Canada First Nations back Ecuador against Chevron

In a setback to Chevron's effort to evade a $9.5 billion liability owed to rainforest communities, Canada's Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and Ecuadoran indigenous leaders signed a protocol Dec. 6 to hold the corporation accountable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste and for ongoing violations of indigenous rights. The agreement was signed at the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa. AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde signed the protocol along with Jamie Vargas, president of Ecuador's indigenous federation, CONAIE, and Carmen Cartuche, president of the Front for the Defense of the Amazon (FDA), the community-based organization in Ecuador's Amazon region that brought an historic lawsuit against Chevron on behalf of indigenous and campesino communities. The agreement is supported by a resolution passed unanimously by the Chiefs-in-Assembly.

"Any violation of indigenous rights is a violation against all indigenous peoples," said AFN National Chief Bellegarde. "This protocol puts Chevron and all corporations on notice that we are watching and we will be vigilant in protecting our rights and our territories. We stand with our brothers and sisters in Ecuador in calling for full respect for Indigenous peoples, their rights and traditional territories."

"This protocol is a profound step forward for Indigenous groups in both Ecuador and Canada to hold an irresponsible corporate polluter accountable for its actions in destroying indigenous lands and cultures in the Amazon and around the world," added Vargas, who is currently leading a national march of indigenous groups in Ecuador to press the national government to respect their territorial rights.

The protocol between the two national federations is potentially a major blow to Chevron's efforts to evade the environmental liability, imposed by three levels of courts in Ecuador in 2013. The company was found to be responsible for deliberately dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste onto indigenous lands as a cost-saving measure. Cancer rates in the area have skyrocketed and the cultures of five indigenous groups—the Cofan, Secoya, Huaorani, Kichwa, and Siona—have been severely impacted, according to evidence presented the Ecuador courts.

Although Chevron had accepted Ecuador's jurisdiction, the company later refused to pay the judgment. The case is now in the Canadian courts, where the affected communities have won three consecutive appellate decisions in their effort to seize Chevron assets.

President Cartuche of the FDA, which has pursued the lawsuit against Chevron since it was filed in 1993, said, "We want to thank our Canadian brothers and sisters for standing with our communities in their historic struggle to hold Chevron accountable. We look forward to developing joint programs to ensure that Chevron pays a very heavy price for its crimes in Ecuador and for any violations of human rights no matter where they occur."

The protocol grew out of an invitation issued by Ecuadoran indigenous groups to their Canadian counterparts to visit the affected areas in Ecuador's rainforest, where Chevron abandoned roughly 1,000 unlined waste pits after operating in the country from 1964 to 1992.* The protocol is an agreement by all parties to ensure Chevron respects indigenous rights and territories in all its activities. Chevron has claimed its assets cannot be seized in Canada because they are held by a subsidiary even though it is wholly owned by the company. That issue is scheduled for argument in April before the Ontario Court of Appeal.

In all, 21 appellate judges in Ecuador and Canada have rejected Chevron's arguments and ruled in favor of various aspects of the claims of the Ecuadoran indigenous groups. Not a single appellate judge in either of the two countries has sided with Chevron. (AFN, Dec. 6)

* The drilling was actually carried out by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001.