ChevronTexaco Polluted Amazon, Group Says Ecuadorean Activists Face an August 2003 Deadline on Filing $600 Million Lawsuit

San Francisco - Three Ecuadorean activists came to the Bay Area to cultivate public outrage against ChevronTexaco Corp., which they accuse of polluting the Amazon rain forest and poisoning 55,000 Indians.

"Texaco came to our home and destroyed our land, our territory," Toribio Aguinda, a leader of the Cofan tribe, told a news conference in downtown San Francisco on Monday afternoon.

The visit comes as the Indians and their international supporters face an August 2003 deadline to file a lawsuit in Ecuador to pursue $600 million in claims against ChevronTexaco. The local company, which is moving its headquarters to San Ramon from San Francisco, became part of the Ecuadorean dispute in October 2001, when Chevron acquired Texaco.

At issue are the activities of a ChevronTexaco subsidiary that operated in Ecuador from 1972 until the early 1990s, looking for petroleum reserves, drilling wells and transporting oil through a pipeline. Texaco dumped waste oil and toxic chemicals into open pits, streams and rivers, contaminating water, killing livestock and poisoning residents, according to a class action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New York City in 1993.

A ChevronTexaco spokesman rejected those claims. The lawsuit "failed to present any credible scientific evidence" to support its claims, Stan Luckoski, the spokesman, said Monday. ChevronTexaco owned only a minority interest in the Ecuadorean oil venture, conducted two environmental audits of the project and spent $40 million for a clean-up, he said.

The legal arena for the claims against ChevronTexaco shifted to Ecuador last August when a federal appeals court dismissed the 1993 lawsuit, ruling that the claims should be resolved in an Ecuadorean court. The U.S. court conditioned its dismissal on ChevronTexaco's promise not to seek to have the claims in Ecuador thrown out of court as untimely.

In a teleconference Monday afternoon, Cristobal Bonifaz, a lawyer for the Indians, accused ChevronTexaco of using delaying tactics to exhaust his clients. International support had enabled the Indians to keep their fight alive, he added.

While Ecuador has never been a major player in the world's petroleum industry, Texaco has left its mark on the country of 13 million. ChevronTexaco's Web site points out that the company's Ecuadorean operations employed nearly 3,000 people and accounted for more than 50 percent of the country's gross national product.

Critics focus on a different mark. Texaco's total discharge was about twice the volume of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez, said Leila Salazar, a spokeswoman for Amazon Watch. The Malibu organization is sponsoring a week-long visit to the Bay Area by the three Ecuadoreans.

At the news conference, Amazon Watch screened a five-minute video showing Indian children fishing objects out of a large, gooey pool of what appeared to be waste petroleum. Texaco created 350 open waste pits and polluted 2.5 million acres of rain forest, the video said.

Texaco's Web site says its operations were confined to 6,400 acres inside a 32-million-acre rain forest.

Information about other events during the Ecuadorean activists' visit are posted on the Web at www.chevrontoxico.com.


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Rick Jurgens covers housing, development and the energy industry. Reach him at 925-943-8088 or at rjurgens@cctimes.com.

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