New York Times, September 23, 1999
Racial Discrimination and Texaco. Chapter 2
In December of 1996, Texaco settled a class-action lawsuit that had charged the company with race discrimination against its minority employees. The publicity surrounding the case and the $176 million settlement marked the company as a national symbol of intolerance. Today, Texaco faces another lawsuit, which accuses the company of racial and ethnic discrimination on a scale so huge the financial implications are in the billions of dollars.
In 1971, Texaco began drilling for oil in the rainforest in Ecuador, at the headwaters of the Amazon River. Now, by 1971, the oil industry, including Texaco, had established a method of drilling intended to protect the surrounding environment and its inhabitants: toxics - laden water that is brought up during the drilling process is re-injected back deep in the ground. And that's the way Texaco drilled for oil in places where white people lived.
But, the lawsuit alleges that in Ecuador, Texaco dumped the poisonous water produced by oil drilling directly onto the ground, in nearby rivers, and in streams and ponds. The company knowingly destroyed the surrounding environment and endangered the lives of the indigenous people who had lived and fished there for years. These are people of color, people for whose health and well-being Texaco shows only a cavalier disregard.
The once fertile rivers are now dead. And deadly. The waste that Texaco dumped contains some of the most toxic, cancer-causing chemicals known to man. For example, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are so dangerous, not one drop is allowed in any river or stream in the U.S. But tests of the waters polluted by Texaco found levels as high as one part per hundred. Women report a marked increase in spontaneous abortions. Many of the people who remain in the region suffer from a pre-cancerous dermatological disease and face a catastrophic risk of cancer. In one village, the number of cancer cases already far exceeds expected norms. During the years of Texaco's exploitation, disease and forced migration reduced one tribe's population from 15,000 to only a few hundred.
Bluntly put, Texaco does not create this level of devastation near white people. Drilling for oil in Texas and Louisiana, the company has adhered to industry standards. Now, as in 1996, the company finds itself in court, accused in this lawsuit of racial and ethnic discrimination, facing multi-billion dollar fines. It's time that Texaco learns that devaluing the lives and well-being of people because of the color of their skin is no longer acceptable for any American company.
Paid for by the Committee for the Defense of the Amazon (Frente de Defensa de la Amazona).