Ecuadorean Activists Berate ChevronTexaco Protesters Claim Oil Company Based in San Ramon Has Induced an Environmental Crisis

San Ramon - Braving the rainfall, activists protested at headquarters of ChevronTexaco on Friday afternoon for oil contamination in Ecuador, which they said was twice as severe as the damage caused by the Exxon Valdez tanker crash.

But the Ecuadorean crisis, activists assert, is not an accident.

About 10 demonstrators gathered outside the gates of the firm's Bishop Ranch headquarters, berating the company for its work in Latin America, waiting to present ChevronTexaco Chairman and CEO David O'Reilly with an oversized invoice for $1 billion – the price the company owes natives in Ecuador for destroying the Amazon, activists say.

"People are dying in Ecuador, so a little rain won't stop us," said Leila Salazar, coordinator for an international campaign, which activists have dubbed the "ChevronToxico." The campaigners hosted a series of demonstrations in the Bay Area the past week, including a demonstration earlier Friday at the former ChevronTexaco headquarters in San Francisco.

"The company has blood on their hands," Salazar said. "It is literally getting away with murder. This is the debt the company owes for 30 years of exploitation of the Ecuadorean homeland, 30 years of toxic degradation."

In 1964, Texaco Petroleum Co., a subsidiary of Texaco, became a minority partner in a government-owned oil consortium in Ecuador. Almost 30 years later, the company left the drilling fields in the Amazon.

Following the conclusion of the partnership, Texaco and the Ecuadorean government paid two independent auditors to determine the environmental impacts of drilling in the Amazon.

Both sides agreed to a $40 million cleanup in order to repair damage to the soil and water. The program began in 1995 and concluded in 1998, at which time the Ecuadorean government and Texaco signed a document formalizing the completion of environmental mitigation.

This document finalized the government's approval of Texaco Petroleum's environmental remediation work and further states that the company fully complied with all obligations established in the remediation agreement, said Mary Pat Sexton, ChevronTexaco manager of public affairs for Latin America.

"As a company, we feel we've met our responsibility," Sexton said.

Activists believe ChevronTexaco has not mitigated the effects of its drilling.

"ChevronTexaco came to our home in Ecuador more than 30 years ago," said Toribio Aguinda, a leader of the Cofan. "We come to ChevronTexaco's home in the United States to seek justice for our people."

ChevronTexaco spokesman Stan Luckoski met with Aguinda and Salazar outside the headquarters during Friday's demonstration. Luckoski took the oversized invoice and a dossier of complaints from the two activists; the activists then dispersed.

The Cofan, along with the Huarani and a handful of other Ecuadorean tribes, said Texaco's offenses include destroying 2.5 million acres of rain forest; dumping 20 billion gallons of wastewater into waterways; leaving 350 open waste pits brimming with benzene, arsenic, lead and mercury; and being responsible for a cancer rate 1,000 times higher than elsewhere in the Amazon.

Luis Ahua, a leader of the Huarani, said the cancers – bile duct, stomach, larynx, liver, melanoma, leukemia, lymphoma and cervical – are killing off his people.

"We will not roll over and let this corporate killer bury our families," Ahua said. "We will achieve justice, and we will muster every available tool and tactic – modern or traditional – to prevent ChevronTexaco from returning to Ecuador."

Lawyers for ChevronTexaco likely will return to Ecuador, however, to answer to a yet-to-be-filed lawsuit against the company, charging the firm owes the natives at least $700 million. In August, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined Ecuadorean litigation against the company must be heard in an Ecuadorean court.

San Ramon police were informed about the Friday demonstration and had 15 officers available to address any disruptions, said Sgt. Scott Holder. No arrests were made at the demonstration. One officer arrived to assist ChevronTexaco security in dealing with demonstrators.

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