Power Protecting Power (The Chevron Rulings)
Power protects power.
This is a lesson to learn early in life when it comes to matters of the haves and have-nots of the world.
Such is the case of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision this week in the 23-year-old lawsuit, brought by a group of Ecuadorian indigenous peoples against Chevron for one of the largest oil contamination disasters in history.
The U.S. appellate court sided with Chevron, letting the company off the hook for pollution damage that even the oil giant does not deny.
By 2013, three levels of Ecuador’s courts had ruled Chevron should pay $8.6 billion in damages, but the 2nd Circuit judges blocked enforcement of the judgment in the United States, in defiance of another country’s court system.
In a lengthy ruling, the judges cited over a hundred cases to justify their decision, but they barely mentioned the deaths, the diseases and the destruction experienced by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs — the indigenous tribal people and villagers who live on land Chevron’s adopted company, Texaco, left contaminated and dangerous almost three decades ago.
They live off this land, or try to.
One could say they have been forgotten, but they would have had to be remembered in the first place. They never were, here in the land of the free and the brave.
They have been literally lost and invisible in the U.S. court system.
On numerous occasions, one of their U.S. attorneys questioned the integrity of U.S. courts, in particular, the lower court judge who ruled the attorneys committed fraud. In turn, the judge had few kind words for the people suffering in Ecuador and focused his attention on the attorney.
Clearly, the appellate court could not abide such heresy, either, especially by a U.S. attorney.
So, it adopted hook, line and sinker the lower court judge’s reasoning and essentially wrote a legal template to protect U.S.-based, multi-national corporations that are exploiting, have exploited or will exploit the people and resources of struggling, third world countries.
The Second Circuit judges should have saved a tree and been much more succinct in its argument:
We are protecting our own: our court system, our judge, our corporations.
We are going to make it harder for hard-hitting human rights and environmental lawyers to come after American corporations when they take advantage of other countries’ resources and workforces they need for profit.
We are going to make sure the Ecuadorian plaintiffs (many of whom are indigent, are sick or have family members who are sick) do not benefit, even though the alleged fraud does not change the fact Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of oil and toxic water into the rainforest from the early 1970s to 1990 and then faked a cleanup.
We are ruling against the Ecuadorians because their attorneys did not dispute the fraud findings (even though they did in numerous court filings, including evidence showing Chevron’s main witness lied.)
We are ruling on both the law and Chevron’s facts, even though we — appellate courts — generally do not rule on the facts and, in the process, we are going to ignore the Ecuadorians’ facts.
This decision is unprecedented in American law for many reasons but, most urgently, because it empowers corporations to criminalize efforts to hold them accountable for the messes they make, whether here or elsewhere.
The Ecuadorians do have options, thankfully. They are seeking to enforce their judgment in Canada, where Chevron has enough assets to pay the damage award. A trial begins in September.
Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the emperor wears no clothes but multi-national corporations are busy today, applauding anyway.
For more information about the Ecuadorians’ lawsuit, click here.