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Roger Waters condemns the Ecuadorian Government’s treatment of Julian Assange and its concessions to Big Oil
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting from Montreal, Canada.
Legendary musician and human rights activist Roger Waters just completed a tour of South America, at a point in time at which the continent is experiencing massive political upheaval. From Argentina to Brazil to Ecuador, progressive governments have been supplanted by governments that either lean to the right, or are unabashedly situated on the far right of the political spectrum. During his tour, Roger met with many South Americans who were on the front line of the battle to protect and advance the social justice and environmental victories of the last 20 years.
This is the second part of a wide-ranging discussion I had with Roger recently about his South American tour. In the first part, he and I discussed his travels through Brazil and Argentina, and in this part we talk about his experiences in Ecuador, and the new Ecuadorian government’s controversial treatment of Julian Assange, the co-founder of WikiLeaks, who has been trapped for several years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, England.
I’d like to talk to you about Ecuador. I mean, really, it was quite a trip in South America, quite a set of gigs that you did. And I know that in Ecuador you had an unusual set of issues I’ll get to in a moment. But before we get there, I want to talk to you about what’s happened since the leftist president Rafael Correa was replaced by the right-leaning president Lenin Moreno. There’s been a lot of controversy in particular about how the government of Ecuador is treating Julian Assange, who has been trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for years. What do you think of the Moreno government’s treatment of Assange?
ROGER WATERS: It’s pitiful. You know, it’s like, occasionally somebody who leans a bit to the left–or I would prefer to think of it as leaning towards progressive values, leaning towards the idea that the human race has a possibility to progress towards a future where it might survive. Might survive. Because the new guy in Ecuador is beginning to do deals with the United States of America, and it may be that part of the deals he’s doing will be to kick Julian out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. And if they do he will be immediately arrested and extradited to the United States, and they will probably lock him up forever. So it is fundamentally important that the Ecuadorian people resist that, and they resist this new president, who is very right wing.
Because he’s doing other things. He’s also talking to the Americans about opening up a new oil field in the–begins with ‘Y,’ and I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten the name of national park. But this is the most biodiverse piece of real estate anywhere on the globe, and it’s fundamentally important to our respect for the ecology that keeps us all alive. I don’t know–I tried to speak to him. He wouldn’t speak to me, the president. The new president.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: I want to talk to you about what, historically, American oil companies have done to this extraordinarily important country, from an ecological perspective. You, when you traveled to Ecuador, understand you encountered some difficulty in getting to one of your destinations, a village called Lago Agrio. This village has acquired world renown because of a historic lawsuit against Chevron Corporation. And as we’ve previously reported on The Real News, the lawsuit relates to a massive oil contamination, the area around Lago Agrio, that was caused by Chevron’s predecessor Texaco. And Texaco’s massive contamination of the Ecuadorian jungle has spawned, as I know you know, multiple major pieces of litigation, including in Ecuador, the United States, and Canada. You apparently encountered some difficulties in getting to Lago Agrio. Could you tell us about those difficulties, and ultimately what happened when you got there?
ROGER WATERS: Yeah, I can. But the truth is, I’m guessing, partly, here, OK. But people I know, people who are on the legal team who are representing the indigenous people whose lives have been destroyed by Texaco, and subsequently by Chevron, tried to get to the new president, because I wanted to speak to him about this problem specifically. And so they went to his chief of staff, who one of them knew. So he knew I was coming. I was–by the way, Ecuador was not one of the places I did a show. I wanted to go there because I’d never visited the affected region. But I’m deeply involved in the legal case, and I’m deeply involved in all of the activists, who are myriad, who are trying to get the people whose land has been destroyed a fair deal.
So I took a plane–I was going to take, I did take a plane from Bogota in Colombia on one of my days off. And before I even left, they tried to stop me leaving by saying that I would not be allowed to fly to Lago–if I got to land in Quito, which was in doubt. And the other, the other caveat to this was that absolutely I would not be allowed to pick up Steven Donziger, who is the American lawyer who’s been coordinating their legal dispute with Chevron for 25 years; that I would not be allowed to pick him up and take him with me on the plane to Lago. So I thought, wow, this sounds like a scam.
So we got on the plane anyway and went to Quito. And we landed, and a very nice and rather embarrassed official in the FBO at Quito said, you can’t go to Largo. I said, well, why not? You don’t have the necessary permit. And I just said to him, yeah, we do. We had it a week ago and. We certainly had it before I took off from Bogota. So what’s happening? I want to know the story. And he ummed and ahhed and said, well, you can’t go. And I said, I want to speak to somebody higher up the ladder. Bless him, he was obviously somewhat agitated. But in the meantime, one of the legal team who represent the people had managed on a cell phone to get hold of the head of civil aviation for Ecuador. And my conversation with him was very brief. He rolled over in a heartbeat.
