South American Stories (1): Ecuador – Chevron/Tóxico
Awakening in Lima, Peru, listening to the robust hoots of the doves and the squawks of the parrots, I find myself reflecting on a three-week whirl through South America that has included three countries, yielded 11 Green Interviews, and provided the material for three of the main building blocks of our feature-length GreenRights documentary.
The first of these stories is known throughout South America as Chevron/Tóxico.
Between 1964 and 1990, simply to save money, Texaco (absorbed by Chevron in 2001) employed environmental practices that were obsolete, did not meet industry standards, and were illegal in Ecuador and the United States. The company deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater, spilled roughly 17 million gallons of crude oil, and left hazardous waste in hundreds of open pits dug out of the forest floor. (We’ve seen one of those pits, and we’ve sniffed some of that water.)
At the end of a twenty-year lawsuit, the Supreme Court of Ecuador found Chevron liable for the damage, and ordered it to pay $9.5 billion to clean up the mess, which has poisoned the indigenous people of the area for two generations. The legal team’s young lead lawyer is Pablo Fajardo, whom we’ve interviewed – along with several others.
Meanwhile, Chevron skipped the country, so the Ecuadorians sued to seize the company’s assets in three other countries – Brazil, Argentina, and Canada. In December, an Ontario court agreed to hear the case, giving the Ecuadorians some prospect of justice. I’ve been commissioned by The Globe and Mail to write a commentary on the case; our interview with Pablo Fajardo will appear on The Green Interview site, and the story will provide a dramatic episode in our GreenRights film (www.GreenRights.com).
Next: Argentina – Reclaiming the Riachuelo