jueves, 9 de octubre de 2014


***** A great chronicle of the Chevron- Steven Donziger - Ecuador saga

“Law of the Jungle, by Paul M. Barrett, Crown Publishers, New York, $26.
                                                A review
In early 2009 I received a call from a friend of mine who was working for a Washington DC based think tank. He told me they had been invited to analyze a legal action started in Ecuador some years before by a group of indigenous people against oil company Chevron. The plaintiffs claimed that Texaco, later acquired by Chevron, had caused great environmental damages in the Amazon region where they had operated for about 20 years, between 1972 and 1992. My friend said that they had excused themselves from looking into this, because the case had complex political ramifications. He asked me if, as an independent petroleum geologist, I would be interested to take a look. There would be no compensation involved.
I said, sure. I had been in the area once, working for The Inter American Bank, and had a basic knowledge of the issue.  For the next five years, therefore, I followed the Chevron Lago Agrio trial in Ecuador, talking to both sides of the case, as well as the Chevron - vs - Steven Donziger trial in New York.  I always felt someone should write a book or, even, make a motion picture about this complex legal battle that has lasted some 20 years and is not yet quite finished. 
“Law of the Jungle” is one of the first books written on this subject. The author, Paul M. Barrett, is a senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. He presents the results of his excellent research in an organized manner that reads, almost, like a movie script.   
the author, Paul M. Barrett

