A group of lawyers representing Ecuadorian villagers asked Canada’s Supreme Court on Thursday to try their decades-long case against Chevron in Canadian courts. The lawyers, led by primary attorney Steven Donzinger, are seeking compensation of about $9.5 billion dollars, granted by a judge in Ecuador for environmental damages in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Whether or not Canadian courts will take on the case relies on a juridical technicality called “corporate veil.” Although Chevron has subsidiaries with billions of dollars in assets in Canada, the corporate veil principal distinguishes subsidiaries from their parent companies and establishes that they are not responsible for the actions of their parents, thus making it difficult for Canadian courts to have claims to the case.
The lawsuit was originally filed against Texaco in 1993 for environmental damages caused between 1964 and 1990 by the company’s disposal of billions of gallons of oil sludge into local tributaries, in what has been called the “worst oil-related pollution problem on the planet.” After a $40 million dollar cleanup, Ecuador and Texaco signed a contract releasing the company from further charges. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001, and in 2003, Donzinger filed a suit against Chevron that in 2011 resulted in $19 billion dollars awarded in favor of Ecuadorian villagers. That amount was later reduced to $9.5 billion, which the oil powerhouse has refused to pay.
In a televised interview Tuesday, Ecuador’s Minister of the Interior, José Serrano, denied allegations of torture and police abuse detailed by a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Monday, calling the report one-sided and an attack on progressive governments.
The HRW report details police brutality that took place on September 17 and 18 when thousands of people staged demonstrations in Quito and across the country to protest increased transportation costs, policies concerning extractive industries, and access to education. According to the report, 270 individuals were detained with dozens more subject to beatings and other physical abuse such as electric shocks and pepper spray to the face.
“Correa has shown no concern for the rights of protesters. On the contrary, he applauded the police who hit them, and threatened lawyers and journalists who exposed this brutal mistreatment,” said Jose Miguel Vivano, the Americas Director at HRW.
However, Serrano responded by saying that the report fails to take into account that members of the police force were attacked by students with rocks and sticks. According to Serrano, the police did not even use tear gas against attackers, and of the 2,600 police officers participating in the operation only three are being investigated for alleged attacks against protestors.
“What Vivanco says [in the report] is a series of lies—manipulations of human rights,” said Serrano during the interview, who also called on the organization to reveal the origin of its funding for such reports.
Latin America has set a record in the developing world for reducing food insecurity, achieving a 9 percent drop in hunger in the last 24 years. The UN announced on Tuesday that hunger in the region fell from 14 percent of the population in 1990 to 5 percent in 2014. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) specifically commended Bolivia and Brazil for their hunger reduction programs, citing them as examples for other countries.
Brazil, in particular, celebrated being removed from the World Hunger Map as a result of increased spending on food security and social programs. The federal government increased social spending by 128 percent between 2000 and 2012, leading to a more than 80 percent decrease in the number of undernourished Brazilians. The Fome Cero (Zero Hunger) program has also led to poverty reduction, with poverty dropping from 24.3 percent to 8.4 percent between 2001 and 2012, and extreme poverty falling from 14 percent to 3.5 percent in the same period.
In the Andean region, the FAO labeled Bolivia and Ecuador exceptional cases for their investment in social programs that specifically target typically marginalized communities, such as the large Indigenous populations in both countries. By instituting programs across various sectors, Bolivia was able to reduce extreme poverty by 17.2 percent, and reduce overall poverty by 7.4 percent between 1994 and 2008.
While other development challenges such as crime and low economic growth exist, Latin America is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the percentage of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.
Interpol issued a warrant for the arrest of former Ecuadorian President Jamil Mahuad on Tuesday for embezzlement, mishandling of public funds and causing the country's banking crisis in the late 1990s.
Mahuad became president in 1998 when Ecuador was on the brink of war with neighboring Peru over a territorial dispute. Mahuad and then Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori signed a peace treaty months later, and they were both nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for this act. Things changed on March 9, 1999, when Mahuad declared a state of emergency and two days later, he froze bank accounts across the country, shutting down half of the 42 banks operating in Ecuador. The former president also replaced Ecuador's sucre currency with the U.S. dollar.
A coup by the military and the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador—CONAIE) in January 2000 forced Mahuad to flee Ecuador to the United States. He settled in Boston and is now a professor at Harvard University.
The Interpol warrant means that Mahuad may now be detained and extradited to Ecuador to face charges which could see him jailed for between eight and 12 years.
The case against the Mahuad was brought forth by the Ecuadorian government 13 years ago and has been ongoing. In December 2012, Ecuador's Corte Nacional de Justicia (National Court of Justice) requested that Interpol capture Mahuad, but Interpol denied the claim in January 2013.
A U.S. federal judge ruled in favor of Chevron Corp. yesterday, dealing a blow to the 30,000 Amazonian villagers who successfully sued the California-based oil company for $9.5 billion over environmental damage in 2011.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan wrote that U.S. courts could not be used to collect the $9.5 billion sum, citing wrongful conduct on the part of the prosecution. The court found that New York City lawyer Steven Donziger and Ecuadorian lawyers corrupted the case in Ecuador by submitting fraudulent evidence and bribing an Ecuadorian judge with $500,000 to rule in their favor.
