Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Kerry Kennedy Accuses Chevron of Cultural Genocide in Ecuador Rainforest

Daughter of RFK Appalled by "Chevron’s Chernobyl"

Amazon Defense Coalition

Amazon Defense Coalition
06 November 2009 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109

Quito, Ecuador – The massive oil contamination for which Chevron faces a potential $27 billion liability in Ecuador's courts is a "clear violation" of the rights of indigenous peoples to life, security, and self-determination, said Kerry Kennedy, a human rights advocate and daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, in an opinion piece posted on the Huffington Post this week.

Kennedy recently visited an area of Ecuador which borders Colombia and is considered the site of the worst oil-related contamination on the planet at the invitation of the local indigenous communities. She returned "appalled" at the "nightmarish landscape" which the plaintiffs estimate is at least thirty times worse than the Exxon Valdez spill, according to the article.

"...Beneath the cloud cover and canopy, the jungle is a tangle of oil slicks, festering sludge, and rusted pipeline," Kennedy wrote in reference to what is left of the once-pristine rainforest. "Smokestacks sprout from the ground, spewing throat-burning fumes into the air. Wastewater from unlined pits seeps into the groundwater and flows into the rivers and streams."

Kennedy added: "I saw a poisonous pit abandoned by Texaco in 1974 and never used by any other company. The pipes leading from that pit have clear liquid running from them. When I put that liquid to my nose, it smelled like gasoline. It runs directly into an adjoining stream, which is the main source of drinking water for people who live along its banks."

Texaco, which operated in the region from 1964 to 1992, is accused of dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste directly into the waterways and forests of the Amazon and abandoning 916 unlined waste pits. Evidence at trial shows high rates of cancer and other oil-related health problems, while five indigenous groups maintain their traditional lifestyles have been decimated and that an area roughly the size of Rhode Island has been poisoned.

Last year, a court-appointed Special Master who reviewed all of the evidence in the case found damages could be as high as $27.3 billion and that Chevron is responsible for at least 1,401 excess cancer deaths. A final decision on liability and damages is expected in 2010.

"I had heard about what has been called "Chevron's Chernobyl in the Amazon" for years," Kennedy wrote. "But nothing could prepare me for the horror I witnessed ... Texaco knew people would die because of what they were doing, and they ignored it. At last count, 1,400 children, women, and men have died of illnesses directly attributed to Texaco's contamination."

Most of the scientific evidence in the Special Master report comes from an estimated 50,000 chemical samplings results produced by Chevron during court-ordered judicial inspections that document extensive cancer-causing toxins at its own well sites, which were mostly built in the 1970s. The plaintiffs have long asserted that Chevron proved the case against itself.

Kennedy called on Chevron's shareholders and citizens to take action to stem the humanitarian crisis in the region, saying the company "has tossed up one delay after another" and does not appear interested in living up to its stated commitment to support human rights.

Kennedy is the second high-profile American to visit the region and come back questioning Chevron's account. U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, who toured the contaminated sites last year, wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama: "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."

Kerry Kennedy began working in the field of human rights in 1981, when she investigated abuses committed by U.S. immigration officials against refugees from El Salvador. In 1988, she founded the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights. She has led over 40 human rights delegations across the globe.

Upon returning from Ecuador in mid-October, Kennedy wrote to Chevron CEO David O'Reilly and the Chevron Board of Directors to request a meeting to exchange ideas about Ecuador. Kennedy said neither O'Reilly nor the Chevron Board has responded to her request.

To date, no senior member of Chevron's management team or Board of Directors has visited the impacted area of Ecuador, according to the plaintiffs.