Schwarzenegger Invited to Ecuador to Meet Devastated Communities, See Contaminated Land and Water
19 April 2007 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Sacramento - Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs in the landmark environmental lawsuit against Chevron (formerly Texaco) in Ecuador, has asked California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to urge the oil major to clean up the 18 billion gallons of toxic waste it dumped into the Amazon.
The call came in a letter from Mr. Fajardo to the Governor, ahead of Chevron's annual general shareholder meeting next Wednesday. Mr. Schwarzenegger has styled himself as a "green" governor, signing landmark legislation against global warming and appearing on the cover of Newsweek for his environmental record. However, he also has close ties to Chevron, which has given him $600,000 for his two gubernatorial campaigns and inaugurations.
Chevron is currently the defendant in a class action lawsuit that alleges the oil giant dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest and abandoned more than 1,000 toxic waste pits, most filled with carcinogens such as chromium and barium. The lawsuit, currently being heard in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, alleges that clean up will cost at least $6 billion, making it one of the largest environmental liabilities in the history of the oil industry.
Fajardo, a 34-year-old farmer who grew up in abject poverty and struggled mightily to get his law degree, is pitted against approximately 30 Chevron lawyers in Ecuador and the U.S. who are litigating the unprecedented case. The damage is said to have led to widespread health problems, including a cancer epidemic, and the devastation of indigenous groups.
In the letter, Mr. Fajardo invites the Governor to visit the devastated region of the Ecuadorian Amazon where Texaco (now Chevron) once drilled and to ask Chevron what the company now proposes to do to clean up the toxic mess and help the communities whose lives and lands have been ruined.
He writes: "Chevron destroyed over 1,700 square miles of once pristine rain forest with petrochemicals and seepage, and in the process poisoned generations of people. We can no longer drink the water in our villages and towns because the water is contaminated. I stand with 30,000 Ecuadorians in asking for your help."
Mr. Fajardo adds: "Instead of trying to help my people, Chevron has time and again funded studies to discredit our health problems and downplay the economic impact their drilling had. I know that you have close ties to this company. For instance, I have read that Chevron has donated over $600,000 to your campaigns and inaugurations. I also have read that your former Chief of Staff was a lobbyist for Chevron.
"However, I have faith because I know you are a man of the environment. You are making California a leader in the United States on almost every environmental issue. You are what they call a "green" governor."
Mr. Fajardo will be in the San Francisco Bay Area next week, accompanied by Luis Macas, the leader of Ecuador's largest national indigenous organization and a former presidential candidate.
The trial, which began in 2003, is expected to conclude this summer with the judge delivering his verdict in early 2008.