26 April 2007
Quito* - The President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, accused the US oil giant, ChevronTexaco, of provoking from 1972 to 1992 a greater ecological and economic disaster than that caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.
The pronouncement of the national leader, 43, appeared to be a sign of the President's open backing of the legal battle, which thousands of residents of the Amazon region are waging against Chevron for dumping millions of gallons of toxins into the environment during their extractive activities.
"Let the whole world see the barbarity that Texaco has committed (...). The damage caused is incredible. It is irreversible," the President said during a tour of the Sucumbíos province of the Amazon, the heart of the hydrocarbon industry in Ecuador, as well as the theater of operations for the oil giant.
The plaintiffs estimate at $6 billion the costs of remediation of the alleged damages provoked by Texpet, a subsidiary of Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001.
The company denies the charges and says that it does not have any environmental liabilities with the fifth largest producer of crude in South America.
"Texaco should respond to this," assured Correa, according to a statement released by the office of the President. The statement, attributed to Correa, described the damages as a catastrophe "greater than the Exxon Valdez", which spilled million of barrels of crude in Alaska in 1989.
The declaration by Correa, who consistently employs tough rhetoric with multinationals that operate in the country, comes at a worrying time for the company, due to both the trajectory of the crucial legal case based in Sucumbíos, as well as political interference in the trial process.
Despite giving his support to the plaintiffs, Correa, whose reference to the Exxon Valdez crisis is similar to that used by the plaintiffs to support their accusations, affirmed that "everything lies in the hands of the justice system".
The head of state didn't specify if the executive branch could act, in the future, as an active part of the trial. It is the first time that a president has objected to the terms of the environmental remediation process and the operations of ChevronTexaco.
The company has denied the charges and has stated that it implemented an environmental remediation plan, with a total cost of $40 million, in order to rid themselves of any liabilities from their Ecuador operations.