True Cost of Chevron in Ecuador

  July 6, 2012

True Cost of Chevron in Ecuador

Robinson Yumbo, President of the National Indigenous Federation of the Cofan People on the multi-billion dollar woes of Chevron in Ecuador
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Robinson Yumbo is the President of the National Indigenous Federation of the Cofan Tribe (FEINCE) in Ecuador. Born in Lago Agrio, the oil town founded by Texaco, Robinson has lived his entire life in the community of Cofan Dureno along the shores of the AguaRico river. As a child, he witnessed firsthand the environmental devastation caused by Texaco’s (now Chevron’s) operations in the ancestral territory of the Cofan people. What was once the Cofan people’s ancestral territory was transformed by Texaco (Chevron) into a massive oil field, characterized by continuous spills, the deliberate dumping of toxic wastewater into rivers and streams, and 24-hour flaring of natural gas. Robinson witnessed the onset of a public health crisis within the Cofan community, including spontaneous miscarriages, birth defects and cancer. Texaco’s oil operations also opened up the Cofan territory to uncontrolled migration, in the form of homesteading colonists, a phenomenon which led to large scale deforestation (illegal mining and logging operations), the reduction of ancestral territory, the loss of game, and severe cultural threats.


True Cost of Chevron in EcuadorPAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay, coming to you from Baltimore.

As we reported in a conversation with Antonia Juhasz—and if you haven't seen that, please look down here and you'll see it, and you should perhaps watch that story first—there was a protest and a action at a shareholders meeting of Chevron on May 30 just outside of San Francisco.

Now joining us is one of the people that participated in that conference that was essentially under the rubric of the true cost of Chevron. And joining us now from San Francisco is Robinson Yumbo. He's the president of the National Indigenous Federation of the Cofan Tribe in Ecuador, and he joins us to discuss the transformation of the Cofan people's ancestral territory into massive oilfields owned by Texaco, now Chevron, and the public health impact it's had on his community. Thanks very much for joining us, Robinson.


JAY: So, first of all, we heard from Antonia that at the Chevron meeting the liability of this multibillion-dollar judgment against Chevron in Ecuador isn't so serious. In other words, Chevron does not expect to pay this. And I guess either they think it will be overturned or they think there's no one that can make them pay it. What's the situation with this?

YUMBO (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The case is very advanced. We were working all these years, pressuring Chevron, and we're in the final steps. But Chevron is not interested in recognizing the disaster that they are responsible for. They think that they are not guilty or that it's somebody else's fault. But we know and we are sure that they are guilty. We know that they have caused the deaths of many of our tribe and our brothers the Siona, the Secoya, the Waorani, campesinos as well, farmer communities.

So Chevron is trying to avoid this liability at all cost.

JAY: What are some of the health impacts on your people?

YUMBO: Well, let's begin with my tribe, the Cofan, what happened to the Cofan since the beginning of operations. You know, we are people that live from the forest. We live from the animals, from the fish. It's what sustains us.

I grew up watching Texaco (at the time, now Chevron) dumping the toxic wastewater, formation waters that come up with the oil out of the ground. This toxic sludge and waste they dumped directly into our water source. And it had a huge impact, basically, on the fish that we need to survive day to day. So people as well, the farmer communities, they as well live from the land. They use the water to drink, to fish. And so we're seeing health impacts. You know, people have died of various diseases, of cancers.

JAY: If I understand it correctly, Chevron's argument is that when they operated—and Texaco before—they were not doing anything outside of Ecuadorian law, and that the responsibility for the cleanup was really the Ecuadorian government's, not theirs. Do I have it right? That's their argument? And if I do, what do you make of that argument?

YUMBO: Well, this issue in Ecuador, the evidence is there. It's in plain sight. Chevron did not comply with Ecuadorian law. And during the trial in Ecuador, they were there every day trying to defend themselves. The fact that they, Chevron, conducted a sort of quote-unquote "cleanup" is a farce. Only throwing topsoil, throwing dirt on top of the toxic waste pit is not a cleanup. The Amazon is a very fragile place, and those waste pits that were left behind leak into the groundwater and to streams. So I don't know how Chevron can say that a cleanup was ever done or that they complied with the rule of law.

JAY: And what's the next step in the legal process?

YUMBO: As I said earlier, we're in the final stages of this trial. My presence here in the United States is to basically inform the company that we are going to take this judgment that we won and go to anywhere or everywhere that Chevron has assets, and we are going to enforce this judgment against the company. And the company has said that, oh, this whole case is a fraud. It's painful to see a company like Chevron that is acting in this way, fighting to the death to protect their image and their brand, instead of people.

JAY: Alright. Well, thanks very much for joining us, Robinson. And as I said in the interview with Antonia, we will be inviting Chevron to either come on the show or send us some kind of written response to this series of interviews. And thanks again, Robinson. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

TEXT ON SCREEN: Chevron sent the following statement about the Ecuador case to The Real News:

Chevron has uncovered undeniable evidence of fraud by the Lago Agrio plaintiffs. . . . Chevron has exposed the plaintiffs' lawyers' plot to intimidate judges, pressure scientific experts to "find contamination" where none existed, and ghostwrite supposedly independent damage reports as well as the ultimate $18 billion judgment itself. . . . U.S. federal courts, reviewing the same evidence, concluded that: "the concept of fraud is universal, and that what has blatantly occurred in this matter would in fact be considered fraud by any court."

—Kent Robertson, Manager, Issues Management and Litigation Communications Policy, Government and Public Affairs Chevron Corporation

Statement by Amazon Watch:

Chevron has tried every possible way to wiggle its way out of the overwhelming proof of its guilt for environmental crimes in Ecuador, but it has failed repeatedly.

Chevron has been given an exhaustive hearing of the evidence over many years in Ecuador, and it has been found guilty.

—Rob Collier, Corporate Campaigns Director, Amazon Watch


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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