Donziger responded that his team would quickly appeal the decision, while Chevron called the ruling a “resounding victory for Chevron and our stockholders.”
In 2011, a judge in Ecuador awarded $18 billion to five Amazonian tribes suing Chevron for environmental damage caused by Texaco—which was later bought by Chevron—between 1972 and 1990 in the Lago Agrio region. Ecuador’s highest court upheld the judgment, but reduced the amount to $9.5 billion.
Chevron claims that a 1998 agreement it signed with Texaco absolves it of liability for any the 18 billion gallons of toxic waste and 17 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the rainforest.
The Ecuadorian Embassy in Washington, which is not involved in the case, issued a statement saying that yesterday’s ruling "does not exonerate Chevron from its own legal and moral responsibilities resulting from its decades of contamination of the rainforest that has endangered the lives, culture, and environment of countless poor, indigenous people."
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Pese a que la Cancillería ecuatoriana reportó de manera optimista la semana pasada que los países del continente “avanzan para una decisión de consenso sobre el cambio de sede de la CIDH,” otra parece ser la realidad frente a lo que opinan sus pares sobre esta materia.
La declaración ecuatoriana se produjo tras la terminación de la III Conferencia de los Estados Parte de la Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos, llevada a cabo el 21 y 22 de enero en Montevideo. Estas reuniones han sido promovidas por el grupo de países Alianza Bolivariana Para Los Pueblos De Nuestra America (ALBA) desde hace un poco más de un año como forma de mantener la discusión sobre lo que consideran debe ser el futuro de los órganos de derechos humanos de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA).
Como en sus dos ediciones anteriores, realizadas en Guayaquil y Cochabamba, a la reunión no fueron invitados todos los gobiernos de la OEA, sino solo aquellos que han ratificado la Convención de Derechos Humanos. Una movida política para acelerar las discusiones sin el contrapeso de países que se han opuesto a la visión del ALBA, como Estados Unidos y Canadá.
Likely top stories this week: Former President Michelle Bachelet wins Chile’s presidential elections; Protesters rally in support of ousted Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro; USAID plans to pull out of Ecuador by September 2014; the FARC’s 30-day ceasefire goes into effect; a study finds that Mexico leads the world in kidnappings.
Michelle Bachelet Wins Chilean Elections: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet won Sunday's runoff election to become president of Chile again, easily defeating conservative opponent Evelyn Matthei with 62 percent of the vote. Matthei, meanwhile, captured only 37 percent of the vote—the poorest showing by the Chilean Right in two decades. Bachelet served as president from 2006 to 2010 and left office with an 84 percent approval rating, and will be sworn in in March 2014.
Thousands of Colombians March For Mayor Petro: Supporters of Bogotá's recently-dismissed mayor, Gustavo Petro, rallied in the streets last Friday to protest Petro's removal from office. On December 9, Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez accused Petro of mismanagement of Bogotá's trash collection system and barred him from holding political office for 15 years. Protesters say that Ordóñez, who is not an elected official and is an ally of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, has no authority to remove Petro from office.
USAID Makes Plans to Leave Ecuador: The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is expected to pull its $32 million aid program out of Ecuador by September 2014, according to a letter written Thursday by USAID Mission Director Christopher Cushing. The move comes six months after Bolivian President Evo Morales ordered USAID to leave his country. USAID has not been successful at renegotiating its contract with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, and Correa has said he suspects the organization of meddling in his country's affairs.
FARC Ceasefire Begins: A 30-day ceasefire by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) began on Sunday as the rebels continue peace negotiations with the Colombian government in Havana. The ceasefire was declared on December 8 after a rebel bomb in the department of Cauca killed nine people. However, the rebels have said that the removal from office of Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla, will have an impact on the peace process. The Colombian government, meanwhile, will continue its operations against the FARC.
Mexcio Leads the World in Kidnappings: The new RiskMap 2014 report from the security company Control Risks found that Mexico had more kidnappings-for-ransom than anywhere else in the world this year, followed by India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Venezuela. Twenty percent of all kidnappings that happened in the world this year occurred in Mexico, according to the report.
In the last round of regional conference qualifiers last night, Chile, Ecuador and Honduras punched their tickets to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Chile and Ecuador join Colombia and Argentina as the representatives from the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (South American Football Confederation—CONMEBOL), while Honduras, which will play in its second consecutive World Cup, joins the United States and Costa Rica from the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
In CONCACAF, the qualifying match that created the most late drama was the United States’ 3-2 comeback win over Panama in Panama City. As the game went into stoppage time, Panama led 2-1. If the result had stood, Panama would have claimed the fourth spot on the CONCACAF qualification table, requiring a home-and-away playoff series with New Zealand to book their first-ever ticket to the World Cup. But two stoppage-time goals by the U.S. ended Panama’s World Cup hopes and landed Mexico in the fourth CONCACAF spot, despite their 2-1 loss to Costa Rica. Mexico will play New Zealand twice next month to decide who will travel to Brazil.