So this was clear–you know, this is all tied up with Chevron–or Chevron, I would suspect, having conversations with the president, saying we’re going to open up these oil fields in your national park, and they’ll be a few quid in it for you. And Chevron saying to him, you’ve got to stop that bloody pop star from going and visiting the disputed territories, or the Texaco debacle in Lago. And so they tried to. That’s what happened. And they failed. And they will continue to fail.
Hang on. Just before I finish, I’m so happy that Canada is the new jurisdiction for this fight. We, the people supporting these indigenous people, have managed to move the jurisdiction to Canada. These people won the court case in Ecuador. They won it in 2001 or 2003, a long time ago. And Chevron said fuck you, we’re not paying you a penny. And before, when the case looked slightly dodgy, they’d move every single asset that they had out of Ecuador so that the $9.5 billion dollar reparation to these people could not be collected. And since then it’s been a hugely long and complicated story. But now it’s in Canada. I know you’re in Canada now. I hope some people are in Canada who–sorry, I’ll let you.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: We’ve actually, we’ve covered that extensively. In Canada, even in just Canada, it’s become an epic legal battle. And you know, this is a story which is undoubtedly going to continue to unfold over a period of years. And it’s fascinating to watch how, for once, the little guys are actually engaging in a strategy of accessing whatever jurisdiction they can access in order to get justice. So we’ll certainly continue to follow that story. But what I want to focus on now is, you know, you got in there and you saw–you actually met with villagers. What did they show you? What did you actually see with your own eyes when you were down there.
ROGER WATERS: You know, because Chevron had delayed my flight by over an hour I was very tight on time to get in and out in the day. So what I saw was a probe that had been stuck into one of these pits, which is like, pure toxic oil waste product. And that’s thousands of, thousands of these pits all over the place. And these are the pits that are causing birth defects, poisoning the waters, killing the fish, and creating cancer rates in the area that are ten times what they are in the rest of Ecuador. And so on and so forth. I mean, the people who live there are now living a slow death. I saw that. I also saw the extraordinary bravery and resolve and love in the people from the affected communities.
You can tell if you, if you ever go into anything. It’s like reaching the madres de Malvinas. All of the madres de Plaza de Mayo, which is a whole different story in Argentina, you get a sense of how important it is that we all remain attached to our capacity to empathize with others, and that that is the way forward for the human race. Not Chicago School Economics. That is the way to probably nuclear war, with all this crap that’s going on now about how the Russians are terrible, and we have to invade Iran next, and then move on to that. These people are insane, and they will kill us all, unless we all. Recognize that the important thing is love for one another. And we have to pursue that as a progressive goal. Sorry, I’m preaching a bit.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: You’re always welcome to preach, Roger. The last thing I want to talk to you about is sort of relating to Canada, and to our own very large powerful and influential oil industry. A major scandal erupted here in the past few weeks when it was revealed that the Alberta Energy Regulator had privately estimated the cleanup costs from abandoned oil wells and tar sands tailings ponds to be $260 billion, even as it was telling the public that the cost would amount to less than $60 billion. And meanwhile, as we reported on The Real News, that Regulator, the Alberta Energy Regulator, has collected a mere $1.6 billion from oil companies as security for the cleanup costs. That means that 99 percent, over 99 percent, of the estimated cleanup costs for oil contamination in Alberta are unfunded. And what lessons do you think Canadians should draw from the experiences of the Ecuadorian villagers when it comes to the mess that has been created by Canada’s oil industry in Alberta?
ROGER WATERS: I didn’t know that, so thank you very much for sharing that with me. I think–and I’m so glad that you have, because it’s tragic, it’s despicable, and all the rest of it. But the people of Canada should go, well, we have to help the people of Ecuador to win this case in Canada. You know, we need a huge public opinion upswell in Canada, not going what’s that got to do with us? They’re Ecuadorian. Well, the First Nation people in Canada know what it’s got to do with them, but it needs to spread out. You know, Perry Bellegarde has signed an accord with his brothers in Ecuador. They now have–and this is something that I hope will spread. But I’m getting off the point. This case, to the Ecuadorians, if the Ecuadorians win it, will begin to wake the oil companies up to the idea that they cannot just go into territory and steal everything that they can get, and walk away without having to behave in a civilized, grown up, compassionate, and moral way.
So when this case is heard, which it will be in Canada next year, please get out on the streets. Because I’ll tell you why. Because these judges, everybody in the Canadian judiciary, will watch the news. They follow what happens. And I believe that you can–they have hearts, too. I believe that by public demonstrations, the Canadian judicial system can be persuaded that the Ecuadorian indigenous peoples’ fight is just, and that it would be beyond immoral for the Canadian judicial system not to support them in their just fight against Chevron, however much influence in Parliament, or with Trudeau, or whatever the oil companies have.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, we’ve been speaking to Roger Waters about his recent tour to South America. Thank you so much, Roger, for coming back on The Real News.
ROGER WATERS: It’s always a pleasure. Thank you for having me again.
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And this is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News from Montreal, Canada.