Díaz-Combs, Claudia. 2018. ‘Fluye el Petróleo, Sangra la Selva (as the oil flows, the jungle bleeds): Ecuador vs. Chevron’, Center for Latin American Studies, The University of Arizona
This 2018 paper details the long and arduous process of the case against Texaco/Chevron made by the inhabitants of the Lago Agrio region, originally filed in 1993, but continuing to the present day. 30,000 Indigenous and non-Indigenous became plaintiffs in a case seeking acknowledgement and reparation for the environmental contamination of the land and biodiversity at the hands of Texaco/Chevron between 1964 and 1990. Diaz-Combs highlights how the case was originally brought to the US courts by the plaintiffs, who were seeking a fairer and more reliable judicial system, yet, Chevron decided to move for the opposite advantage, and petitioned 14 courts to move the case to Ecuador. After 7 years, this became the first of many wins for the US-backed company, and the trial was moved to Lago Agrio.
Chevron immediately went on the attack – they delayed the trial for as long as possible, and there is recorded evidence only unearthed much later of falsification of environmental tests and the covering-up of oil wells left by the company. Yet, as the trial proceeded in Ecuador, it seemed as though the plaintiffs would win – a huge achievement; they would be the first to take on a multinational of Chevron’s type, and win. In 2011 the Ecuadorian Supreme Court ordered Chevron to pay the plaintiffs $9 billion, or $19 billion if an official public apology was not made. ‘Chevron has gone on record claiming that they will never pay this amount and in fact promise a “lifetime of litigation” if the plaintiffs persist’.
Immediately Chevron went on the offense. They brought the case back to the original US court which they had petitioned to move out of in 1993. They opened a case suing the Ecuadorian State for racketeering, and claimed that the previous court’s decision was made under fraudulent circumstances. To summarise a very extensive process, the US court ruled in favour of Chevron, and the Ecuadorian State was forced to pay around $112 million to Chevron in reparations. The plaintiffs, still seeking their $9 billion took to other international courts, including, but not limited to, Canada, Argentina and the ICC, hoping to force Chevron through international duress. Most courts rejected the appeal, and those which followed through had little to no consequence on the outcome. As of the present day, we can say that Chevron has ‘won’ the case, however, the plaintiffs are still fighting and appealing the various national and international courts’ rulings, so there can be no definite conclusion yet.
The reason that we chose this case was to highlight the influence of the US on Latin American politics, economics, and even daily life, willing to sacrifice any of these in the pursuit of their own interests. Diaz-Combs notices the influence of the US in not only the Chevron/Texaco case, but also in the oil sector of Ecuador in general. She references the documentary ‘Crude: the Real Price of Oil’, created by acclaimed director Joe Berlinger as a main source of understanding to the US dynamics of the case. We can trace this back to José María Velasco Ibarra, an Ecuadorian president, who, in 1960 took power, yet firmly opposed being a puppet to the interests of the US, as was the custom in the ruling party. Not one year later, he was overthrown in a US-backed coup, as was his successor in 1963 after the US decided that he did not suit their interests. A former CIA agent has claimed that almost every single political organisation in the country was infiltrated and that at various points there were around 200 senior officials in the government, working as CIA assets. Texaco was invited to the Ecuadorian Amazon under a US-backed government – the root of the whole case. Further showing the effect of the US on the politics of Latin America is the ‘Act of Liberation’, a document created in 1998 by the then president, Jamil Mahuad, allowing Chevron to be safe from any private or public attempts to sue it for prior damages to the Amazon. This ended up being a huge blow later on in the court case as the Ecuadorian plaintiffs were fighting their own laws to get retribution.
Furthermore, Chevron played their cards in order to make the most of their US court proceedings. The judge on their case, Judge Lewis Kaplan, was later revealed to be a stockholder in Chevron. Chevron also used their extensive influence as the 2nd largest oil company in North America to pressure the US to end positive political and trade relations with Ecuador, and to break off the US-Ecuador treaty as a form of intimidation to the Ecuadorian state and plaintiffs.