Tirade Marks End of Difficult Week of Setbacks for Chevron In $27 Billion Case
Amazon Defense Coalition
15 March 2009 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Coca, Ecuador - After a frustrating week of setbacks in an environmental trial in Ecuador's rainforest, two Chevron lawyers exploded in anger at representatives of the victims after a technical expert demonstrated for the third time in a week that oil was visible at a well site that the company claimed to have "remediated" a decade ago, said lawyers for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Chevron.
Chevron lead lawyer Adolfo Callejas, who was a lawyer for Texaco in Ecuador over the three decades that the company admitted to dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the country's Amazon basin, on Thursday unleashed a tirade of personal insults at plaintiff's lawyers Pablo Fajardo and Julio Prieto during a judicial inspection at a site called Auca Sur, deep in the Amazon jungle, said Fajardo and Prieto.
Callejas repeatedly called Fajardo and Prieto "gallinas" (which translates literally as "hens") - a highly insulting and emasculating term in Ecuadorian culture. He also likened their legal arguments to the cackling sounds hens make, said Fajardo and Prieto.
They also said another Chevron lawyer, Alberto Racines, seemed to threaten Prieto by asking that they settle their differences in a rumble after the Auca Sur court hearing. Prieto, 27, is 5'8" and 150 pounds while Racines, in his late 40s, is a large and strongly-built man well over six feet.
"Callejas is frustrated because his life's work as a lawyer for Texaco in Ecuador is going up in flames as the company's defense falls apart," said Prieto. "Racines has threatened me on multiple occasions during the trial."
The tirade and apparent threat marked the end of a difficult week for Chevron in the long-running trial, where a final decision on a $27 billion damages claim is expected later this year. The company has told U.S. regulators that it expects "a significant adverse judgment" in the case while telling Ecuador's indigenous leaders to expect a "lifetime of litigation" if they persist in pressing their claims.
Both Fajardo, 37, and Prieto are Ecuadorian lawyers who have won international renown for their long battle to hold Chevron accountable for what experts believe is the worst oil-related disaster on the planet. Texaco admitted to dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways, and abandoning hundreds of waste pits gouged out of the jungle floor, when it operated an oil concession in Ecuador from 1964 to 1990.
Chevron bought Texaco in 2001 and will bear any liability in the case, where soil and water damage cover an area roughly the size of Rhode Island. Callejas, who hails from a prominent Ecuador family that traces its lineage to the Spanish conquest, has served as Chevron's lead counsel in the trial since it began in 2003.
For several months, the plaintiffs have accused Chevron of violating various court edicts as part of a strategy to delay the trial indefinitely. Early in the week, Callejas was openly rebuked by the trial judge for seeking a last-minute postponement of a series of judicial inspections that for months Chevron had insisted take place, even though the evidentiary phase of the trial was all but completed last year.
As the four inspections initially requested and then opposed by Chevron went forward last week, Callejas became increasingly embarrassed with the results. On Tuesday, at two separate Chevron well sites deep in the rainforest that the company claimed to have remediated, oil was clearly visible in the soil -- setting the stage for the tirade on Thursday.
At the Aucua Sur site, the court-appointed technical expert, Marcelo Munoz, for the third time in a week lifted soil samples that contained shiny, visible oil sludge. The sight was almost too much to bear for Callejas, who lashed out at Fajardo and Prieto with his "hen" comment.
After trial judge Juan Nunez cautioned Callejas to treat his younger adversaries with respect, he seemed to calm down. But tempers flared yet again when Racines told Prieto that "this is personal and we will see later how it ends."
The "remediation" of the waste pits, the basis of Chevron's defense at trial, has now become almost completely discredited in the eyes of scientists and independent court experts. Even before the inspections this week, 45 out of 54 waste pits purportedly "remediated" by Texaco and examined in the trial contained extensive levels of toxins, according to the independent court expert who worked with a team of 14 scientists to review the more than 62,000 chemical sampling results submitted as evidence.
Several of the "remediated" sites have levels of toxins thousands of times higher than permissible norms in the U.S. and Ecuador, according to the court expert. Texaco claimed it had spent $40 million on the remediation, a paltry amount compared to the cost of a comprehensive clean-up, according to the court expert.
Callejas angered Amazonian residents in an earlier phase of the trial when he insisted that oil does not cause cancer, contradicting decades of scientific research. He also said candy bar wrappers contain more lead than oil and that the Amazon rainforest was "an industrial production" zone rather than a delicate ecosystem.
The trial in Ecuador began in 2003 after a U.S. federal judge in New York granted a request from Chevron that the case be transferred there because the courts there were a more adequate forum. When evidence in the Ecuador trial started to point to Chevron's culpability, the company began to attack the very courts that it previously praised as fair.
If accepted, the $27 billion damages award could be the largest ever for an environmental case.