In a Solomon-like ruling, Ecuador’s National Court of Justice upheld a verdict against U.S. oil company Chevron yet cut a $19 billion fine by more than half.
The National Court of Justice (NCJ) agreed with a 2011 lower court ruling that found Chevron responsible for the environmental damages caused by Texaco during a twenty-eight year period of operating in the Ecuadorian rainforest. The NCJ further ordered Chevron to pay an $8.8 million fine that includes reparations to indigenous communities that claim to have suffered adverse health effects due to Texaco’s actions between 1964 and 1992.
Yet the high court eliminated the roughly $9 billion in punitive damages levied against Chevron, which purchased Texaco in 2001, and reduces the fine to its original decision made by a local judge in February 2011.
The NCJ’s decision did not sit well with representatives of Chevron as well as the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.
“The only decision that the Court of Justice could have taken .. was to declare the trial null and void and leave this illegitimate sentence without effect,” Chevron spokesman James Craig reportedly said. He further claimed that the NCJ’s ruling was “illegitimate and inapplicable.”
Juan Pablo Saenz, an attorney for the plaintiffs, deemed the high court’s lowering of the fine against Chevron as a “folly” that leaves “unpunished the arrogance, bad faith and irresponsibility” of the oil firm. Nevertheless, he praised the court for issuing “a sentence that confirms all the evidence gathered, the damage and the payment Chevron must make.”
“We do not feel 100% satisfied because their bad behavior has gone unpunished,” said Ecuadorian indigenous community leader Humberto Piaguaje at a press conference on Wednesday. He also observed that the fine against Chevron is “insignificant” compared to “the human lives” lost and the harm against the local environment.
The NCJ ruling comes as a U.S. federal court listens to testimony in the racketeering suit against Steven Donziger, a lawyer who helped represent the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. Chevron attorneys rested their case this week and tried to prove that Donziger fraudulently influenced Ecuadorian judges:
Chevron, which rested its case on Tuesday, has brought a series of expert witnesses from the fields of linguistics, psychology and computer science to testify in the case over the past four weeks.
The star witness was Alberto Guerra, a former Ecuadorean judge who said he was paid by lawyers for the villagers to ghostwrite rulings for the judge in the case.
Donziger was aware of the arrangement, he said.
"Mr. Donziger thanked me for the work that I was going to do," Guerra said.
Lawyers for Donziger said Guerra's testimony cannot be credited because Chevron paid to relocate his family and has covered his living and housing expenses.Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has been vocal in expressing his displeasure with Chevron and accused the firm of eluding responsibility for an “environmental disaster 86 times worse than the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.” He also accused the oil firm of hacking his e-mail messages with the intent of using them at the Donziger fraud trial.
Numerous celebrities, including most recently actor Danny Glover, have tried to call attention to the environmental damage in the Ecuadorian rainforest.
Video Source– YouTube via euronews
Online Sources – France24.com; Prensa Latina; El Universo; Reuters; EFE; El Comercio; NBC News; Raw Story