Time of Intense Questioning of Chevron's Campaign to Undermine $27 Billion Trial
Amazon Defense Coalition
22 October 2009 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Washington, DC – The award-winning documentary Crude, which chronicles the compelling 16-year struggle of indigenous groups in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest to hold Chevron accountable for the world's largest oil-related contamination, opens in the nation's capital Friday during a time of intense scrutiny of a trial where the oil giant faces a $27 billion liability that could eat up one-fifth of its market value.
The movie – praised by The New York Times as "intelligently and artfully made" – is being released at a time that Chevron is the subject of three official investigations by prosecutorial authorities into whether it violated laws related to its conduct in Ecuador. The lawsuit alleges that Texaco (bought by Chevron in 2001) deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon from 1964 to 1990, decimating indigenous groups and poisoning an area the size of Rhode Island. Chevron maintains that Texaco cleaned up the pits and that a remediation agreement exempts them from liability. However, court evidence has shown that the pits Texaco said it cleaned remain polluted with lethal levels of toxins. Also, the remediation agreement that Texaco signed with Ecuador relates only to government claims, not individual claims, such as the plaintiffs'.
Experts for the plaintiffs have concluded the disaster is at least 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill, and that any clean-up would dwarf the largest decontamination effort ever undertaken. The trial has been featured recently on 60 Minutes and in several major newspapers, including The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. (Watch the complete 60 Minutes' report on the contamination abandoned by Chevron.)
Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), who visited the affected area last year and who is scheduled to attend the film premiere, wrote a letter to President Obama where he described the situation in Ecuador as a "terrible humanitarian and environmental crisis". McGovern said in the letter: "As an American citizen, the degradation and contamination left behind by this U.S. company in a poor part of the world made me angry and ashamed." (Read Rep. McGovern's letter to President Obama.)
President Obama has also become a bit player in the long-running conflict, which began when the lawsuit was filed in U.S. federal court in 1993. In 2006, after the legal case had been shifted to Ecuador at Chevron's request, Sens. Obama and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) signed a letter to the United States Trade Ambassador opposing a lobbying effort by Chevron to cancel Ecuador's trade preferences in retaliation for letting the lawsuit proceed in its courts. In that letter, Obama and Leahy said: "While we are not prejudging the outcome of the case, we do believe 30,000 indigenous residents of Ecuador deserve their day in court." (Read the complete letter from Senators Obama and Leahy.)
In late August, as part of its campaign to discredit Ecuador's courts, Chevron posted secretly-recorded videotapes on YouTube that purport to show a bribery scheme involving a trial judge who has since been removed from the case. Since then, a number of inaccuracies and discrepancies in Chevron's account of the tapes have been uncovered by journalists, and the company has refused to make the witnesses or full tapes available. (Click here for more information about Chevron's discrepancies.)
Ecuador's government has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Chevron's legal team for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act on the theory the company created the tapes to undermine Ecuador's judicial system so it could evade a liability. Chevron is currently under investigation by Ecuador's Attorney General for its role in the bribery scandal.
Separately, Ecuador's national prosecutor in 2007 indicted two Chevron lawyers for lying about the results of a partial remediation used to secure a legal release. Earlier this year, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced he was investigating Chevron to determine if company management was misleading shareholders regarding its financial risk in Ecuador.
Meanwhile, the release of Crude in Washington – which runs from October 23rd-29th at the Landmark E Street Theatre – has generated enthusiastic reviews for the award-winning filmmaker Joe Berlinger. Berlinger's film focuses on the complexities of the legal controversy as well as the devastating destruction of both human and environmental life in the rainforest stemming from almost three decades of oil exploration.
Since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Crude has received high praise from the New York Times, the Associated Press, and the Los Angeles Times. It also has won a series of environmental and human rights awards, and theatres were packed for the film's opening weekend in New York City in mid-September.
A.O. Scott, film critic for The New York Times, described Crude as "intelligently and artfully made" and wrote that corporations like Chevron "move money and commodities from one place to another, often with slight regard for the sovereignty or customs of any place in particular. And so the lawyers and activists who oppose these conglomerates have tried to become equally mobile and adaptable, moving continually in the zigzagging paths traced by transnational capitalism." See additional reviews and the trailer at the official Crude website.
The film, slated for theatres in 40 cities across the country and a 2010 release in the United Kingdom, is rumored to be in contention for an Oscar nomination.
Scheduled to attend the D.C. Premiere Event, presented by Amazon Watch and hosted by the Wallace Global Fund, will be Luis Yanza, a representative of the affected communities in Ecuador and a winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize; Berlinger; Steven Donziger, the American legal advisor to the communities, and representatives of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign. Yanza, Donziger and Amazon Watch are featured in the film.