Note from the Editor: We recently wrote a review of Law of the Jungle, a new book about the Ecuadorian lawsuit against Texaco/Chevron regarding its treatment of the Ecuadorian rain forest, waterways, and indigenous people. We also did a Q & A with the author, Paul M. Barrett, discussing areas of trust and distrust between those involved in the case, environmental activists who want to support a good cause and the networks working for a more healthful environment, and the question of whether the lawyer Steven Donziger is a trustworthy advocate for environmental justice in Ecuador. Paul Barrett’s book intrigued me because it gives a side of the story that environmental activists tend to ignore, and I believe it is important to not blindly trust even those who use all the best environmental language. It is important to listen to all sides of a story.
At the same time, I know that one tactic used by those who attempt to downplay climate change is to sow distrust and uncertainty regarding the claims of those concerned about the direction our planet is heading. Big oil companies and their stakeholders (such as businesspeople who profit from the sale and use of fossil fuels) top the list of those who have used this type of tactic (see this article by Greenpeace about the Koch brothers funding climate change denial).
Therefore, although I appreciate the work of Paul Barrett in bringing some of the less-than-stellar portions of the Aguinda case to our attention, I also want to give voice to another perspective. Paul Paz y Miño, Director of Outreach & Online Strategies at Amazon Watch, offered to write a piece from the perspective of an organization that has been integrally involved in this case for a number of years.
by Paul Paz y Miño
Director of Outreach & Online Strategies, Amazon Watch
The book “Law of the Jungle” by Paul Barrett has done an immense disservice to the truth of the Chevron case in Ecuador and the decades-long fight for justice by affected indigenous and campesino communities. Amazon Watch has published a blog about Barrett’s biased reporting (and some other business reporters telling Chevron’s side of the story). Although, Barrett does not omit the initial facts of Chevron’s (then Texaco) acts of pollution, his book overwhelmingly sites Chevron’s allegations of fraud and alleged misdeeds by the plaintiffs while omitting the massive amount of information about Chevron’s acts to disrupt and undermine the legal process. For a journalist to make such deliberate and damaging omissions is quite astonishing to us, as an organization that has witnessed years of extreme pressure tactics, dirty tricks and outright bullying by Chevron.
Barrett’s promotion of his book has also deliberately sought to create the impression that the lawsuit against Chevron “ultimately failed.” The lawsuit actually has been a huge success for the indigenous groups and a stunning loss for Chevron. Chevron wanted the trial be held in Ecuador and produced most of the evidence that allowed a court to find it guilty of extensive and deliberate toxic dumping in the rainforest over a two-decade period. Two layers of appellate courts in Ecuador affirmed the judgment against Chevron unanimously. Because Chevron refuses to pay the judgment, the Ecuadorian villagers have filed lawsuits to seize Chevron’s assets in Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. Those seizure lawsuits are creating enormous legal and business risk for Chevron around the world. In fact, the judgment against Chevron in Ecuador and ongoing enforcement actions represent one of the great achievements by indigenous groups against Big Oil in history. There is a high degree of probability that Chevron will be forced to pay 100% of the damages, now estimated at $10 billion with accrued interest.
Second, Barrett’s conclusion that U.S. attorney Steven Donziger undermined the case is false based on the known evidence, but in any event has little legal relevance to the claims of his clients. Donziger didn’t file a single motion in Ecuador and never appeared in court. What is clear is that Chevron launched a campaign in the U.S. to demonize Donziger to distract attention from its enormous liability. This campaign involved at least 60 law firms, 2,000 legal personnel, and several press agencies and investigations firms, some of which spied on Donziger and his family. Further, eight separate appellate judges in Ecuador have reviewed Chevron’s complaints about “fraud” regarding Donziger and rejected them. In appealing an extremely dubious non-jury decision against him by U.S. judge Lewis A. Kaplan, Donziger has effectively responded to – and we believe debunked – each and every one of Chevron’s allegations against him with cites to the evidentiary record. That document, largely ignored by Barrett, is available here. A summary of the problems with Kaplan’s decision is available online.
Amazon Watch has worked for many years in Ecuador’s rainforest with the indigenous and farmer communities suffering from the impact of widespread oil contamination. We have both witnessed and been the targets of Chevron’s scorched earth strategy to derail the campaign to hold it accountable and to chill the speech of its critics. It is our informed opinion that Barrett’s book is biased in favor of Chevron and furthers the company’s attacks on the communities, NGOs, and lawyers who have fought to obtain relief for those affected. The RICO case relied on heavily by Barrett for his analysis is also highly vulnerable on appeal and in any event does not block the enforcement actions filed by the villagers in other jurisdictions.
For a summary of the facts of the Ecuador case and Chevron’s attempts to corrupt the trial, readers should review the fact section of Donziger’s appellate brief; for why Chevron is likely to lose the Kaplan appeal, see this appellate brief from the Ecuadorian villagers and the legal section of the Donziger brief; for the final decision of Ecuador’s Supreme Court affirming Chevron’s liability, see here; for a recent assessment of Chevron’s underhanded legal tactics, see this article in Rolling Stone; for a brief summary of the flaws in the Kaplan/Chevron RICO trial, see this publication; and for a critique of the many flaws in Barrett’s book, see here.