance coming from Kaplan’s courtroom,” said Fajardo, noting that Kaplan already was reversed unanimously by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals for trying to impose a global injunction barring the Ecuadorians from enforcing their judgment in any country in the world.
“The notion that a U.S. trial judge is going to determine whether Ecuador conducted a trial that was fair according to its own rules when Ecuadorian courts already have ruled on the issue has no basis in the law, and likely will backfire against Chevron in international courts,” he added.
In reference to Chevron’s latest maneuver to evade its discovery obligations, Fajardo said: “When it was time for Chevron to put up or shut up about its own claims, it shut up and covered up.”
Petition to halt oil exploration in Ecuadorean Amazon gets 1m signatures
Campaign urges Ecuador to stop exploration threatening indigenous community in area of exceptional biodiversity.
An aerial view of the Yasuni National Park, which is considered the most biodiverse place on earth with more species in a single hectare than all of North America. Photograph: Dolores Ochoa/AP
A global campaign to stop oil exploration in a pristine corner of the Ecuadorean Amazon has collected more than a million online signatures in little more than a week.
The show of support is a major boost to the small indigenous community of Sani Isla that has been resisting intrusions by Ecuador‘s state-run oil company Petroamazonas. It is also a rebuke to Ecuador’s president,Rafael Correa, as he campaigns for re-election.
The petition, which was organised by the campaign group Avaaz, calls on Correa to stop oil exploration in the Amazon and uphold the Ecuadorean constitution, which is the only one in the world to recognise the rights of nature.
It follows an appeal for help by the 400-strong community of Sani – first reported in October in the Guardian – amid fears that the state oil company would use the army to secure land for a seismic study. The members of the Kichwa indigenous group said this would ruin their efforts to run an eco-lodge that has a lower impact on the environment in an area of exceptional biodiversity.
“Sani Isla has said no to oil. That’s not easy because oil dominates. We are a tiny speck against a huge corporation. But we are doing this not just for us, but for the world,” Patricio Jipa, a spokesman for the community, told a press conference in Quito.
Avaaz has organised several previous campaigns to protect the Amazon, but Pedro Abramovay, the group’s campaign director, said none had received such a strong response.
“This is special. It’s a David and Goliath story that fascinates people. Our mobilisation has helped to amplify a small voice by sharing it with others in the world,” he said.
He said the issue was symbolic of a wider trend that has seen petrochemical companies driving further and further into the Amazon despite opposition from indigenous groups.
“If Correa sells out to the oil barons he will shred Ecuador’s constitution and sacrifice one of our planet’s beautiful treasures to become an oilfield,” said Abramovy.
Swaths of Sani are inside the Yasuni National Park, which is considered the most biodiverse place on earth with jaguars, tapirs, river dolphins and more species in a single hectare than all of North America.
Ecuador auctioned off the rights to several new oil blocks in the Amazon last November. Government and oil company representatives are drumming up additional investments on a tour of Bogotá, Paris, Beijing and beyond.
“This is still at a stage where we can stop it,” said Laura Rico of Avaaz. “This mobilisation proves that the internet can change the way people do politics.”
Several NGOs have lined up to support Sani, which they see as a frontline for resistance against oil exploration and a key issue in the current presidential election.
“This is important politically because Ecuador has adopted a policy to expand the boundaries of oil exploration. But that is totally inconsistent with the constitution, which forbids exploration of protected areas,” said Alexandra Almeida of Acción Ecológica.
With Correa expected to win comfortably, environmental groups fear a bigger push for oil exploration in his next four-year term.
“We see a new and more aggressive offensive to develop resources if Correa is elected,” said Monica Chuji of the Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Amazon, who expressed her support for Sani.
“This is vital for the planet. That’s why this initiative has been supported by more than a million people,” she said “The indigenous people have a right to self-determination, but there is a huge global push to exploit natural resources through mining with no heed to local communities.”
Source: The guardian
Editorial: SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras
Gustavo López Ospina
Pieter Jan Brouwer
Assistant: Emilia Romero
The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice is associated with the International Environmental Mission, a grass roots citizens movement created by Chilean Senator Juan Pablo Letelier.
SELVA Vida Sin Fronteras acknowledges Kevin Schafer’s important contribution towards protecting the highly endangered Amazon pink fresh water dolphin. Title photographs of our “The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice” were taken by Mr. Schafer.