Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

U.S. Government Deals Chevron Stinging Defeat Over Ecuador Trade Preferences

Amazon Defense Coalition

Amazon Defense Coalition
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109

Washington, D.C. – For the sixth straight year, the United States government has flatly rejected Chevron's increasingly frantic attempts to cut trade preferences for Ecuador in what critics say is part of an unethical campaign to interfere in a private environmental litigation brought by rainforest villagers.

"Chevron's attempt to enlist the U.S. government to quash a private litigation in the courts of a democratic ally is unconscionable and we applaud the Obama Administration for rejecting it," said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for dozens of indigenous and farmer communities of Ecuador who have sued the oil giant over what experts consider to be the worst oil-related contamination in the world.

"Simply put, Chevron's arguments not only rest on a series of lies but the entire request runs counter to the U.S. foreign policy goal of promoting the rule of law in Latin America," said Hinton.

Hinton said Chevron tried to mislead the United States Trade Representative, which is mandated by Congress to renew trade preferences for the Andean nations (which include Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia), by arguing that it was the victim of a fraudulent $18 billion judgment in Ecuador.

In fact, the judgment against Chevron was based on an eight-year trial that produced "overwhelming" scientific evidence that the oil giant dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways and abandoned more than 900 toxic waste pits that have pipes to funnel oil sludge into streams and rivers used by indigenous groups for their drinking water.

A summary of the evidence against Chevron relied on by the court can be found here or viewed here in this video. The court also imposed a punitive damages penalty after finding evidence that Chevron lawyers threatened judges, engaged in an attempted bribery scheme, and tried to grind the trial to a halt by filing dozens of frivolous motions.

Chevron had enlisted several surrogates to lobby the USTR on its behalf, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Foreign Trade Council, and the Emergency Committee for American Trade. All receive significant financial support from Chevron and operate as front groups for the oil giant to undermine the Ecuador trial, said Hinton.

Chevron has met stiff opposition in the Congress to its lobbying effort. In 2006, Senators Obama and Leahy wrote a letter asking the USTR to stay out of the case. In 2009, four Senators – Wyden, Durbin, Leahy, and Casey – again demanded the USTR not meddle in the litigation. See here.

Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), the only member of Congress to visit the affected region, called the situation created by Chevron a "terrible humanitarian and environmental crisis" and said it is "past time" for those responsible to be held accountable. See here.

In previous years, Ecuador's rainforest leaders have protested to the USTR that Chevron was trying to engineer through lobbying what it could not win in court based on the evidence. Chevron fought for nine years to shift the venue of the trial from U.S. federal court where it was filed to Ecuador, arguing in 14 sworn affidavits that the country's court system was fair and transparent.

Only when the scientific evidence at the subsequent trial (which began in 2003) pointed to Chevron's guilt did the company launch a campaign to attack Ecuador's government. The goal was to create leverage to force Ecuador's government to illegally quash the claims of its own citizens, said Hinton.

Although Chevron had asked the USTR to cut trade preferences for Ecuador, the agency said it would continue to "monitor" the situation which it is required by law to do anyway under the relevant eligibility criteria for the Andrea Trade Preferences Act created by Congress. Ecuador's government has said the cutting of trade preferences would have cost the country up to 350,000 jobs that are dependent on U.S. exports.

Chevron's lobbying effort was opposed by the Ecuadoran-American Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Floral Importers of Florida, among other business groups.

Chevron has suffered a series of legal setbacks over the last year in the high-profile environmental case, including three losses in U.S. federal appellate courts. In addition, 13 U.S. federal trial courts have rejected Chevron's fraud allegations, which the Ecuadorians claim are a ruse designed by Chevron to distract attention from its own misconduct in Ecuador and the ethical violations of its lead outside law firm, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. See here.

In the last month, the Ecuadrian villagers filed enforcement actions to seize billions of dollars worth of Chevron assets in Canada and Brazil. See here and here.