After decades of contamination, caused by Texaco (later bought by Chevron) extracting petroleum from beneath Ecuador’s rain forests, a judge in Ecuador rules against Chevron to the tune of $18 billion.
On behalf of some 30,000 residents, whose lands are now, twenty years later, contaminated, a juryless court ruled against Chevron, who bought Texaco after a $40 million cleanup operation in 1998. Unfortunately, the case was not without its problems and, after the February 2011 ruling, Chevron appealed. After the case was retried in Ecuador’s highest courts, Chevron was again found culpable, although the fine was dropped to around $9.5 billion.
Chevron claims that the cleanup operation in 1998 absolves it of any further responsibility, and that Ecuador’s state-run oil company is responsible for most of the damage done since Texaco left the plot back in 1998. So, there is some doubt as to whether the damage was caused by Texaco at all, but what is worse is later admission on the part of the judge that he’d accepted bribes, to the tune of just $500,000, by New York City lawyer Steven Donziger, who was working with Ecuadorean lawyers. Donziger, incidentally, stood to make some $600 million if the $9.5 million sentence was passed.
Ecuador attempted to force Chevron into paying up by going to courts in the United States, but the move was struck down by a federal judge. Referring to the bribes, false evidence, and lack of a proper trial, US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan wrote, “Justice is not served by inflicting injustice. The ends do not justify the means.” Unfortunately, we may never know who was really at fault, and tens of thousands of victims in the Ecuadorean rainforest may never get the cleanup they need for their ruined lands.
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