by Pedro de la Hoz & Roberto Chile, Special Correspondents
December 28, 2013 (TSR) – “We are not showing the world the ecological disaster caused by the oil company Chevron’s activity in northeast Ecuador thinking only in ourselves, but in many other peoples, as well, who suffer the predatory impact of transnationals and their refusal to repair the damage.”
This comment by Ricardo Patino, Ecuadoran Minister of Foreign Relations and Human Mobility, summarizes the scope of the campaign entitled ‘Chevron’s dirty hands’ being undertaken internationally by the Ecuadoran people and the government led by Rafael Correa, to confront the corporation’s schemes and defamation, meant to allow their escape from serious responsibilities.
Patino received us in the Foreign Ministry just a few hours after our tour of the areas where Texaco operated until 1992, in the provinces of Sucumbíos and Orellana. We verified the scope of the disaster there on the ground – an experience to be shared at another time. Texaco was taken over by Chevron in 2001, thus assuming the former’s responsibilities. Our dialogue with the Minister began with his objective summary of the environmental damage.
“Texaco spilled some 71 million liters of residuals and 64 million liters of oil over two million hectares of Ecuador’s Amazon region. After ending its operations in the nation, it could have repaired the damage, but did not do so. Citizens affected by the transnational, organized themselves in the Amazon Defense Front and decided to file claims to obtain fair reparations. As a reaction, the U.S. company, hemmed in by the evidence, struck back legally and in the media, not against the plaintiffs, but against the Ecuadoran state,” he said.
What is the current status of these judicial processes?
In 2011, after a prolonged process of litigation, the court in Sucumbíos, a northeastern province, ordered Chevron to pay 9.5 million dollars to the affected parties, a figure which was doubled as a result of the transnational’s refusal to offer a public apology. This past November 13, the National Court of Justice upheld the conviction and set the amount of the indemnity at the original level.
Long before the provincial court presented its decision, Chevron began to take action against our state. First in 2004, the company attempted, in a New York court, to transfer responsibility to Petroecuador, our state oil entity, but the judge found no merit in their complaint.
Then in 2006, they initiated an international procedure in the The Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration, a case which is known as Chevron II. This body upheld the company’s claim and ordered our state to pay Chevron 96 million dollars for supposed violations of the Ecuador-U.S. Bilateral Treaty on Protection of Investments. Ecuador has submitted a petition to annul the ruling, based on the fact that the treaty went into effect in 1997, that is, five years after Texaco ended its operations, and it does not have a retroactive nature.
In 2009, they returned to The Hague with more of the same about violations of the Bilateral Treaty and the alleged responsibility of Petroecuador and their release from responsibility due to the 1998 signing of an agreement between the government at that time and the company, to recognize as concluded the environmental repair work done by Texaco.
This process, known as Chevron III, has not ended either. The Hague has not yet issued a ruling on what it is being demanded by our state given that the Sucumbios sentence has not been executed, and additionally that Chevron cannot be released from its responsibility to the citizens of Ecuador. Our Attorney General’s Office has requested that The Hague suspend the arbitration process. They do not seem to understand that in Ecuador the separation of powers is constitutionally protected and the government cannot intervene in a decision made by the judicial power. Moreover, they don’t seem to understand that the claims filed against Chevron-Texaco were not submitted by the state, but by the citizenry.
Beyond the judicial arguments, what is Chevron attempting in Ecuador?
That we assume responsibility for the enormous damage to the environment and human beings it has caused and that we pay for what they have done. It is the height of cynicism. But the truth is gaining ground. The criminal attitude of Chevron-Texaco is obvious.
Does Ecuador feel supported in this battle to reveal the truth?
We have received expressions of solidarity from men and women of goodwill from different parts of the world. Some 30 committees supporting our cause have been formed in Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe. Prestigious artists have verified the seriousness of the environmental damage in the affected areas, such as the U.S actor Danny Glover and the Spanish singer-songwriter Luis Eduardo Aute. The parliaments of Brazil, the Dominican Republic and ALBA countries have made statements.
You mention support from countries in the region. Do you consider this a sign of the changes which have been developing in this part of the world?
We are much more independent and a demonstration of this can be seen in mechanisms of regional coordination. We have taken a very important step with the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, CELAC. Cuba’s current pro tempore presidency is highly symbolic, doing this country and people justice makes us proud. But beyond the symbolic value, Cuba has played an exemplary role in the construction of this body, facilitating dialogue and recognition of CELAC by other blocs and countries around the world. After Cuba, in 2014, Costa Rica will assume the presidency and in 2015 it will be Ecuador.
What do you see as the future of CELAC?
It is a custom-fit organization for our peoples and our times. Take for example what is happening in the OAS. [Organization of American States] In recent votes, the difference between the United States and Canada, on one side, and ourselves on the other, is increasingly evident. We are moving toward a scenario in which CELAC will be the reflection of the greater homeland of Latin American and Caribbean peoples.
Lastly, what is your view as to how Ecuador’s diplomacy is connected to the internal process of change underway in the country?
Our foreign policy is based on the accomplishments and aspirations of the Citizens’ Revolution and the desire to share them, first of all, with our sisters and brothers in the region and, of course, the rest of the world. We can show that it is possible to fight poverty, promote sustainable development, protect our natural resources, move forward with policies of inclusion and focus on the development of human talent. With the help of Cuba and Venezuela, we are carrying out a program of special attention for disabled persons. But what we are most interested in sharing is the idea that justice and hope are possible.
First published in Granma.