Ecuador Plaintiffs Tell Chevron: "Enough is Enough!"
January 6, 2012 | Kevin Koenig
In a small non-descript room above a shopping center in the oil boom town of Lago Agrio, Ecuador, a three-panel appellate court handed down the decision that some 30,000 rainforest residents have been waiting 18 years for: A final verdict condemning Chevron for what is perhaps the world's worst environmental disaster on record.
The ruling upholds the first February 14th ruling in its entirety, finding Chevron guilty of massive contamination in a rainforest area the size of Rhode Island in Ecuador's northern Amazon. The communities are seeking a total clean up of the area, clean drinking water, and funds for health care.
Representatives of the affected peoples traveled to the nation's capital to share the victory with the world.
"It's a triumph," said Kichwa leader Guillermo Grefa at a packed Quito press conference. "We've taken a giant step forward, but unfortunately, as the case drags on, we continue dying...the water, the soil, is completely contaminated...What the company left behind is a crime." Grefa's mother-in-law is the namesake of the historic Maria Aguinda v. Chevron litigation.
Secoya leader Humberto Piaguaje noted that the decision is bittersweet, as much of what has been lost – lives, territory, and culture – can never be replaced.
Also in attendance were representatives of Ecuador's powerful national indigenous organization CONAIE and other civil society organizations that have accompanied the afectados in their long journey for justice.
The judgment gives Chevron 15 days to apologize or face a doubling of the damage award, setting the stage for a countdown to the world's largest apology. But Chevron has stated that it won't recognize the judgment, and will fight the case "until hell freezes over, and then fight it out on the ice."
This puts Chevron in a billion-dollar bind. While the company can appeal to the Supreme Court, the decision allows the plaintiffs to independently begin enforcement actions against the company forcing it to pay up. The only way Chevron can stop the plaintiffs is to pony up a bond, which could be to the tune of $2 or $3 billion. Because Chevron doesn't have any assets in Ecuador, the decision has sparked speculation of a worldwide enforcement effort in any of the 100+ countries where Chevron does have assets.
Lead Ecuador lawyer Pablo Fajardo explained, "Enough is enough. We say to the company: "You must pay for the crime that you committed in Ecuador. You must pay for the social, cultural, and environmental damage that you caused. And this will allow us to begin repairing that damage.
"But I can't end without mentioning the many people who started this struggle almost two decades ago who are no longer with us, who passed away along this road to justice. For all of these compañeros, for the indigenous Tetetes and Sansawaris who have disappeared, for the hundreds of men, women, and children who have leukemia, this legal victory is dedicated to them. And I hope that those who died waiting for justice to served, now feel at peace."