Amazon Watch is an Oakland, CA based non-profit advocating for the rights of indigenous communities in the Amazon for the past 3 decades. When Do-Gooder visited Ecuador in 2011 to visit communities affected by environmental contamination left behind by Chevron, Amazon Watch was integral in making that happen. We recently caught up with Paul Paz y Mino, AW's Director of Outreach and Online Strategy to discuss their ongoing efforts as Chevron's Annual Shareholder Meeting approaches on May 27th, 2015.
DG:For those who are new to this issue, can you give us a little background on AW's involvement with Chevron?
PPM: Chevron, operating as Texaco, was the first oil company to drill for oil in the Amazon. Its operations began in the mid 1960s and continued until the company pulled out in 1992. It left after having created the worst oil-related environmental catastrophe in history. The company deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic wastewater into rivers and streams, spilled millions of gallons of crude oil, and abandoned hazardous waste in hundreds of unlined open-air pits littered throughout the region. The result is widespread devastation of the rainforest ecosystem and a massive health crisis for local and indigenous communities.
In 2011, one of the most important environmental victories in history was achieved when a $9.5 billion judgment as issued against Chevron and later affirmed by the Supreme Court of Ecuador in a 222-page decision that meticulously documents the company's environmental crimes, fraud, bribery, and subterfuge during the long eight-year trial.
Since 2002, Amazon Watch and our Clean Up Ecuador Campaign has been working with shareholders, consumers, and other concerned people to support justice for the communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon. We have campaigned vigorously for years to expose Chevron’s actions and organize the global community to support the call for justice for Chevron’s deliberate act of contamination and human rights abuse.
Amazon Watch and our allies, including Amnesty International, have exposed the leadership at Chevron as having approved deliberate pollution, lied to shareholders, bribed witnesses, falsified evidence, hidden the damning truth about their actions and led the company down a path that violated the First Amendment rights of its critics.
DG: AW has a long history of attending the CVX shareholder meetings. What have you learned from the process?
PPM: Amazon Watch has helped to pioneer shareholder advocacy work on behalf of human rights and the environment. Accompanying members of the affected communities have time and again dominated the Chevron shareholder meeting and forced company executives to respond to their critics. Partnering with shareholders controlling billions of dollars in assets under management we have helped to show that corporate leadership can not simply act without repercussion from their own shareholders. This movement continues to grow and over time and can change the climate of corporate abuse of the environment and human rights. Many shareholders care deeply about changing Chevron’s behavior and continue to exercise their authority to call for accountability and change. At a recent meeting, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli joined with 39 other investors, with a combined total of $580 billion in assets under management, to call on Chevron to settle its decades-long legal battle in Ecuador.
DG: Can you share with us successes, failures or memorable moments in this battle?
PP:Every year our work to shine a light on Chevron’s environmental and human rights crimes at the shareholder meeting are effective at preventing Chevron leadership from ignoring the truths of their actions. Several years ago, we led the creation of the True Cost of Chevron Network, a coalition of NGOs partnering with affected communities in Nigeria, Ecuador, the Philippines, Burma, Argentina, Australia, Richmond, California and several other countries. This group has persisted in pressuring Chevron to change its practices and forced its executives to respond to critics. Most importantly, individuals from around the globe who have lost family members and sometimes entire communities to Chevron’s contamination, have been given a chance to confront Chevron leadership and speak to the global press. It has personally been incredibly inspiring to join the hundreds of activists who stand solidarity with survivors of Chevron’s contamination each year.
However, in 2010, Chevron forcibly, and illegally, removed members of our coalition despite their possession of legal proxies to enter the meeting. Chevron’s leadership violated the rights of its own shareholders in an effort to silence the voices of its critics. Many had travelled thousands of miles and left families behind to make the trip to Houston to confront Chevron, yet were turned away. Of course, this only drew greater attention from the international press and exposed the true culture of Chevron’s leadership.
DG: There have been some controversies in the press surrounding the Chevron/Ecuador case on both sides. For those who are unclear on the issue, can you clarify us on the facts?
PPM: Chevron’s response to losing the trial and both appeals has been to attack Ecuador, its courts, the human rights lawyers, Ecuadorian communities and the environmental and human rights community supporting them. The company has spent millions of dollars to create a false story of bribery and corruption in Ecuador based on falsified evidence, edited film clips and the paid testimony of a corrupt ex-judge. It has accused the very people it deliberately poisoned of extortion and claims they fabricated their case. This entire effort has been intended to distract attention away from the reality of its actions in Ecuador and delegitimize the case against it. Chevron has tried to win by might what it could never win by merit by hiring 60 law firms and over 2000 legal professionals to file SLAPP suits against its critics. In fact, Amnesty International joined Amazon Watch and over a dozen other human rights and environmental organizations to oppose this attack on free speech and corporate accountability efforts.
The facts are that Chevron admitted to the deliberate dumping in Ecuador, was found liable for $9.5 billion after eight years of trial in the forum of its choosing exposed its sham remediation process. Over 100 technical reports of evidence were used to convict Chevron, and much of the evidence came from Chevron’s own court filings. In fact, videos given to Amazon Watch by a Chevron whistleblower show the company finding toxic contamination during the trial at sites it swore to have cleaned up.
DG: You've met many people on this journey. Can you share a personal story of an individual/family affected by this company?
PPM: I have been fortunate to visit and get to know many of the people in Ecuador who have fought for justice bravely for many years in the face of Chevron’s threats and attacks. Emergildo Criollo, a leader of the Cofan people, inspires me most to this day. Emergildo remembers when the first Texaco helicopters arrived in his community when he was a young boy. He grew up witnessing his contamination and has spent his entire life fighting for the right to live in a clean environment. Emergildo lost two children to Chevron’s contamination. As a parent myself I can imagine the strength it must take for Emergildo to continue confronting Chevron year after year carrying the pain of his loss.
Emergildo’s dignity and perseverance have never once faltered despite the many times he has stood face to face with those responsible for the deaths in his family and the near destruction of his community. Emerigildo remains a powerful and inspiring leader and today he is working with our allies at the Clearwater project to help his and other indigenous communities to install and maintain rainwater catchment systems to filter out deadly pollutants and help affected communities survive.
DG: How can we support AW and CVX social justice/environmental coalition's work?
PPM: Amnesty International has often supported our work and this campaign to hold Chevron accountable. The Business and Human Rights program has attended previous shareholder meetings, organized demonstrations, generated actions and even supported legal actions to fight back against Chevron’s attacks on free speech. With participation from the many NGOs in the True Cost of Chevron network, we’re holding another demonstration at this year’s shareholder meeting at 7am on Wednesday May 27th at the Chevron headquarters in San Ramon, California. We would welcome Amnesty activists to stand alongside others from the Sierra Club, 350.org, Rainforest Action Network, Friends of the Earth and other groups. For those who can’t make it in person the True Cost of Chevron site has several on-line actions and we encourage support on social media to spread the word. Follow @amazonwatch and @truecostchevron to learn more.
Most importantly, we count on the human rights community to expose Chevron’s environmental and human rights crimes and reject its lies and attacks on those working to hold it accountable in Ecuador and around the globe.
- Tony Cruz, Do-Gooder Founder
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