With Ecuador hosting the World Festival of Youth and Students, participants heard about movements fighting against imperialism and for social transformation. One movement highlighted was Ecuador’s battle against the oil giant, Chevron.
The festival had panel discussions about the importance of nationalization of energy and oil resources. Countries that use revenue from these resources to combat poverty and to develop infrastructure, health‑care, and education are much better off than countries that allow profits to go to shareholders of large corporations.
Texaco (now Chevron) was drilling in the Ecuadorian rainforest without the consent of indigenous communities from 1964 to 1990. Throughout Texaco’s stay, the company dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater, spilled roughly 17 million gallons of crude oil, and left hazardous waste in 916 open pits. Texaco chose to use environmental practices that were illegal in the United States and Ecuador to increase profits. The company saved 3 dollars per barrel of oil produced as a result of its substandard environmental practices in Ecuador.
The result of this capitalist‑made environmental disaster has been the devastation of indigenous and campesino communities that live in the Oriente region of the Amazon Rainforest. Contamination has reduced fish and game stocks and harmed the way of life of indigenous peoples including the Cofan, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa and Huaoran people. Studies have found that there have been at least 1401 excess cancer deaths in the region because of contamination. Communities have experienced an excess rate of birth defects and miscarriages as well.
However, the 30,000 people of the region have not given up. They have organized to have their voices heard and seek justice against the actions of Chevron. In 1993 community members filed a class action lawsuit against Texaco in New York. The case got moved to Ecuador, and 17 years later the Ecuadorian court found Chevron liable for soil and water pollution in Oriente. However, Chevron has said it will not pay the 9.5 billion dollars ordered by Ecuadorian courts because it no longer has assets in the country.
In a case now in New York, the oil giant claims that plaintiffs have been trying to extort money from Chevron with the help of corrupt Ecuadorian courts. Chevron is working hard to not fix its mess, including using substandard practices when testing pollution in the Oriente and blaming pollution on Petro‑Ecuador. The company claims that its remediation from 1995 to 1998 was adequate, when the cleanup ignored many contaminated sites and served to hide contaminated areas.
With Chevron refusing to pay the court judgment, villagers have filed collection actions in Canada, Brazil, and Argentina to seize Chevron’s assets in order to generate funds to clean up their lands. Recently an Ontario court has ruled that indigenous communities have the right to attempt to seize Chevron’s assets in Canada. A later court will decide if the plaintiffs can seize assets or not.
At the World Festival of Youth and Students, around five delegates from each country biked for justice against Chevron. They rode from the festival grounds to an anti‑imperialist court, where representatives of delegations listed the imperialist crimes against their countries. The representative from Ecuador spoke out against Chevron’s crimes.
At one point in the festival, workers from the Ecuadorian Government interviewed participants about the Chevron case. They were particularly interested in the views of the Pan‑Canadian delegation. making sure to stop by our booth. We made sure to speak out in solidarity with Ecuador.
Canada must respect the judiciary of Ecuador, and allow Oriente communities to seize the assets of Chevron. Environmental activists, progressive students, and workers are encouraged to show support for Ecuador outside Canadian courts that will be deciding whether assets can be seized. Call for justice for Ecuador!
The author was a member of the Pan‑Canadian delegation to the WFYS in Ecuador in December 2013
January 17, 2014