From 1964-1990, Texaco (later bought by Chevron) ran drilling and pipeline operations in Ecuador’s Amazon region. During that time, 16 billion gallons of waste had been dumped.
In 2013, the Ecuadorean Supreme Court affirmed an earlier ruling that found Chevron responsible for environmental contamination in the Ecuadorean Amazon and set the compensation at US$9.5 billion. Since then, Chevron has said it would not pay and has set out on a deliberate campaign to delegitimize the ruling, and has also looked to sue the Ecuadorean government on the International level.
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Santiago Escobar, an Ecuadorean activist, became a key witness in the case, revealing information that he says proved the oil giant was involved in underhanded activities against the litigants. He received threats and subsequently left the country.
Sitting down with teleSUR English, Escobar accuses publications run by Chevron of “harassment and defamation” against him.
teleSUR: How did you get involved in this case?
Santiago Escobar: In 2009, I received information from a former Chevron contractor about Chevron’s shady operations in Ecuador. After evaluating this information, I felt it was my duty to expose and denounce it before the authorities of Ecuador and the United States. A plot was being perpetrated by Chevron and their agents in Ecuador in order to delegitimize the Judicial system and a supposed denial of justice.
The plot included several dirty tricks such as the secret recording of the Judge in charge of the lawsuit in Ecuador by undercover agents of Chevron.
I became indignant with all their dirty operations, and felt I had to make the evidence I had public.
TS: How has the involvement affected you personally? Have you been threatened as a result of the information you had?
SE: Since 2009, I have been receiving different kind of threats and in some cases, death threats. These threats and intimidation attempts have come by mail, phone calls to my parents, by email and often through the online web pages openly funded by Chevron. In 2010, before and after I denounced the corruption of Chevron before Ecuador’s attorney general, I had to get police protection and even wear a bulletproof vest due to the death threats that I received.
TS: You have also been involved with supporting the Correa government. Do you see the two issues connected?
SE: Since President Rafael Correa took office, Chevron has been harassing and pressuring Correa’s administration to try and stop the lawsuit that 30,000 indigenous and peasants affected by Chevron’s pollution initiated 22 years ago. The Ecuadorean government has made it clear that the Republic of Ecuador is not a party involved in that lawsuit and Correa’s administration respects due process.
As part of their intimidation, harassment and defamation campaign against the Ecuadorean people, Chevron has launched 3 lawsuits against Ecuador.
Ecuador won the first arbitration, but we already lost the second arbitration. When I say we, I mean the Republic of Ecuador, the citizens and the taxpayers, as we must pay US$96 million to Chevron.
Chevron’s allegations are based on the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) signed between Ecuador and the United States in 1993, which entered into force in 1997, five years after Texaco-Chevron left the country (in 1992). Chevron is trying to use the BIT retroactively, although no retroactive clause is contemplated in the treaty.
The current, ongoing, third arbitration — called Chevron III — started in 2009 (and) is also before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which in fact is a private tribunal with strong ties to transnational corporations and the global banking cartel.
Again, the oil giant accuses Ecuador of an alleged procedural fraud that would set violations of international law and the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). This arbitration has not yet been resolved and it is likely that the ruling will be some time later this year.
If the Republic of Ecuador loses this arbitration, Ecuadoreans will have to compensate Chevron for the same amount they owe the victims of the Ecuadorean Amazon disaster they created — US$9.5 billion.
This is equivalent to a third of the annual budget of Ecuador (US$29.84 billion), which will severely affect the welfare state built in the last 9 years during the Citizen’s Revolution. This means the health system, education and infrastructure would be affected.
Chevron could even seize Ecuadorean assets abroad and implement an economic blockade against Ecuador. It is clear that this transnational seeks to achieve a soft coup against President Rafael Correa because of his anti-neoliberal policies.
In this context I strongly believe that all Ecuadoreans that believe in social and environmental justice should support President Correa and join the campaign to demand that Chevron stop attacking the Ecuadorean people and clean up their mess in the Amazon.
Because I know what is at stake for my country, I have decided to expose Chevron’s dirty tricks and create awareness about the issue. One way of doing this is by supporting the campaign of the affected communities against Chevron, as well as the separate campaign launched by the government.
TS: Publications connected to Chevron have begun focusing on you, and accuse you of being employed by the government to do this work. Is this the case? What do you think they are trying to achieve by doing this?
SE: I’m not employed by the government, nor have I received any payments from them or any other party involved in the Chevron case. As mentioned, I have been exposing Chevron, because I believe it is the right thing to do, and that does not have a price. I was never paid or had any arrangements for any other form of compensation from anybody to do this work.
The things published by The Amazon Post and Crudo Juicio are part of their harassment and defamation campaign against the Ecuadorean people and myself. Chevron is known for using any means to subjugate anyone who supports the affected communities or the Republic of Ecuador, with including lawsuits and smear campaigns with the support of some media outlets.
They are trying to discredit my work and my image now by saying that being the PAIS Alliance (the governing party in Ecuador) director in Canada is some form of compensation for my Anti-Chevron work. That is beyond ludicrous. First of all, this is not a paid position and is an elected position by Ecuadorean migrants affiliated to PAIS in Canada — it is not an appointed position. Lastly, I assumed the director position because I believe it is a way to support my country and community abroad and help create awareness about the important social changes the country is undergoing.
I do this work out of conviction, in the same way I support the Anti-Chevron campaign out of a moral conviction. But certainly for a corporation such as Chevron, who puts profit over people and has no morals, this is something they will never understand.