Amazon Indians Accuse Chevron Lobbyists of Misleading Congress

Leaders from Ecuador's rainforest that are suing Chevron are accusing the oil giant of misleading the Bush Administration and Congress to escape a potential $16 billion liability in an environmental lawsuit, according to a July 30 press release.

The indigenous leaders – from the Cofan, Secoya, and Siona tribes – are planning a trip to Washington, D.C. in September to talk directly with members of Congress and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

"We are coming to tell the truth about Chevron's desperate attempt to quash the legal claims of thousands of vulnerable people in the Amazon rainforest who are struggling to survive due to oil contamination," said Pablo Fajardo, the lead Ecuadorian lawyer for the plaintiffs.

"These people deserve their day in court without interference from Chevron," he added. "Chevron must respect the rule of law."

In March of this year, a court-appointed special master in the lawsuit found that environmental damage and other damages in the case amounted to between $7.2 billion and $16.3 billion. As the sole defendant and the party found by the special master to be responsible for the contamination, Chevron would have to pay 100 percent of the damages if the judge accepts the report.

A final decision in the case, which could lead to the largest ever damages award in an environmental lawsuit, is expected next year. Chevron already had agreed to submit to jurisdiction in Ecuador and be bound by the court's decision when years ago it requested the case be transferred out of U.S. federal court.

The damages report prompted Chevron to disclose the liability to its shareholders for the first time, and to hire Washington lobbyists to try to block the extension of U.S. trade preferences for Ecuador. Luis Gallegos, Ecuador's U.S. ambassador, has said a failure to extend the trade preferences by the end of the year would cost the country 350,000 jobs and force 1.2 million people into poverty.

Fajardo said the aim of Chevron's lobbyists is to use the threat of canceling trade preferences to intimidate Ecuador's government into extinguishing the legal rights of its citizens to save the country's economy.

The lawsuit accuses Texaco (purchased by Chevron in 2001) of dumping 18.5 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways from 1964 to 1990, thereby decimating the ability of the indigenous groups to live off the rainforest. Texaco also built roughly 1000 unlined open-air waste pits that have been leeching toxins into the soil and groundwater for decades.

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