Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Ecuadorian Communities Announce Feature Film Project on Epic Battle Over Chevron's "Amazon Chernobyl" Pollution

Amazon Defense Coalition (ADC)
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109

Quito, Ecuador – Leaders of Ecuadorian rainforest communities have teamed up with a two-time American Oscar winner to develop a feature film about their extraordinary two-decade "David v. Goliath" battle to hold Chevron accountable for creating one of the worst oil-related disasters on earth in the Amazon rainforest.

The film will tell the true story of how indigenous and farmer communities from Ecuador and their lawyers fought Chevron for more than two decades to win the largest environmental judgment in history over a disaster known as the "Amazon Chernobyl", said Bill Guttentag, the Oscar winner who is working with the communities. Chevron has used at least 60 law firms and 2,000 legal personnel in what is believed to be the most expensive corporate defense in history.

Over the course of the case, Chevron has admitted engaging in corrupt acts to evade justice – including paying a witness $2 million for false testimony, trying to defraud Ecuador's courts, and even threatening judges with jail terms if they ruled against the company. The villagers are now trying to seize Chevron's assets in Canada to force the company to comply with the Ecuador judgment.

"Our goal is to tell the story of this epic battle being waged by indigenous and farmer communities against one of the world's wealthiest, most powerful, and most venal oil companies," said Luis Yanza, a renowned activist and community leader who won the prestigious Goldman Prize for his work on the case. "It is vital for us that the story reflect the narrative of the people who have lived it, not the perspective of outsiders who know little or nothing about our culture. Our story will be told in our own words and on our own terms. With the help of our trusted advisors, we expect it to be hugely entertaining."

Those on the development team include, among others, writer, director and two-time Oscar winner Bill Guttentag; Carlos Guaman, Alejandro Soto, Luis Yanza and Ermel Chavez, community leaders from Ecuador; political consultant and former Clinton Administration official Chris Lehane, who has advised lawyers on the case for 12 years; Karen Hinton, the communications consultant to the Ecuadorians; Steven Donziger, the longtime U.S. legal advisor to the affected communities who has been a target of Chevron's retaliation campaign; Aaron Marr Page, a U.S. lawyer who advises the Ecuadorian communities; and other representatives of the Amazon Defense Coalition, the community-based organization in Ecuador that brought the lawsuit and is the beneficiary of the historic judgment.

The project is being represented by William Morris Endeavor. Some proceeds from the film will be donated to the affected communities impacted by the environmental disaster, said Guttentag.

Considered one of the most important environmental justice and corporate accountability triumphs in history, the $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron has been confirmed in whole or in part by 18 separate appellate judges in Ecuador and Canada. The Supreme Courts of both countries (see here and here) have ruled unanimously against Chevron, which was found guilty of deliberately dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest when it operated in Ecuador (under the Texaco brand) from 1964 to 1992. The trial was held in Ecuador at Chevron's insistence after the company accepted jurisdiction there and promised to abide by any adverse judgment – a promise the company has since abandoned.

Chevron in recent years has mounted a ferocious counter-attack against the villagers and their lawyers, suing more than 100 people (including all 47 named plaintiffs) and alleging the judgment against the company is a fraud. A Chevron spokesman threatened the villagers with a "lifetime of litigation" as retaliation for pursuing their claims, while an internal company email showed the company's strategy was to "demonize" lawyers for the villagers to distract attention from its own misconduct.

In a once-pristine area of Ecuador, located in the eastern part of the country just south of the Columbia border, Chevron abandoned an estimated 1,000 open-air waste pits that continue to contaminate streams, rivers and groundwater with oil waste, according to evidence before Ecuador's courts. Cancer rates in the area have skyrocketed and thousands of local villagers have died of oil-related diseases while animals that wander into the gooey pits often get stuck and suffocate.

Just recently, a Chevron whistleblower disclosed an internal company video showing the oil giant's scientists laughing when trying to defraud Ecuador's courts by hiding pollution. The company's star witness also admitted accepting huge cash payments from Chevron officials – including $38,000 in cash out of a backpack – in exchange for testimony that turned out to be false.

Chevron's controversial decision to thumb its nose at the Ecuador judgment recently dominated the company's annual meeting, where a shareholder resolution in support of the villagers received wide support. Also at the meeting, Chevron's CEO was accused of racism for refusing to listen to Ecuadorian indigenous leader Humberto Piaguaje as he tried to confront him directly about the pollution.

Community leaders organized the project with Guttentag after news emerged that Brad Pitt's production company, Plan B, optioned a highly inaccurate book about the case that promotes Chevron's fake "fraud" narrative.

Written by Paul Barrett of Businessweek, the book ignores most of the overwhelming scientific evidence against Chevron and is riddled with inaccuracies and made-up stories, as documented in this letter by Donziger.