The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chevron's Legacy in Ecuador

Via GreenMuze, 6 Dec, 2008

Image courtesy of Justicia Now!

We rely on filmmakers, photographers and journalists more than ever to show us what is going on in the many parts of the planet we can’t see. Without their eyes, environmental devastation and social injustice would continue to occur out of sight and out of mind.

Justicia Now! is a documentary look at ChevronTexaco's legacy in the Northern Ecuadorian region of the Amazon Rainforest and the brave group of local people who are seeking justice for the resulting cancer, sickness and death, in the largest environmental class action lawsuit in history. We caught up with filmmakers Martin O’Brien & Robbie Proctor to find out what has changed in Ecuador since Justicia Now! came out and what the two activists and documentarians have got planned for the future.

Why did you make Justicia Now!?

We ended up making Justicia Now! quite by accident. After finishing off Freedom Fuels, a documentary that took a hard look at alternative fuels, we were brainstorming on what to do next. At the time green programming was becoming more and more popular on cable and we saw an opportunity to come up with a series to pitch to the networks. After a lot of discussion with different Mofilms' friends and family, it was Daryl Hannah (one of our board members) that suggested producing a show about extreme activists, people who went above and beyond your average concerned citizen to work on important environmental issues of our times.

We had met John Quigley, the aerial artist in Justicia Now!, at Daryl's house and thought that he'd be a natural fit for the show and so plans were made to start working on a pilot. At that time John was prepping for his trip to Ecuador and we tagged along in order to get some footage of him at work.

Whilst the impact that ChevronTexaco's oil extraction has taken in the area was palpable during our few days of filming, it wasn't until we got back home and reviewed the footage that we realized that the truly compelling story was what was happening in that region of the Amazon, not the TV pilot.

Image courtesy of Justicia Now!

Has the film had any effect on the situation in Ecuador?

It's very hard to quantify what direct effect Justicia Now! has had on the situation in Ecuador. The purpose of the film, and indeed of all of our documentaries, is to get the story out into the world for people to see and understand from a current viewpoint, rather than from an historical context when it may be too late to act. This is why we believe in free distribution, allowing us to reach as many people as possible and affect change on a global level.

Another important core theme of our films is to make them as solution-oriented as possible. In Justicia Now! for example, the final section of the film talks about a very unique and hopefully precedent setting scheme being undertaken by the Ecuadorian government to save Yasuni National Park from the same toxic fate as the Northern region of the Amazon Rainforest, around Lago Agrio.

The Yasuni National Park is one of the few areas to survive the last Ice Age, and is therefore responsible for repopulating the Amazon Basin, as we know it today. (For example, there are more tree species in one hectare of the Yasuni than there is in all of North America and Canada combined.)

There are indigenous people there that have never seen outsiders. In 2007 the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras was granted access to an oil block within the Park. Devastated at the possibilities of imminent destruction of their ancient way of life, hundreds of local people traveled for 2 days to the capital city Quito to protest outside the headquarters of Petrobras with leaders of FRENTEAmazon Watch. and

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A few weeks later, Justicia Now! was scheduled to premiere at a film festival in Los Angeles called Artivist. One week out from the screening of Justicia Now!, the Artivist Film Festival announced their selection of Petrobras as a ‘presenting sponsor’, accepting $150,000 just days after the protest outside the Petrobras’ offices. Mofilms and celebrities such as Daryl Hannah and Q’Orianka Kilcher, and international NGOs such as Amazon Watch pulled their support for the Artivist Film Festival and supported the independent screening event of Justicia Now! at its alternate venue, the Raleigh Studios in Hollywood.

Immediately after our screening we all went to protest outside the Artivist Festival. The combined effect of all of our voices and efforts at the Artivist Festival, and the continued protests over the coming months generated a mass of negative publicity for Petrobras’s green-washing plans. In September 2008 Petrobras announced that it had agreed to give the highly controversial oilfield back to the Ecuadorian government. We truly believe that we had an effect on Petrobras’ decision to withdraw from the Yasuni.

