From Socialist Voice, April 2011


Chevron forced to pay $8.6 billion compensation

Last year the world watched in horror at the pollution caused to the Gulf of Mexico by the BP oil spill. In Ecuador, however, the Amazon area has suffered pollution and contamination ten times worse than that of the Gulf of Mexico. The livelihood of many local people has been destroyed and their lives endangered since the first oil was extracted by Texaco from Lago Agrio in 1972, when Ecuador was ruled by a military-backed government.
     Almost forty years later a court in the same town, Lago Agrio, ruled that the Chevron Corporation (which has since taken over Texaco) must pay $8.6 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon and the permanent effects caused for thousands of people in the area. The residents had been seeking justice over the last eighteen years. These people were mainly hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers, all of whom depended on the rivers as their main source of water. As a result of Chevron’s actions this area has the highest cancer rates in the country. Childhood leukaemia is three times the national average.
     Research by the Institute of Development and International Cooperation Studies found that 72 per cent of the population were affected by pollution to both land and water caused by the extraction of oil. An incredible 88 per cent were reported to have lost crops. And 22 per cent of the people had been forcibly displaced. The introduction of money, alcohol and new diseases destroyed the people’s way of life, as well as their spiritual connection with the rain-forests and their land. There were also widespread sexual assaults by Texaco workers against indigenous women.
     Chevron has since admitted that Texaco dumped 18½ billion gallons of toxic water in the area’s waterways, and that they had more than nine hundred unlined open-air waste pits in the jungle floor. These pits were filled with deadly toxins that were free to run off into streams and rivers.
     Throughout the case Chevron used the usual tactics of transnationals. They extensively lobbied British and American politicians to get them to force Ecuador to drop the case. Numerous death threats have been made against lawyers working for the local communities.
     Guillermo Grefa, an indigenous Amazon leader, said: “We can tell our neighbours and those affected that justice exists. They can dream again of drinking clean water, not with oil residue like we’ve had to drink until now. We can dream that the clean-up of the land can begin and dream of a better way of life.”

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