Crude: The Story of Chevron’s $27 Billion Exploitation of the Amazon

“We saw an oil spill where we used to live, in a stream that crosses the Aguarico River.  It was about three centimeters deep.  Water is the life blood of the Cofán people, because we always use water from the river.  This has affected me terribly, because I lost two of my children.  My first son stopped developing six months after being born.  My second son, one day we were walking to the beach…and the river had oil in it and my child bathed and drank the water…we came back home in the afternoon and he started vomiting blood.  He didn’t last 24 hours.  One day he got sick at 10 am and the next day at 2 in the afternoon he was dead.  They came and spilled oil, contaminated the river, and my children died.”

-Emergildo Criollo, an Amazonian Native of the Cofán Tribe.  Crude (2009)

 

An Oil Waste Pit in Ecuador. Photo by Time Magazine.

It is called the Chernobyl of the Amazon.

It is the largest environmental disaster in world history, propelled by corporate irresponsibility and greed.  Cleanup is estimated at $27 billion dollars.  Amazonian communities wither away, watching as their children die of cancer – one after another – before reaching puberty.  The natives filed suit against Chevron and have been led by the noble Pablo Fajardo, but litigation has spanned a seemingly endless 17 years.  Meanwhile, Chevron denies everything, accusing the plaintiffs of orchestrating an Amazonian swindle.

I recently watched Crude, a 2009 documentary portraying the legal battle of 30,000 Ecuadorians versus Chevron-Texaco.  It is an eye opening, emotionally intense, edge-of-your-seat thriller, gradually building up the moral battle between right and wrong.  The drama of this David vs. Goliath lawsuit is highlighted by the Ecuadorian people, violated of their basic social, environmental, and human rights.  It is a tragic and inspiring, must-see documentary.

Crude is a behind-the-scenes look at the landmark Aguinda v. Chevron-Texaco case. In Aguinda v. Chevron-Texaco, Chevron stand accused of dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic waste and formation water directly into streams, rivers, and the jungle floor from the mid-1960s until the early 1990s.  In that time, nearly 1,000 unlined toxic waste pits were built throughout the region, an additional 18 million gallons of crude oil spilled and leaked from pipelines, and more than 235 billion cubic feet of natural gas have been burnt into the atmosphere.  The numbers speak for themselves; Chevron has committed an atrocious crime against humanity.

Children Bathing, Oil Pipeline Overhead. Photo by Time Magazine.

However, the movie presents the case as far more than just a lawsuit.  Aguinda v. Chevron-Texaco is a symbol of the historical turning point in international business relations.  The days of imperialist Westerners pillaging far away lands for their people and resources are numbered.  Natives of countries like Ecuador are taking a stand and learning to speak out, and people all over the world are listening.  In the United States, we are listening, and we are holding Chevron responsible.  These colonial business practices are not acceptable anymore.  After nearly 400 years of corporate oppression, the plight of South America can no longer be ignored.  Profit is not an acceptable excuse for environmental, public health, and human rights violations.  The tide is turning, and we are starting to hold multi-national corporations accountable for their disgusting practices.

So what does former Chevron Executive VP Charles James, who retired in February 2010, make of social litigation?  Take it from here, Mr. James:  “I read an editorial yesterday on the beneficial social role of plaintiffs’ lawyers.  I laughed and then I threw up.  The fact of the matter is litigation is never a way to get appropriate societal results.”  I’m sorry Mr. James, but are you familiar with the 30,000 Ecuadorians currently suing you for $27 billion in damages?  They seem to disagree.

Watch Crude and hold Chevron-Texaco accountable.  Do the right thing, do not buy from Chevron, Texaco, Standard Oil, Caltex, Gulf, or Unocal.

Click here for the Time Magazine photo-essay.

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