Image courtesy of Justicia Now!

Have the Ecuador people had any justice? Has Chevron been held accountable?

The short answer to that is not yet. The trial began in 1993 and finally in April 2008 a court appointed independent expert assigned a dollar sum of between 8-16 billion dollars in damages that have occurred to the region and its inhabitants during the 26-year period that Texaco operated in the region.

The Ecuadorian judge in Lago Agrio is currently reviewing that report along with some 5000 pages of supporting documents and will then rule on the case. What's particularly sad to us is the thought that even if they cleaned up all the toxic waste that was left in the Amazon after removing the oil today, the indigenous and campesino people would still be feeling the effects of this environmental tragedy long after you or I are gone.

Has ChevronTexaco left the area?

ChevronTexaco left Ecuador in 1990 and the Napo concession (the Northern Ecuadorian region of the Amazon Rainforest where the oil was drilled) along with all of ChevronTexaco's devastating infrastructure and operational procedures were handed over to Petroecuador, Ecuador's national oil company.

Chevron lawyers have tried to use this as part of their defense, claiming that a lot of the pollution is the fault of Petroecuador however, they are still accountable by law not only for the contamination they created whilst operating in Ecuador from 1964 to 1990, but also for pollution resulting from the continued use of its infrastructure since that time. Whilst some efforts have been made by Petroecuador to improve the methods of oil extraction used in the region, there is still a long way to go.

The good news is that should the plaintiffs win the case then a precedent is set in the legal community regarding corporate responsibility for environmental devastation.

Have they improved their environmental practices?

Whilst it is true to say that Chevron hasn't spilt another 18 billion gallons of toxic waste in to a different area of rainforest, or any other place for that matter, you don't have to dig too deep to find some of their other misdeeds.

Chevron also have their own green-washing campaign called The Human Energy Campaign. Asking their employees and the general public to be energy efficient, while continuing it’s shady practices that decimate people and the environment will never make Chevron a good corporate citizen. But they are making every effort to make us think that they are.

Why have they not been held accountable?

Well, they haven't been held accountable yet. The bad news is that we're still waiting for a final decision from the judge in Ecuador. Once that ruling is made, there will be appeals and this whole process could drag on for years before a settlement is made, just look at the Exxon Valdez case for example - the supreme court issued a judgment in June of 2008 sending the case back to a lower court and the spill happened almost 20 years ago. The good news is that should the plaintiffs win the case then a precedent is set in the legal community regarding corporate responsibility for environmental devastation.

What can the general public do to help?

There are several things people can do to get involved and help out. We encourage people to download the film for free at, and spread the word to their friends and family, or hold screenings in their local communities and schools so that as many people as possible are aware of this tragic situation.

You can also make a conscious decision to not fill up at Chevron or Texaco (or Gulf, Standard Oil, Caltex and Unical which are all brands of Chevron) gas stations, or even better still switch to bio-fuels instead.

The website - - also has a Take Action section where you can send a letter to Chevron CEO David O’Reilly.

For current news on the case check out

What are you working on now?

Mofilms has two documentary projects on the go right now. The first, Return to The Wild: A Modern Tale of Wolf and Man, is a film that takes an in-depth look at the delisting of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act after its reintroduction to the Northern Rockies, some 80 years on from being hunted to extinction.

The other documentary is called The Business of Going Green. With this film we really want to delve in to the reality of green businesses big and small. What makes them green, who says they’re green, how green is green enough, is what they’re telling us true or merely green-washing?

1 comment:

  1. Will Chevron stop that nonsense and take responsibility for what they did?! Over 1,000 people have died from cancer and thousands more are sick with skin disease and respiratory illness. Their lives were destroyed because of oil contamination. Denying, downplaying and hiding the truth- that’s all Chevron can do. This cannot go unpunished!
    If you want to find out more about what is surely the largest environmental disaster on the planet, read this blog, and this article, http://www.