Eye on the Amazon

The Chevron Tapes: 30 Years and Still Waiting for Justice

Last week, Amazon Watch released The Chevron Tapes, internal Chevron videos leaked to us by a company whistleblower which show the company finding and mocking contamination in areas of the Amazon rainforest it claims to have cleaned up years ago.

The videos also included revealing interviews with area residents in which they denounce Chevron's pollution and recount how it never cleaned up waste pits and instead covered them with dirt. We don't know how the Chevron interviewers presented themselves to the residents, but it seems unlikely that they were honest about who they were or what they were doing.

Well over a million people have already viewed last week's video, and many told us that they were deeply affected by a resident named José describing how he lost three daughters due to the toxic contamination of his home. In the interview that Chevron filmed of him in 2006, he painfully related that when his daughters were dying, company representatives told him that they would send help, that they would "come quickly" and "take responsibility" for their condition. He said that he had been waiting for over twenty years and they still hadn't arrived. That video was shot almost ten years ago, so José has now been waiting for about thirty years.

This week we're highlighting José's story and providing more of his leaked interview.

Chevron's response to these damning videos is to claim that they "may have been taken out of context." The full videos are available online, but we decided to provide still more "context" for Chevron's benefit.

In the leaked video, José says that he's lived in the same place since before there was any oil exploration in the area. He lives near Dureno Uno, the very first first oil well that Chevron drilled in the area. Dureno Uno was the original sin that brought ruin to José's rainforest paradise, and Chevron alone was responsible for operating it until it left the country in 1990. José's daughters died in the mid-1980's, so the company has no one else it can blame for their deaths.

You don't need to take our word for it. To corroborate José's testimony, we've re-released a 2010 interview that Amazon Watch filmed of Jhinsop Martinez Erraez, a former oil worker at the Dureno Uno well. In the video, Jhinsop recalls the helplessness he felt at being ordered by Chevron to dump toxic waste directly into the rainforest, day after day:

The wastewater was dumped into a ravine, a stream, without any treatment at all.
...and at that time these were mountainous lands, pure rainforest existed, rich in flora and fauna; and this destroyed everything. And since we were just simple workers we couldn't say anything.

Of course, Dureno Uno wasn't the only site where Chevron operated with criminal disregard for people and the environment. Over the course of its time as the sole operator of the oil concession in the northeastern rainforest region in Ecuador, on top of spilling millions gallons of crude and abandoning hundreds of waste pits filled with poisonous sludge, Chevron dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater directly into rivers and streams depended upon by thousands of men, women, and children for drinking and bathing.

It's estimated that 10,000 people in the region will get cancer. Over 1,400 have already died.

Besides the testimony of men like José and Jhinsop, how do we know? How do we know that other wells and facilities throughout the sprawling Ecuadorian oilfields were operated in the same deliberately reckless fashion? In fact, we know this from the company's own audits, commissioned as it was preparing to depart Ecuador. Test results from judicial inspections proved that Chevron left toxins at levels many times higher than the legal limits, and recent expert reports demonstrate that many sites remain alarmingly toxic to this day.

Despite being exposed by these whistleblower videos, Chevron continues to claim that this systematic daily poisoning of the region's soil and waters over decades posed (and poses) no threat to the people living there.

Fulfilling its pledge of a "lifetime of litigation" for the Ecuadorians, Chevron has since sued them alleging their case was a fraud and claims to be the true victim. We'd like to see them explain this to José and his remaining family. After thirty years of waiting they deserve some measure of justice.

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