New attention on ChevronTexaco case

By Oxfam

Ecuador's new President Rafael Correa put a spotlight on the legal case brought by the Amazon Defense Front and 30,000 people against ChevronTexaco, leading a group of journalists to the area near Lago Agrio late in April, where the company spilled more than 18 billion gallons of oil and toxic waste water over nearly three decades.

According to an Associated Press story, President Correa publicly pledged government support for the case, which began nearly 10 years ago in the United States and was thrown out on appeal in 2003. Since then the court in Ecuador has been conducting judicial inspections of polluted areas, gathering evidence a judge will use to make a decision, possibly in the next year.

During the same week, indigenous leaders representing the people affected by the pollution in the Orellana and Succumbios region of Ecuador attended the annual meeting for shareholders of ChevronTexaco in California. Humberto Piaguaje, a leader of the Secoya indigenous people, called for the company to resolve the case and help clean up the environment. "We want you to give us back our lives," Piaguaje said. "We want you to let us live in peace and harmony with nature. We want you to repair the damage so that our children do not have to continue suffering."

Oxfam America has supported the Amazon Defense Front's legal case for nine years, and assisted in the creation of the Assembly of Delegates of Communities Affected by Texaco, a community-based organization that has ensured those most directly affected by the pollution have a voice in the legal strategy.

"We think it is positive that President Correa has declared his support of those affected by pollution in the Lago Agrio region," said Javier Aroca, who coordinates programs related to indigenous rights for Oxfam America in South America. "We consider this is a signal that the government is interested in investigating and sanctioning those who are responsible."

"It is important to remember that the people affected are demanding compensation for almost 10 years now," Aroca said. "The pollution has affected the health of indigenous peoples and peasants... there have been cases of skin diseases and cancer. Furthermore, the lands are not as productive as they used to be, which has affected the agricultural economy. From our point of view, the government of Ecuador should support the affected population to complete the legal procedures, which are very expensive."

A win for the Amazon Defense Front in this precedent-setting case could change the landscape of the oil industry, and further establish the rights of communities to be compensated for negative social and environmental effects of oil operations.