The second biggest environmental case of all time is playing out on three continents. Oil giant Chevron faces $18 billion in environmental damages to Ecuador‘s Amazon region. It is an amount that Chevron disputes as fraudulent and illegitimate while plaintiffs are complaining it is too small a sum.
In New York, following up on his February 8th suspension, Judge Kaplan renewed his judgment and will continue to block the enforcement of the ruling which came from Ecuadorian courts early this year.
A great deal of the evidence of possible misconduct by Mr. Donziger and others, as well as important evidence regarding the unfairness and inadequacies of the Ecuadorian system and proceedings, consists of video recordings of the words of Donziger and others made by a New York documentary film maker, Joseph Berlinger, whom Donziger invited to film activities in relation to the Ecuadorian case and who ultimately released a documentary film about it,Crude.
In February, Kaplan granted the release of all “Crude: The Real Price of Oil” outtakes, much to the dismay of Donziger, who stated in his appellate brief [PDF] that the District Court was disregarding journalistic privilege. The film, billed as “the movie Chevron doesn’t want you to see”, follows Donziger as he makes site visits and confers with social action groups such as Amazon Watch. The 600+ hours of raw footage (clips available here) offers viewers and cynics a deeper look at the decade of collusion and fraud Chevron has suspected to be going on between US lawyers and Ecuadorian government as well as the four Judges who have presided over this case.
Ecuador has suffered from widespread corruption, stagnant economic growth, extreme poverty, and high unemployment for decades. The US State Department has stated that Ecuadorian “courts are often susceptible to outside pressure and bribes” a sentiment echoed by Chevron’s vice president and general counsel, Hewitt Pate: “Ecuador’s judicial system is incapable of functioning independently of political influence”. This skepticism is probably the reason Chevron argued to move the case to Ecuador in the first place; with no assets in the country and little international faith in Ecuador’s government or judiciary system, there remains greater potential for this case to be dismissed all together.
Despite this extended reprieve, Chevron’s assets are still threatened and their giant fracking headache carries on, courtesy of Karen Hinton, spokeswoman for the plaintiffs and their lawyers.
Hinton has been a thorn in Chevron’s side, drumming up press and propaganda around the environmental suit since its beginning in 1992. In her latest press release, she insists that this ruling does not carry the “authority to enjoin them [the plaintiffs] from seeking enforcement outside of the United States with non-U.S. attorneys”.
This decision is a slap in the face to the democratic nation of Ecuador and the thousands of Ecuadorian citizens who have courageously fought for 18 years to hold Chevron accountable for committing the world’s worst environmental disaster. The trampling of due process in the court’s refusal to consider key evidence or hold a hearing to determine the facts is an inappropriate exercise of judicial power that will harm the United States’ relationship with Latin America and other parts of the world. It disregards the scholarly and comprehensive 188-page opinion of Ecuadorian Judge Nicolas Zambrano, a well-respected member of Ecuador’s judiciary. It also ignores key evidence that Chevron has committed a series of frauds in Ecuador to cover up its unlawful misconduct.
We want to emphasize that after appeals in Ecuador the Ecuadorian plaintiffs retain their full right to lawfully enforce the judgment of their own country’s courts in any of the dozens of nations around the world where Chevron has assets. In the meantime, we will appeal the decision on multiple grounds.
by Allison Leahy