Ecuador Indigenous Groups in New York for Major Showdown with ChevronTexaco Billions at Stake as Tribal Leaders Press Groundbreaking Lawsuit Before Appeals Court Assert Texaco Ruined Their Rivers and Land Destroying Their Centuries-Old Way of Life

Frente para la Defensa de la Amazonia

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New York - Indian tribal leaders from the Amazon region of Ecuador arrive in New York March 11, for a major courtroom showdown with Chevron-Texaco over a billion-dollar lawsuit charging that Texaco (which emerged with Chevron in 2001) caused widespread devastation to the rainforest environment and dramatically increased the risk of cancer for tens of thousands of people.

The groundbreaking environmental class-action lawsuit, the first filed by foreign plaintiffs in a U.S. court, is being watched closely by legal scholars to determine whether federal courts will provide redress to persons in other countries affected by environmental contamination caused by
American corporations abroad. The court hearing comes following a significant announcement by the Attorney General of Ecuador siding with the tribal leaders and asking the U.S. court to accept jurisdiction over the

Monday's hearing, before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, will determine whether the tribal leaders will be able to present their case to a jury of American citizens, or whether Chevron-Texaco's attempt to dismiss the case for trial in Ecuador will be granted. The plaintiffs claim they cannot receive justice in Ecuador, where the civil code prevents class action lawsuits and the introduction of expert testimony.

"Our aim is very simple," said Humberto Piyaguage, an Ecuadoran citizen who is making the trip to New York from the Amazon to attend the court hearing. "We simply want Chevron-Texaco to pay to clean up the damage it caused."

The lawsuit asserts that Texaco engaged in "negligent, reckless, deliberate, and outrageous acts" in the Ecuadoran Amazon by installing defective drilling technology that led to the spillage of millions of gallons of toxic wastewater over a 20-year period. Rather than pump the poisonous water back into the ground - as is the industry standard, and as Chevron-Texaco does in the United States - the oil company dumped it into hundreds of unlined pits dug out of the ground. From the pits, the wastewater contaminated with oil
and heavy metals slowly decanted into the rivers and wetlands of the region over two decades.

As a result of the dumping, pits of oil now pock the floor of the rainforest, trees and vegetation are withered and dying, the wetlands are contaminated, the growth of livestock is stunted, and children playing outside are regularly smeared and smattered with oil, which they often have no way to clean off except with gasoline-soaked rags.

Lawyers for the tribal leaders estimate that Texaco saved $3 to $4 per barrel by dumping the wastewater into the ground rather than safely pumping it beneath the earth's surface, as it does in the United States. This generated additional profits in the billions of dollars over the 20-year period (1972-1992) that Texaco operated the wells.

While in Ecuador, Texaco extracted about 1.4 billion gallons of oil from Ecuador, producing revenue in the tens of billions of dollars. For each day Texaco operated its wells, it discharged approximately 250,000 barrels (about 10 million gallons) of toxic waste into the rainforest, leading to a cumulative oil spillage far greater than the Exxon Valdez. (In oil drilling, one gallon of oil extracted from a well produces approximately one gallon of toxic wastewater.)

The defective technology installed by Texaco is still creating "an ongoing environmental catastrophe that gets worse by the hour," said Cristobal Bonifaz, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs. Water and soil samples taken
from the floor of the rainforest indicate life-threatening levels of Benzene, Toluene, Xylenes, and Polyciclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. The latter are so carcinogenic that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that its level of concentration in drinking water must be at zero for the water to be safe.

First filed in 1993, the lawsuit was dismissed by Federal Judge Jed Rakoff in 1996 only to be reinstated in a landmark appeals court ruling in 1998 (two previous federal district court trial judges who presided over the case
had issued favorable rulings before it was transferred to Judge Rakoff). After being rebuked by the U.S. Court of Appeals once, Judge Rakoff dismissed the case again. Rakoff's latest decision, which took more than two years to be written, is now being appealed back to the same appeals
court, which will decide if the case will stay in the United States or be tried in Ecuador.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for the thousands allegedly injured by Texaco 's practices. It seeks a court order mandating that Chevron-Texaco pay for the clean-up, a process that the Ecuadoran government has agreed to facilitate. The attorneys estimate that the clean-up could cost well over $1 billion.

"To Chevron-Texaco, the clean-up costs represent a small fraction of its annual profits," said Joseph C. Kohn, of the Philadelphia law firm of Kohn, Swift & Graf, another lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "To our clients in
the Amazon, this is a matter of life or death."

Events on March 11:
9:30 a.m.: Amazon tribal leaders in traditional dress arrive at U.S. Courthouse, 40 Centre Street, Foley Square, Manhattan.

10:00 a.m.: Hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Courthouse, Room 1705 (17th Floor), 40 Centre Street at Foley Square, Manhattan

Immediately After Hearing (approximately 11 a.m.): Press briefing by tribal leaders and their, lawyers at Shapiro, Beilly, Rosenberg, Aronowitz, Levi, and Fox LLP, 225 Broadway, 13th Floor, Manhattan .

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