In the second segment of this three-part series, we will explore Pablo Fajardo’s legendary class-action lawsuit against Texaco/Chevron, and the methods and tactics used by the company to both escape justice and slander the plaintiffs and their government.
For part one in the series, click here.
The Battle Is Joined: Ecuador vs. Chevron
On November 3rd, 1993, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Texaco by the Ecuadorian people, the first salvo in a legal engagement that persists to this day. In Aguinda v. Texaco, the litany of abuses perpetrated by the company is described with brutal candor:
“…illnesses including body growths directly related to oil contamination…”
“…she must wash her feet regularly with gasoline to remove oil contamination acquired from walking on the crude oil…”
“…subjected to inhalation of heavy levels of dust particles covered with oil that are damaging her respiratory system…”
“…animals have died from drinking the water of the contaminated streams and he has been forced to stop raising cows, goats and chickens…”
The lawsuit outlines in astonishing detail Texaco’s blatant disregard for and maximum culpability in the systematic destruction of the Ecuadorian people and their lands, making for an incredibly strong case. According to the website ChevronToxico.com, “Texaco was headquartered in White Plains, NY, at the time, and the plaintiffs’ legal team argued that the United States was the appropriate forum for the case,” and the trial began in New York state shortly thereafter. “Texaco petitioned for years to have the case relocated to Ecuador,” the website continues, “submitting numerous affidavits in the process praising the integrity of Ecuador’s judicial system. In 2002, after a series of appeals, Texaco’s request was granted,” indicating that the company would submit to the jurisdiction of the Ecuadorian legal system.
It seems in hindsight that Texaco’s praise of the Ecuadorian legal system was a red herring designed to remove the trial from the American press; immediately after the trial was relocated to Ecuador, the company reversed their position on the Ecuadorian courts, claiming they were rife with corruption and incompetence, and further stalling the legal process. Further complicating matters was the acquisition of Texaco by Chevron in 2001, who would now assume all liability for damages. This required the filing and approval of a new lawsuit, which took another two years. Once the new trial began, “both sides requested judicial inspections of Texaco’s former oil installations and waste pits,” according to ChevronToxico.com. The website goes on to say that “the scientific record resulting from these inspections clearly shows levels of soil and water contamination far above legal limits. Even Chevron’s own scientists have obtained significant data that supports the case against the company.” The evidence, it seemed, was indisputable.
Despite numerous protestations of extortion and fraud by Chevron, in 2011 Ecuadorian Judge Nicholas Zambrano ruled that Texaco/Chevron was in fact guilty, and demanded that the company pay $8.6 billion in damages to the 30,000 plaintiffs represented in the case. Unsurprisingly, Chevron appealed the verdict immediately, and took their cries of foul play to disturbing new heights in a countersuit against Pablo Fajardo and his legal team on racketeering charges in American courts. According to Professor Lu, the company has also been fighting to rewrite laws surrounding the charges against them, and have been cozying up to lawmakers and legislators across the country in efforts to get their charges dismissed. In addition, Chevron has engaged in a nationwide smear campaign against everyone who gave testimony against them, and have even gone as far as to engage with US lawmakers over rescinding trade agreements with Ecuador as punishment for the verdict, actions as reprehensible as they were (thankfully) unsuccessful.
Sadly, the same could not be said about Chevron’s countersuit itself. Just last month, Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled in favor of the company’s racketeering charges, much to the dismay of the plaintiffs. Kaplan’s verdict centers around the fraudulent testimony of one Alberto Bastidas, an Ecuadorian judge who has admitted on record to accepting nearly half a million dollars in bribes from Chevron to bear false witness, according to Fajardo.
Bastidas claims that he was present in Quito, Ecuador when the plaintiffs’ legal team was allegedly planning to bribe jurors in October 2012, an action he claims was spearheaded by Fajardo’s colleague Stephen Donzinger, a U.S. attorney. However, immigration records prove Donzinger was not in the country between September and December of that year, giving the lie to Bastidas’ testimony. Despite the admission of bribery and clear indications of perjury, Judge Kaplan asserted that Bastidas’ testimony was valid, and his verdict effectively nullifies the enforcement of Ecuador’s judgment and prevents the case from being heard in any country where Chevron has holdings.
Kaplan’s exoneration of Chevron is highly controversial, and sets a dangerous precedent for international law. The ruling essentially claims that any nation’s laws are invalid against corporate transgression, despite the fact that Chevron’s abuses took place directly on Ecuadorian soil. Needless to say, no country has the ability to strike down another country’s laws in such a fashion, and the New York State Second Circuit Court Of Appeals subsequently struck down Kaplan’s ruling. Chevron subsequently appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, but was denied a hearing.
Despite all of this, Kaplan continues to stymie Chevron’s redress of grievances, insisting that the plaintiffs’ case is invalid and should not be allowed another hearing in any U.S. court. He has allowed Chevron to pursue legal arbitration directly with the Ecuadorian government in efforts to shut Fajardo’s legal team out of the process, claiming that the plaintiffs need to pay an outrageous amount of court fees to be included in the arbitration. Chevron has spent over a billion dollars fighting the case against them thus far, and their war chest is seemingly inexhaustible. However, Fajardo and his legal team, undiscouraged by this recent turn of events, continue to fight for their people on multiple fronts. The appeals court ruling has allowed them to make their case global; in addition to fighting Chevron in America and Ecuador, Fajardo has brought the case to Brazil, Argentina, and Canada, three nations where Chevron has holdings and Ecuador has fostered good relationships.
However far away it might be, there is still light at the end of the tunnel for the Ecuadorian people, and their will to speak truth to power is indomitable. But the horizon is far from clear, and a new force has arisen within their own borders that threatens not only to undermine the trial, but the future of the entire Amazonian region: Ecuador’s current president, Rafael Correa.
In Part Three, we will explore the current tensions between the Ecuadorian people; their president, Rafael Correa; and the international oil industry, as well as the future of the Yasuni-ITT initiative.