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.
Defense Minister Celso Amorim of Brazil met with his counterparts, Juan Carlos Pinzón of Colombia and María Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador, in the Brazilian city of Manaus Thursday morning. The meeting was focused on strengthening security cooperation between the three nations that border the Amazon.
Protecting the Amazon from illegal activities was the main topic of the meeting organized as part of a seminar organized by the Centro Gestor do Sistema de Proteção da Amazônia (Amazon Protection System Management and Operations Center—CENISPAM). “Illegal mining and narcotrafficking are the most serious threats to the Amazon’s biodiversity and natural resources. Such activities finance terrorist and criminal organizations, are violating [our] sovereignty and threaten the security of citizens,” Pinzón said.
The meeting comes just days after an Ecuadorean army lieutenant was killed in a firefight with FARC rebels on the Ecuador-Colombian border, highlighting the need for greater security among the porous borders of South America. “By acting together, we will be more protected from security threats in South America,” Amorim said.
The leaders of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas—ALBA) are meeting today in Guayaquil, Ecuador, to discuss ways to further integrate the regional bloc and widen the scope of its work on social and economic issues.
This is the first ALBA summit since the March 5 death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—who launched the regional alliance with Fidel Castro in 2004. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa are attending the meeting. The heads of state are joined by official delegations from the bloc’s member countries, including Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Lucia. Representatives from Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Suriname, Guyana and Haiti are participating as special guests.
Today’s agenda includes a discussion on the bloc’s institutional strength, the implementation of a regional currency known as the Sistema Único de Compensación Regional (Unified System for Regional Compensation—SUCRE), the Common Reserve Fund, and strategies to expand social programs. According to the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the focus will be on achieving regional integration centered on values such as the respect for human dignity and economic development, the right to self-determination, and the defense of each member’s sovereignty.
The ALBA Social Movements Council Summit—a two-day meeting of social organizations—is also taking place this week and will conclude in Guayaquil today. In preparation for the Presidential Summit, more than 200 delegates from member countries participated in the meeting where the focus centered on social issues such as the role of women, natural resource extraction and the agrarian revolution, among other topics.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said Monday that Ecuador will not grant asylum to Edward Snowden, the former contractor wanted by the United States for leaking National Security Agency information, unless he reaches Ecuadorian territory.
Correa maintained his support for Snowden, whose actions he said were a brave act against tyranny—in defense of universal freedoms and human rights. Yet, without dismissing the dangers that the U.S. government’s surveillance program poses to freedom worldwide, the Snowden affair has only cast a light again on Correa’s own failure to promote freedom of expression in Ecuador.
Indeed, Rafael Correa may have been recently re-elected with over 57 percent of the vote, but Ecuador is an increasingly repressive society. The republican principle that the majority should consent to and abide by its obligations to protect the rights of minorities is evermore elusive.
Dissent is not tolerated and political decisions, big or small, rest in the hands of the very few. Since Correa came to power in 2007, Ecuador’s political parties have disappeared. Correa successfully dissolved an opposition Congress and instituted a plebiscite to draft a new constitution that greatly expanded executive powers. Members of Correa’s political movement, Alianza PAIS (Alliance of the Proud and Sovereign Fatherland), now hold 100 of the 137 seats in the National Assembly. Municipalities, ministries and the judiciary exhibit a similar homogeneity.
This homogeneity, itself a product of Ecuadorian democracy, would not be so alarming if the state responded well to criticism. But, as evidenced by the new communications law enacted in June, the state is dangerously close to having a monopoly on criticism.
As we wait to hear Ecuador’s decision on whether to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old contractor who leaked the details of the U.S. National Security Agency surveillance program, two questions loom large: Why would Ecuador do it? And will it?
First the why. Snowden’s request was based on Ecuador’s offering of asylum to the founder and director of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, who had been accused of rape in Sweden and is now holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. Leaving aside the question of why Ecuador would offer asylum to an accused rapist just because he had posted secret U.S. documents and cables leaked to the web based NGO dedicated to transparency, the thinking among the Snowden supporters was that Ecuador loved to stick it to the United States, and would welcome the opportunity to do it again for Snowden.
Clearly, Ecuador’s voluble, erratic, populist president, Rafael Correa, delights in standing up to the 'gringos.' Shortly after he was elected in 2006, he terminated a U.S. airbase in Ecuador that monitored and interdicted drug traffickers, kicked out the then-U.S. ambassador for information revealed in the Wikileaks, and claimed that the U.S.’s development program is seeking to undermine him politically.
In reality there’s little domestic political benefit to these anti-U.S. actions. According to public opinion surveys, close to 80 percent of Ecuadoreans have positive views of the United States. Where it does play well is internationally. Like his now-deceased mentor, former President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez, President Correa has ambitions that extend far beyond his country’s borders to become a world leader of the progressive, anti-imperialist left. When it offered Assange asylum, Correa presented the offer as motivated by his defense of freedom of expression.
The irony couldn’t be richer. In Ecuador, Assange and Snowden would have been quickly arrested and packed off to jail for their activities. Just two weeks before Snowden asked for asylum the Ecuadoran National Assembly approved a law—proposed by the president—that will chill freedom of expression and limit what journalists can say and write. According to Correa, the law will “guarantee for the people that information which is published by the media is true.”