The origins of the legal action can be found in the efforts of an Ecuadorian-American citizen called John Bonifaz, who had read, in 1992, an article on oil pollution in Ecuador, written by U.S. attorney  Judith Kimmerling.  Placing the entire blame on Texaco, later acquired by Chevron, Bonifaz felt something should be done about it. He joined forces with a young U.S. attorney called Steven Donziger who would become the central figure in the saga. Barrett has done extensive research on Donziger’s background as a journalist, later as a law student at Harvard, describing him as combative, liberal-minded and admirer of Nicaragua’s Sandinistas. While at Harvard Donziger organized a “Study Group” that went to Iraq, unduly appropriating Harvard’s name for his work. The “study group” was critical of the U.S. role in that country while refraining from criticism towards Sadam Hussein. 
In 1993 Donziger arranged for a group of indigenous Ecuadorians, Cofán Indians, to appear with him in New York City, in 1993, for the filing of the class action suit against Chevron. The case came to be known as Aguinda vs. Chevron.  After several years, in 2001, The U.S. courts decided that they had no jurisdiction and finally dismissed the suit. Bonifaz had attempted to settle out of court, asking the oil company for $140 million but the company refused to settle. In retrospect, says Barrett, a settlement could have been beneficial to all concerned.
In 1999 the passing of a new environmental law in Ecuador, drafted with the assistance of Bonifaz and Donziger, paved the way for the plaintiffs to bring the class action suit back to Ecuador. The trial was held in the town of Lago Agrio. Judge Alberto Guerra, would be the first of six judges  involved in the trial (four of whom would end up accused of grave improprieties). The opening of the trial became another opportunity for theatrics by the plaintiffs, complete with Indians in native costumes, an appearance by Bianca Jagger and street parades.  The degree of pollution caused by Texaco, claimed Donziger,was worse than Chernobyl. He hired an Atlanta consultant and asked him to get a “big number” for the estimate of environmental damages. In a matter of a few weeks the consultant  arrived at a figure of $6.1 billion, using a method he himself would define later as SWAG, scientifically wild – assed guessing.
In contrast with the way a trial would be conducted in the U.S. the Lago Agrio trial began in the court room before starting on discovery. When the collection of field data finally started it promptly became a circus. In the process Judge Guerra was replaced by a second and, still, a third judge. While taking a very long time, the inspections proved to be favorable to Chevron. This brought Donziger and his team to their first disastrous decision: to try to stop the collection of field data and suggest the naming of a single expert to collect the data, report on the findings and make a recommendation on the basis of his findings. What they had in mind was to find a suitable expert for their ends, recruit him and write the report for him, together with the recommendations for damages. Although an Ecuadorian member of the team, Pablo Fajardo had said, before joining the Donziger team, that the Ecuadorian oil company, Petro Ecuador, was worse than Texaco, he was now actively engaged in proving the very opposite.  It would appear that this was a critical moment in the saga, the point in which whatever idealism had been present was discarded in favor of the obsession to win at all costs. Donziger, says Barrett, outlined a three-prong strategy: Convince the court that inspections should end, to be replaced by a single expert allied to the plaintiffs; bring political pressure to bear on the plaintiffs; and , increase media campaign and raise enough money enough to survive the process and see victory. 
In doing this he even went to the extreme of blackmailing the judge. His team had discovered that the judge was prone to trade jobs for sex and told him they would expose him unless he stopped the inspections and appointed a single expert. Sure enough, the judge cancelled the remaining inspections and eventually, approved the expert who had been recruited by the plaintiffs. Donziger knew what he was doing. In his personal notes he wrote: “I feel like I have gone over to the dark side”.
Rafael Correa gets elected president of Ecuador
The arrival of Rafael Correa to the presidency of Ecuador gave Donziger’s cause a big boost. Correa was an ultra –nationalist and from the very start sided publicly with the plaintiffs. He would actively instruct his underlings to help the plaintiffs. He denounced all Ecuadorians working for, or representing Chevron as traitors to the fatherland.
In parallel, Donziger had found his “expert”. His name was Richard Stalin Cabrera Vega. While researching the case I remember reading his credentials and rapidly concluding that the man was totally unfit to be the expert. Barrett describes a preliminary meeting between the plaintiffs and Cabrera, in March 2007, in which a “work committee” was formed to help Cabrera write his report. In this meeting Pablo Fajardo, the Ecuadorian Donziger’s sidekick presented a “Plan for the Global Expert Assessment”. When one of the participants in the meeting asked: “Isn’t Cabrera supposed to be independent”? Fajardo replied: “No. He will sign the report…… but all of us have to contribute…. Another participant added: “But not Chevron”, which made    everyone laugh. When Cabrera took his oath at the courthouse he swore to carry out his duties “with complete impartiality and independence”. 
Cabrera apparently did what Donziger and Pablo Fajardo told him to do. The report was essentially written for him by STRATUS, a Denver based consulting company hired by Donziger. For a  $1.7 million fee this company generated a 3000 page report delivered to Donziger, stating in the first page that it was the work of… Richard Cabrera. This “independent” expert recommended to the court that Chevron should pay $16 billion for damages. Pit remediation that would have really cost some $85,000 each, was estimated in the report at $2.2 million per pit. “Excessive cancer deaths” would require a compensation of $9.5 billion. In November 2008 Cabrera revised his estimate upwards, to $27.3 billion. For his services the Donziger team paid Cabrera some $392,000.
 The tide started to turn against Donziger’s team when Chevron demanded full disclosure of the takes of the film “CRUDE”, originally made to serve as propaganda for the cause of the plaintiffs. These takes, and Donziger’s notes, memos, e-mails requested by Chevron told a story of deceit and fraud of obscene proportions. When this new evidence surfaced some of Donziger’s financial supporters began to abandon him. Experts who had testified against Chevron recanted and the Denver based consultants from STRATUS admitted they had acted in a criminal manner. Months before judge Zambrano delivered his ruling in Lago Agrio against Chevron, Donziger became the defendant in a RICO suit filed by Chevron in Manhattan in 2011.  Ecuadorians Pablo Fajardo and Luis Yanza, the legal firm Patton Boggs, environmentalist group Amazon Watch, consulting firm STRATUS and the original group of indigenous Ecuadorian plaintiffs were all named as co-defendants.
Back in Ecuador judge Nicolas Zambrano finally delivered his decision condemning Chevron to pay damages for $9 billion, later increased to $18.1 billion since Chevron refused to apologize. However, as it was later found, the verdict had largely been written for the judge by Donziger’s team, who had bribed the judge by promising  him $500,000.
Barrett’s narrative essentially ends at this point, although he includes a brief account of the New York suit against Donziger, which concluded with a victory for Chevron.
The book by Barrett inevitably has few heroes and many anti-heroes. Although they were victims of a colossal fraud attempt Chevron-Texaco did not do the job of remediation they could and should have done. The state-owned oil company, Petro Ecuador, is clearly seen as even  more responsible for any pollution in the region than Texaco, since they operated in the area for years after Texaco left. The Ecuadorian judicial system was revealed in all its shocking corruption. Political leaders in Ecuador, from Correa down, were shown to act for their own interest, rather than for the national interest. Technical consultants and court experts proved to be little more than mercenaries, willing to do anything for money. The Donziger team, without exception, behaved in a despicable manner, some of them originally idealists, tragically transformed into vulgar bounty hunters. Notorious legal outfits like Patton Boggs sold their name to a criminal cause and paid a heavy price for it, as Barrett has documented in another of his works, see: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/09/the-fall-of-the-house-of-boggs-110989.html#.VDaESPldWBI

