See Also:         AGUINDA V. TEXACO                 WWW.CHEVRONTOXICO.ORG

                ECUADOR
 


Amazon Watch

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 2003-10-08

Contacts:
U.S./International Media:
Andy Morris – 212-561-7465, andy@amc-pr.com

In Ecuador:
Shannon Wright- 593 98 042-180, shannon@amazonwatch.org

Bay Area & Spanish-Language Media:
Leila Salazar – 310-420-7575, leila@amazonwatch.org

Environmental “Trial of Century” Pits 50,000 Ecuadorian Rainforest People Against ChevronTexaco…

Bianca Jagger To Visit Amazon Rainforest In Ecuador

Case of Rainforest Peoples Against ChevronTexaco To Begin Oct. 21 In Lago Agrio, Sucumbios

First Time U.S. Oil Company Forced To Face Judgment In Ecuador Court

Jagger to Meet with Indigenous Leaders and Tour Communities Ravaged by Illegal Dumping on Oct. 9th-10th

NEW YORK, NY and LAGO AGRIO, ECUADOR: International human rights advocate Bianca Jagger will arrive in Ecuador this week to begin a historic tour of the Amazon jungle only two weeks before the start of a landmark trial in Lago Agrio where rainforest peoples are seeking to force ChevronTexaco to clean up the environmental contamination left behind from Texaco’s drilling operations.

Jagger, who was born in Nicaragua and who has campaigned for human rights for over two decades throughout the globe, will arrive in Ecuador the evening of Oct. 8 for a five-day fact-finding mission. She will tour the Amazon jungle and will meet with a handful of key indigenous leaders, government officials, and foreign diplomats. While Jagger has fought for human rights on several continents, this will be her first trip to Ecuador.

“The purpose of my trip is to bring the attention of the world to the plight of the indigenous populations of Ecuador. The eyes of the international human rights community are observing how this case will unfold,” said Jagger. “ChevronTexaco’s drilling practices in Ecuador constitute a crime. No developed nation should tolerate the discharge of highly toxic oil and oil byproducts directly into the waterways and ecosystems of their people. The Ecuadorian Courts must send a clear message that this will not be tolerated in Ecuador – that ChevronTexaco will be held accountable. We must put an end to the days where oil companies could act with total impunity in developing nations.”

“The rule of the law should prevail – if an oil company causes environmental pollution, that company must clean it up,” she said. “And if an oil company fails to clean it up, the courts should order that oil company to clean it up on behalf of the victims. Ecuador is the first country in Latin America with the historic opportunity to make an American oil company accountable.”

Jagger’s visit to Ecuador has the support of the international NGO community. They are committed to bringing the oil giant to justice in order to force it to clean up the contamination it has left behind after two decades of operations in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Jagger, who has campaigned on behalf of indigenous people throughout Latin America, has spoken on behalf of the Miskito Indians in Nicaragua and the Yanomami and Guarani in Brazil. She has campaigned for human rights from Central America to Afghanistan, from Kosovo to Iraq. She has joined with tens of thousands of rainforest peoples, countless nongovernmental organizations, and citizens of ChevronTexaco’s home base (San Ramon, CA) in the ultimate “David v. Goliath” battle.

“I have joined with the rainforest people and a wide network of human rights organizations to find a constructive solution to the problem,” Jagger added. “A comprehensive cleanup effort must begin with the participation of local residents.”

The case is being billed as the oil industry’s “Trial of the Century” given that the magnitude of the destruction represents the worst ongoing ecological disaster in the Western Hemisphere – with the amount of toxic waste dumped into the environment three times that of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. An estimated 50,000 men, women, and children are affected, and one indigenous group – the Cofan – reports that it is on the verge of extinction because of the contamination of natural water sources.

The case, first filed in New York in 1993, has been delayed for years because Texaco refused to accept the jurisdiction of the American court. But in an astounding turnaround, the American court last year ordered that ChevronTexaco accept jurisdiction in Ecuador (the company for years had argued it was not subject to jurisdiction either in the United States or in Ecuador) and be forced to pay any judgment that an Ecuadorian court impose. The case represents the first time in history that an American oil company will be forced by a U.S. court to pay a judgment coming out of a Latin American country where it no longer has assets, according to Cristobal Bonifaz, the lead American lawyer on the case.

In the lawsuit, the rainforest peoples charge ChevronTexaco with systematically destroying their homeland through massive dumping of highly toxic wastewater and crude oil over the two decades of the company’s operations in Ecuador, which ended in 1991. The case will be heard in a small courthouse in Lago Agrio, a remote town in the heart of Ecuador’s oil operations.

Recent epidemiological studies, including one conducted under the auspices of the prestigious London School of Tropical Medicine, indicate skyrocketing rates of cancer and other health problems in the area where Texaco drilled. The primary reason is that residents have no source of drinking water other than the swamps and rivers that were used by Texaco for the disposal of toxic wastewater that is the byproduct of oil drilling. In the United States and other countries in the world, this toxic wastewater is reinjected deep into the ground where it cannot impact the environment.

“This type of destruction is something you would never see in the United States,” said Alberto Wray, the Ecuadorian lawyer on the case. “Texaco reserved this type of dumping strictly for remote and vulnerable people in Ecuador.”

The case also is being closely watched by lawyers, multinational corporations and the international human rights community for potential problems. The U.S. State Department has cited Ecuador’s long history of judicial corruption, and its civil justice system has never imposed a judgment of more than $1 million on an international oil company despite environmental damage in this case estimated to exceed $1 billion. Just last week, a key Texaco executive, Ricard Veiga, was in Ecuador meeting with government officials and claiming a 1995 clean up of the damage was adequate, an assertion that the plaintiffs dispute.

Jagger and the lawyers for the rainforest peoples also criticized Veiga’s assertion that the case will damage prospects for foreign investment in Ecuador. “To the contrary, the best way to ensure healthy foreign investment in the Ecuadorian economy is thru the independence and impartiality of its civil justice system,” said Jagger.

“Texaco’s idea of foreign investment in Ecuador is dig oil out of the ground and dump the toxic waste,” said Steven Donziger, another of the lawyers. “If this case hurts prospects for that type of foreign investment, that would be to the benefit of Ecuador.”

Ms. Jagger’s Itinerary: (All times: local time in Ecuador)

Wednesday, October 8th
9:30 pm Arrive at airport in Quito. Photo op/brief remarks

Thursday, October 9th
9:00 am Press conference at CONAIE (Avenida de los Granados y 6 de Diciembre)
10:30 am Depart for Coca
Afternoon: Visit sites in the Amazon

Friday, Oct. 10
Morning Returns from the Amazon
Afternoon: Quito Meetings

Saturday, Oct. 11
11:00 am Press conference in Quito at CONAIE (Avenida de los Granados y 6 de Diciembre)

Sunday, Oct. 12
Depart Quito

Quito press conferences are open to all media.
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