AMAZON INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES VS CHEVRON CORP. (PERSPECTIVE)
Originally posted on Nov. 12, 2012
Just days after reports of protesters taking to the streets in Quito in opposition to Ecuador’s latest licensing round for oil exploration projects in unspoiled regions of the Amazon rainforest, a legal battle unfolds in Toronto. This case though, is the continuation of a struggle that began decades ago…
It pits US-oil giant Chevron Corp. versus a group of Ecuadorian communities from the northern part of the Amazon seeking compensation for the contamination of their land and personal injury to more than 30,000 indigenous people in the Oriente region between 1964 and 1992 while under the operation of Chevron subsidiary Texaco, which it took over in 2001.
It’s a complicated battle widely considered to be among the most high-profile environmental cases in the world…namely because of “who” it concerns, and “what” the outcome would imply.
After nine years of trying to move the case from the US, or as my contacts in South America tell me “to move the case as far away from North American media as possible,” Chevron was tried in Ecuador. It lost and, in February 2012, was ordered to pay $18.2 billion in damages, and with that a glimmer of hope that it was over…not so. “We will fight until hell freezes over, and then fight it out on ice” reads a quote from a Factum sent to me by a lawyer representing Ecuador’s indigenous communities in Canada. Since the Ecuadorian ruling, the amount was raised to $19 billion given the company’s refusal to pay.
Despite an appeal and complex navigational procedures through legal channels made by Chevron against the ruling of the Ecuadorian court, the communities have been advised to seek compensation via the pursuit of the company’s assets where it operates. On that list: Brazil, Argentina, and Canada.
And that is why I made my way to Toronto for the two-day proceeding that began on Thursday…
Few people realize the magnitude and significance of this case, one that has flown under the mass radar for decades. It’s complicated yes, but it boils down to something that should be relevant to all…
Here’s some food for thought, a quote by Dr. David Suzuki circulated recently on social media networks…it reads:
“There are some things in the world we can’t change – gravity, entropy, the speed of light, and out biological nature that requires clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity for our health and well being. Protecting the biosphere should be our highest priority or else we sicken and die. Other things, like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them. They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the biosphere.“
I’ll admit my bias in saying that, Suzuki couldn’t have summarized it better.
Having been to the Amazon, meeting the people who live there, and witnessing the worry with which they live every day as they struggle to push back against a global urge to exploit and consume what to them is home…is a heartbreaking and sobering reminder of what we, the consumers in the so-called developed world, tend to forget.
Children by the riverbank – Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador: Mar. 2012 / Maggie Padlewska
“These plaintiffs have waited 20 years for this” said Toronto lawyer Alan Lenczner in reference to the YAIGUAJE et al v. CHEVRON CORPORATION judgement while acting on behalf of the villagers representing numerous indigenous communities in the Amazon. Simply put, they won the battle played out in US and Ecuadorian courts and now need to have their rights recognized.
Instead, their struggle continues…
Chevron Corp., represented in the Toronto courtroom by seven lawyers and a group of PR type folks eager to learn about everyone’s existence there (especially those of us who took notes) argued that the Ontario Superior Court and Mr. Justice David Brown had no jurisdiction to hear the case based on what they argued was not a case relevant to the province of Ontario while warning that a ruling would have significant implications on the global economy.
Well yes, that perhaps, it would.
Made clear in the Toronto courtroom too, was that no jurisprudence of this exact nature exists, thus upping the ante and pressure (one would assume) on the judge and the Ontario court now tasked with hearing the arguments and having to decide on the case that is now before them.
The proceeding wrapped up mid-afternoon on November 30th, with the judge saying that he and his staff of legal researchers would take a closer look at the arguments and legal implications of the case.
So now, those of us highly tuned in to the saga of Chevron’s defence against a group that for decades had pleaded, testified, presented scientifically-based evidence, and had already won in the court of law, we wait, again…until Justice Brown renders his decision sometime in February next year.
UPDATE: In May 2013 – Justice David Brown sided with Chevron stating that allowing the battle between the two sides to take place in Ontario would mean “consuming significant time and judicial resources of this court” according to an article published by the Globe and Mail.