Ecuador: new delay in Chevron Amazon suit?

On Sept. 4 Ecuadorian judge Juan Evangelista Núñez recused himself from presiding over a $27 billion lawsuit brought by indigenous Ecuadorians against the US-based Chevron Corporation for environmental damage by the Texaco oil company, which Chevron acquired in 2001. Núñez’s decision came as several branches of the Ecuadorian government announced investigations stemming from videos Chevron released on Aug. 31. The company claims the videos show the judge meeting with parties to the suit and saying that he had already made up his mind to rule against Chevron. The company also claims the videos contained evidence that bribes were discussed.

Núñez, who denied committing any errors, said that he would have made a decision around the end of the year and that his recusal will mean further delays for the 16-year-old case, which is being tried in Nueva Loja (Lago Agrio), capital of the northeastern province of Sucumbíos. (Reuters, Sept. 4)

A Chevron spokesperson said on Sept. 1 that the company wouldn’t pay the damages if it lost the suit. “It is a judicial farce,” Charles James, Chevron’s executive vice president, told the Associated Press wire service. “When you have government complicity with the plaintiffs, a weak legal system and a rush to judgment against you, the only thing you do in these circumstances is fight the enforcement.” (AP, Sept. 1)

A group of indigenous people from the Amazon region brought a $1 billion suit against Texaco on Nov. 3, 1993 in US federal court in New York, charging that the transnational had caused serious harm to the environment and to 30,000 local people by using obsolete technology in drilling operations from 1964 to 1990 involving 356 oil wells over a territory of 1 million hectares. The case was moved to Ecuador in 2003, and in 2007 the amount of the damages was raised to $27 billion, based on an expert’s report to the Nueva Loja Superior Court. (El Comercio, Quito, Sept. 6)

Han Shan, a coordinator with the US-based environmental group Amazon Watch, wrote on Sept. 3 that the videos don’t actually support the claims in Chevron’s press releases. “In fact, the whole episode raises more troubling questions about Chevron than about the judge or Ecuador’s judicial process,” he concluded. Shan also noted that Chevron’s “media blitz” came just before the release of a feature documentary on the lawsuit, Crude, which is to premiere in New York City on Sept. 9. (Huffington Post, Sept. 3)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 6

See our last posts on Ecuador and the struggle for the Amazon.