By Nathalie Cely Ecuadorean Ambassador to the United States
Special to the Star-Telegram
Midland, 300 miles west of Fort Worth, will get an unexpected boost to tourism when Chevron hosts its annual shareholder meeting there on Wednesday.
It’s a highly unusual move; the company typically holds these events at its headquarters outside San Francisco, which is easily accessible for shareholders from around the world. This year, Chevron will slip into Midland for a small gathering largely out of the public eye.
But the move has not gone unnoticed, at least by those who are concerned about the plight of the poor indigenous communities and farmers living in the Ecuadorean Amazon, where the company has dumped toxic waste. Despite a $9.5 billion judgment rendered against it in Ecuador, Chevron has refused to accept responsibility for the contamination.
The people of Ecuador understand and support the oil industry. Many international oil companies operate freely and profitably in Ecuador.
Even as we diversify our energy matrix, we acknowledge that oil has helped us build our modern nation. That’s why we can’t begrudge the hospitable people of Midland for playing host to Chevron — but we do believe Chevron is attempting to duck further public scrutiny for its contemptible behavior in the Amazon.
Chevron insisted that the original case brought against the company by indigenous communities be heard in Ecuador, not the U.S.
Ecuadorian and U.S. courts complied, and the result was possibly the largest judgment in the history of environmental law.
Since then, the company’s strategy has been to denigrate Ecuador’s judicial system, deny and ignore the health and ecological effects of the contamination, make repeated attempts to upend U.S.-Ecuador commerce (which is some $19 billion annually, affecting thousands of jobs in Texas), abuse the international trade and investment system to undermine Ecuador’s sovereignty, and dance feverishly to keep the case out of the limelight.
While the government of Ecuador is not a party to the litigation against Chevron — it’s a private matter — we do zealously protect our sovereignty. Chevron has dragged the government of Ecuador into the matter by bringing a complaint about our legal system to an international arbitration tribunal in The Hague.
As a result, Ecuador conducted its own independent environmental studies and also has secured through U.S. courts for the first time ever the in-depth studies conducted by Chevron’s own experts.
These reports reveal that oil buried in the jungle and spilled in the streams more than 20 years ago has not degraded like Chevron claims, that the toxic components of the contamination have been significantly underestimated by Chevron and that these toxic components have caused and continue to cause very significant human health and environmental impacts.
Chevron is coming to Texas because its shareholders are demanding answers on Ecuador. Among the items on the agenda at Wednesday’s meeting, shareholders will vote on three resolutions that criticize Chevron’s CEO and other senior executives for their mishandling of the Ecuador litigation.
Unfortunately, Chevron has reacted belligerently to protests and proxy challenges year after year.
Now, Chevron is encamping to Midland to shirk its responsibilities and any reminder of them altogether.
In Ecuador, we are all for international investment in our country, including responsible resource extraction, but we cannot tolerate actions that harm our people and our environment with impunity. We continue to urge all the parties, for the sake of the victims of the contamination, to find a fair and just resolution to the dispute.
The alternative is that the moral and legal cloud that has gathered over Chevron will follow them for decades to come. Even to Midland.
Nathalie Cely is the ambassador of Ecuador to the United States.