In CONMEBOL, Chile’s 2-1 victory over Ecuador sent both countries through to Brazil. Uruguay defeated Argentina 3-2 in Montevideo to secure that conference’s fifth playoff spot, and it will play Jordan twice in November in order to qualify for the World Cup. The group stage of the World Cup begins on June 12 in Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo.
Deep in the northeastern part of the Ecuadorian Amazon is the Yasuní National Park, a 2.4-million acre reserve believed by scientists to be the most biodiverse place on Earth. Its location, where the equatorial divide meets the Andes and the Amazon rainforest, has made Yasuní one of the world’s most unique habitats for life. The park is also home to two of the planet’s last uncontacted tribes.
Yet beneath all that diversity lays an estimated 846 million barrels of oil, which the Ecuadorian government plans to extract. Earlier this month, President Rafael Correa abandoned the novel Yasuní-ITT initiative, which was launched in 2007 to keep the oil underground. The initiative sought to raise $3.6 billion in contributions from international donors—half of the estimated $7.2 billion Ecuador would face in lost revenue over time. Hailed as a breakthrough in the global fight against climate change, the plan would have prevented 400 million tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. But the initiative raised only $13 million in actual donations and $116 million in pledges.
Addressing the country, Correa said the world had “failed” Ecuador. But despite the country’s real need for financial resources, Correa shares a significant portion of the blame. The government’s inflexibility and lack of transparency over how to administer Yasuní-ITT’s funds discouraged potential donors. Similarly, his efforts to attract investment and expand the country’s oil sector invited their mistrust.
Likely top stories this week: Venezuelan opposition agrees to participate in corruption debate; Chilean presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei registers her candidacy; Humala’s popularity reaches a new low; peace talks resume in Colombia; and environmental groups seek a referendum to prevent drilling in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Forest.
Public Debate on Corruption in Venezuela
On Saturday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that he would ask the National Assembly for an enabling law to combat corruption, and challenged the opposition to participate in a public debate to discuss the government’s nationwide anti-corruption campaign. The Venezuelan government has made over 100 corruption-related arrests in the last month, including several political and media figures associated with the opposition.
On Sunday, Julio Borges, the national coordinator of Primero Justicia, said the opposition would participate in a public debate on corruption, and called on the president to “tell us the time and location” for a discussion on national TV and radio. According to Henrique Capriles, opposition leader and governor of Miranda State, recent anti-corruption efforts are a strategy to divert public attention from other pressing problems such as insecurity and inflation. Capriles’ offices are currently under investigation for corruption.
Evelyn Matthei Officially Registers her Candidacy
On Sunday, the candidate for the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI), Evelyn Matthei, officially registered her candidacy for the Chilean presidential election on November 17. Matthei was accompanied by leaders of UDI and Renovación Nacional (RN)—the two parties that constitute the ruling Alianza coalition. After registering her candidacy, Matthei gave a speech that recognized the current lead of former president and current presidential candidate of the Nueva Mayoría coalition, Michelle Bachelet. Still, Matthei expressed hope of taking the election to a second round of voting. If no candidate secures half of the votes in the first round, a second round of voting would be held in mid-December.
Humala’s Popularity Reaches a New Low
On Sunday, the latest Ipsos-Perú survey published by El Comercio revealed that Ollanta Humala’s popularity dropped to 29 percent, the lowest during the two years of his presidency. Despite the government’s recent military win again the Shining Path terrorist group, the president registered 4 percentage points less popular support than in July 2012. The survey also revealed that first lady Nadine Heredia’s popularity dropped to 38 percent, and Lima Mayor Susana Villarán continues to have one of the highest disapproval rates in the country, which reached 69 percent in August.
New Round of Colombian Peace Negotiations
On Monday, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) begin a new round of negotiations in Havana to discuss topics such as political participation. This is one of the most controversial items in the peace agenda as it involves negotiations around the incorporation of the rebel group into the country’s democratic system. According to Humberto de la Calle, the lead government negotiator, the FARC must surrender their arms and reach agreements around the five topics of the agenda to participate in Colombian politics. President Juan Manuel Santos sent a message to the FARC stating his commitment to the negotiations, but warned that the military fight will continue in the interim.
Environmental Groups in Ecuador Vow to Save Yasuní Program
On Sunday, environmental groups, human rights groups and Indigenous lawmakers threatened to take Ecuador’s government to international court over a plan to drill for oil in Yasuní, a protected part of the Amazon rainforest that is believed to hold some 900 barrels of oil—about a fifth of Ecuador’s total reserves. The actions follow President Rafael Correa’s statement last week that the government was abandoning the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, a long-term commitment to refrain from drilling in the rainforest area if the international community came up with $3.6 billion to offset some of the foregone benefits of the oil money. The president said that “the world has let Ecuador down,” as just $13.3 million has been delivered to the country. In the coming days, Correa plans to ask the National Assembly to declare crude-oil exploitation in the Yasuní as a "national interest." In response, some of Ecuador’s Indigenous lawmakers have called for a national referendum to decide on the issue.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.