Ecuadorean Groups Appeal to Increase $8.6 Billion Chevron Fine
LAGO AGRIO, Ecuador, February 16, 2011 (ENS) – Ecuadorian plaintiffs who won a US$8.6 billion dollar judgment against oil giant Chevron earlier this week for pollution of their Amazon homeland plan to appeal the ruling. They say the amount awarded is too low to compensate for the damages they suffered from 30 years of oil production by Texaco, since purchased by Chevron.
In an international teleconference Tuesday, the plaintiffs and their attorneys said they will appeal the ruling issued by Judge Nicolas Zambrano of the Sucumbios Provincial Court. He ruled in favor of 47 named indigenous residents and farmers from his courtroom in Lago Agrio, the oil town that was the epicenter of Texaco’s operations in 1977.
“Even though we think the decision is appropriate, we think there are certain changes that need to be made to the numbers given to each of the damage categories,” said Luis Yanza,lead coordinator for the Asamblea de Afectados por Texaco (Assembly of Delegates of Communities Affected by Chevron/Texaco) – the umbrella organization representing the 30,000 indigenous peoples and farmers affected by the oil pollution.
“We belive the amount should be much higher, so we are going to appeal the decision and ask the judiciary to review those numbers,” Yanza said.
Chevron said Monday that the company plans to appeal the ruling, calling it “illegitimate and unenforceable.”
Humberto Piaguaje, a Secoya indigenous leader, told reporters on the call, “For us this is an historic day. This was meant to happen and it’s fair with regard to human rights. I lived thru the 30 years of irresponsible oil practiced by Texaco and also lived thru the legal actions. We’re very proud of the judgment even though the damages amount is not sufficient.”
“I say it’s not sufficient because you can’t really put a dollar number to the deaths of our ancestors and all the animal life that has been lost because of the actions of Chevron,” said Piaguaje. “So this award further strengthens us in our fight as an indigenous nationality in our goal of having Chevron pay up for what they have done.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say they will file the appeal by Thursday in Sucumbios Provincial Court in Lago Agrio, where a three judge panel will hear it. They expect the case to eventually be decided by the Supreme Court of Ecuador.
One after another, the indigenous representatives told reporters on the call that when they finally do receive the award, it will be used to clean up the polluted lands and waters, not split amongst themselves.
Emergildo Criollo of the Cofan people, traveled from Ecuador to deliver his message to Chevron CEO James Watson at his home in Lafayette, California, March 2, 2010. (Photo courtesy Rainforest Action Network)
“We intend to use the damage award to clean up the rainforest, and it won’t be divided among plaintiffs and lawyers, as Chevron has claimed,” said Emergildo Criollo, leader of the Cofan people, one of five indigenous tribes affected by the contamination. “Even though this a great victory, our fight won’t stop until Chevron pays for all damages it has caused to the Amazon rainforest.”
Ermel Chavez, coordinator of the Frende de Defensa de la Amazonia, “I guarantee that all the proceeds from any award will be handled technically and professionally and will be used exclusively for the cleanup of the rainforest.”
“We will continue to do things the way we have been doing them, as a community taking all decision as a community,” Chavez said. “This is a group effort; that’s what’s kept us strong and that’s the way we’re going to keep doing this.”
Guillermo Grefa, a Kichwa leader, of the community of Rumipamba, said, the Earth, or Pachamama, “is dead, and Chevron has to pay for our Pachamama to be born again.”
“I want to stress that all the monies that come from any award will be destined exclusively to clean up the Amazon and they won’t go to the plaintiffs,” Grefa said. “We want Chevron to recognize the crimes they have committed during the 30 years they operated their concession here and during the 17 years they fought this lawsuit. Chevron needs to acknowledge its responsibility for this offense.”
“We know we live every day just by all the damages left by Chevron,” Grefa said. “We see them every day, they’re reality for us, so I can say the judge’s decision has a strong factual base.”
Pablo Fajardo, the lead Ecuadorean lawyer for the indigenous plaintiffs, is confident that the factual basis of their case will stand up to scrutiny on appeal. In addition to the expert reports presented by the plaintiffs, the judge considered reports presented by Chevron.
“There are 106 expert reports on file and 58 of those were drafted and written by technical experts retained and paid by Chevron, the decision is based on those reports as well,” Fajardo said.
Chevron maintains that the judge’s ruling is based on “fraud.” The company said Monday it “intends to see that the perpetrators of this fraud are held accountable for their misconduct.”
“Once you see the decision,” Fajardo said, “you’ll see it is based from the scientific findings, many of which come from Chevron’s case. If we keep this as a matter of law and a matter of fact, there won’t be any real repercussions.”
An Ecuadorean native from the affected Amazon region, Fajardo began representing the plaintiffs in the case against Chevron right out of law school in 2004; it is his first legal case.
Fajardo was awarded the 2007 CNN World Heroes Award in the Fighting for Justice category, and the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2008. Yanza, a native of Ecuador, shared the 2008 Goldman Prize with Fajardo.
For previous coverage of this issue see: Ecuador Court Fines Chevron $8.6 Billion for Rainforest Pollution