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Ecuador: New Developments and Cyber-Activism in Chevron Case

Categories: Latin America, Ecuador, Citizen Media, Development, Digital Activism, Disaster, Environment, Human Rights, International Relations

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon [1].

After a historic [2] court ruling against the oil company Chevron, news [3] of the case has returned to social networks. On February 14, an Ecuadorian judge ruled that the oil company had to pay US$9.5 million in environmental damages. Almost a month later, on March 13, BBC World [4] [es] reported that Chevron appealed the sentence. In addition to this news, there was a barring [5] of the payment of the compensation for the environmental damage by a U.S. judge, and accusations [6] [es] regarding the financing of the lawyers from the Ecuadorian communities and of a fraudulent [7] Ecuadorian ruling.

These news have turned the attention of the world back to this case. Through the internet, citizens and activists share information and take part in online campaigns. An example is the Toxic Texaco [8] page on the Amazon Defence Coalition website, which includes research, videos and plenty of material on what they call “the world’s worst oil disaster”:

Ecuador es actualmente el sitio de lo que expertos reconocen como el peor desastre petrolero del mundo, ahora llamado “el Chernobyl de la Amazonía,” por una contaminación desastrosa dejada por la transnacional Texaco (ahora Chevron).

Ecuador is currently the place experts acknowledge as being the world’s worst oil disaster, now called “the Chernobyl of the Amazon,” due to the disastrous contamination left behind by the transnational Texaco (now Chevron).

YouTube user reimond87 shares related videos [9], like a video by Amazon Watch [10] which explains the case from the start and shows how the pollution has affected the local population.


Crude oil in a toxic pool near Lago Agrio in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Image by Rainforest Action Network on Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

An analysis that can be found on several web pages is that of Joan Martinez, a Spanish academic who has followed the case. Martinez examines [12] [es] the strengths and weaknesses of the ruling against the oil company in great detail and indicates that:

Texaco no pagó en su momento los costos que hubiera debido pagar para que sus operaciones no causaran daños (echando el agua de formación en piscinas que se desbordan, quemando el gas…), usando prácticas que nunca hubieran sido aceptadas en su país de origen y que sabía que eran dañinas. Esos costos no pagados supusieron unos beneficios mayores para Texaco, un enriquecimiento adicional que le permitió repartir dividendos a accionistas y hacer otras inversiones, lo que a su vez contribuyó al crecimiento económico de la empresa.

At the time, Texaco did not pay the costs that they should have to ensure that their operations would not cause damage (disposing of formation water in overflowing pools, burning gas…) using methods that had never been accepted in their country of origin and which they knew were harmful. These unpaid costs meant greater profits for Texaco, a supplementary gain which allowed them to distribute dividends to shareholders and make other investments, which in turn contributed to the economic growth of the company.

There are three main arguments that the environmentalist activists examine: the environmental damage to the Amazon [13] and the devastation of one of the most biodiversity-rich zones on the planet, the accusations of embezzlement [14] made against the oil company which has increased profits by millions at a high environmental cost, and the irreparable damage to the communities and inhabitants of the area.

There are five indigenous nationalities living in this region: Siona [15], Secoya [16], Cofán [17], Huaorani [18] and Amazonian Kichwas [19] all of whom have seen the effects on their way of life and the threat to their culture [20]. In addition to the settlers (the mestizo inhabitants of the Amazon), those affected total more than 30,000. Amnesty International challenges the situation with the question “Oil Rights or Human Rights?” [21] [es]:

Amnistía Internacional está realmente preocupada por el estado de los derechos humanos de las poblaciones indígenas y de los grupos ecologistas en el Ecuador. Por más de cuatro décadas, las comunidades indígenas han sido testigos de cómo las multinacionales petroleras se han abierto paso a través de sus territorios ancestrales y de la selva Amazónica en busca de los vastos recursos petroleros del país.

Amnesty International is truly concerned about the state of the human rights of the indigenous peoples and environmentalist groups in Ecuador. For over four decades the indigenous communities have borne witness to multinational oil companies making their way through their ancestral land and the Amazon jungle in search of the vast oil resources in the country.

In spite of the millions gained in oil profits, poverty levels [22] [es] in the Amazon, especially in the oil provinces of Sucumbíos [23] and Orellana [24], are higher than in the rest of Ecuador. Ecuadorian economist [25] [es] Alberto Acosta comments [26] [es]:

Para los pueblos indígenas de la Amazonía ecuatoriana, el choque con la civilización occidental, en su peor versión la petrolera, ha significado un cambio radical en su vida e incluso la perdida de vida. No sólo dichos pueblos, también los colonos de la Amazonía norte del Ecuador han sufrido un sinnúmero de atropellos a sus derechos elementales.

For the indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Amazon, the conflict with western civilisation, particularly with oil companies, has signalled a radical change in their lives and even the loss of life. Not just the aforementioned peoples, but the settlers of the northern Amazon of Ecuador have also suffered a huge amount of abuse to their basic rights.

Acosta also mentions an issue hidden in the environmental devastation: the violence and sexual exploitation [27] [es] of women and girls associated with the extraction of oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and the impact on the health of indigenous and settler women.

A historic ruling

The sentence handed down by the Lago Agrio [28] court on February 14 against the oil company is considered historic [29]by the environmentalist movement. However, The Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration temporarily banned the application [30] of any ruling  that the Ecuadorian court may issue against Chevron. The process continues [31] [es] and it will take several years for the decisions on appeals and other submissions to be enforced by the parties involved in the judicial ruling.

Social networks in Ecuador have reacted cautiously [32] [es]. But netizens in the United States and other places around the world show strong activism on the topic, as seen on the Facebook page “We can change Chevron” [33], the blog The Chevron Pit [34], or in the 26,194 signatures on the Care2 [35] site petitioning for Chevron to restore the health and environment of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon [1].