Interview: Chevron’s legacy in Ecuador

Juan Pablo Sáenz is an Ecuadorian attorney and representative of the Amazon Defense Coalition (ADC). In 2011 the ADC secured one of the largest judicial victories in environmental litigation history, which saw oil multinational Chevron ordered to pay $9.5 billion in damages for environmental, social and health impacts caused by the operations of Texaco (which Chevron now owns) in Ecuador from the 1960s onwards. Sáenz has received numerous death threats for his role in the ADC legal team.

As Chevron has now disposed of all its assets in Ecuador, the ADC is having to fight for the damages to be paid through courts in the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina. In March this year the ADC suffered a further setback as a US district judge ruled that ‘corrupt means’ had been used to influence the Ecuadorian court decision. Chevron had utilised more than 60 law firms and 200 legal personnel to counter-sue the ADC team under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations (RICO) Act, a law originally designed to deal with organised crime in the United States. If left unchallenged this legal precedent will open the way for corporations to use RICO to see off similar claims for damges in the future. In the meantime the ADC legal team are confident that they will be able to get the damages paid through the Canadian courts.

Sáenz visited London recently for a series of public meetings. While he was here, Belgica Guana interviewed him for FRFI.

Why are you visiting London now?

JPS: Even though a final and enforceable ruling has been entered by the Ecuadorian courts in 2013– the courts chosen by Chevron itself for this litigation – the victorious plaintiffs have yet to collect a cent from Chevron. The company ceased all operations and disposed of its Ecuador-based assets in the early 90s, so the plaintiffs were forced to file enforcement actions of the Ecuadorian court decision in Argentina, Brazil and Canada. This has proven to be an uphill battle, since Chevron is throwing all its corporate, economic and political might behind several oblique attacks at the Ecuadorian court plaintiffs and the decision. These attacks are illegitimate and dangerous for the future of social advocacy; I have come to London to explain and contextualize this threat, and seek the support of several sectors in British society that have not had the opportunity to hear the whole story in the past.

What is the importance of the legal action by Ecuador against Chevron and why should people around the world support it?

JPS: Firstly, it’s important to note that the action is not Ecuador’s; it’s a private action brought forth by private citizens.

The damages ordered by the Ecuador ruling are the highest in environmental litigation history.  The case is noteworthy as well because of the sophisticated and inclusive decision-making processes developed by the organisation Chevron’s victims have been developing over the years.

Recent developments have underscored another, broader, level of importance to the case. Chevron’s chosen tactics in their fight to escape liability (including proceedings against the victim’s lawyers in NYC, arbitrations against the Republic of Ecuador, and aggressive lobbying) are being closely monitored by all big corporations.  If Chevron succeeds in buying and bullying their way out of their responsibilities, nothing prevents other companies in doing the same in other, unrelated cases.

Put simply: Chevron’s actions threaten the viability of future similar actions that intend to hold big corporations liable for their wrongdoing in developing countries around the world.

For more information about the international campaign against Chevron’s crimes go to:

Chevron Toxico

The Dirty Hand of Chevron