How to make a motion picture without heroes?

Barrett’s book is a Goliath vs. Goliath story. One Goliath, Chevron, was mighty powerful because of its almost limitless financial capability and corporate stubbornness. The other Goliath, Donziger, proved to be almost equally powerful, thanks to the support of the famous for being famous (Bianca Jagger, Darryl Hannah, Danny Glover, Sting)  and to the forces of  ideological fanaticism, political corruption, greed and false idealism.  

 I  sided with  the less wrong.     

7 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

Gustavo, leete la historia del papa del hampon ese de Correa. Te va a interesar. Alli esta explicado todo el resentimiento de ese miserable comunista contra nuestro pais.

Fernando Leanme dijo...

Excellent. I was on the ground in ecuador in 1982 and later paid irregular visits until 2010. What the book describes is exactly what I saw.

Anónimo dijo...

Yo defiendo sin leer en detalle el ecosistema y las Selvas del Ecuador [Ecua-dor] y del Amazonas, para un futuro incierto de la Humanidad, despues del Petroleo!

Iremos a comer hidropronico de fertilizantes naturales locales y a calentarnos con Fuentes Hidraulicas mientras haya suficiente agua dulce!

Yo no defendo a Chevron ni el uso comercial del Petroleo! A menos que sea para uso de reserva energetica de emergencia y militar! Y zero uso para aviacion commercial! Y regreso al Mar y buques con motores electricos!

Los seres humanos no quieren vivir una vida normal en este Mundo!

Anónimo dijo...

Gustavo! Tu defensa del Petroleo es solo una vision miope de la vida!

Gustavo Coronel dijo...

Más que una defensa del petróleo lo que trato de hacer aquí es una defensa de la justicia. El fallo contra Chevron en Ecuador fué un fraude alimentado por la corrupción de mucha gente. Pudiéramos haber estado hablando de cualquiera otra actividad, amigo anónimo.

Anónimo dijo...

Fallo, fraude o no fraude!

No creo en Chevron, ni en ninguno de ellos subsidiados grandemente for gobiernos del Norte!

El crudo es una economía falsa y de perdición!

En cuanto a otra compañía si sería lamentable un fraude en su contra!

No lamento nadita ni Chevron, ni PDVSA, ni Venezuela!

Si lamento a Canadá en estos momentos grandemente! Y por razones personales y de muchos!

Paul PazyMino dijo...

This is not an independent researched book explaining the Chevron in Ecuador case, it's a pro-Chevron one-sided dump of their legal filings written to give the impression that Barrett actually researched the case. It shamelessly masquerades as “impartial” but the facts do not bear that out.

Peter Maass, author of Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil in his review of Barrett's book in Outside Magazine wrote, "There are two side to the story of the biggest environmental lawsuit ever, but a new book tells only one of them."

Barrett, did not interview the Ecuadorian legal team, did not read the trial record in Ecuador and spent only a few days there. Many of us who have supported the communities for decades are shocked at the lack of real reporting here. He made it appear as if he interviewed Donziger, even tho he only took from Chevron's legal filings in their bogus RICO action.

There is no fraud by Donziger nor the Ecuadorians. The only "evidence" of any ghost written judgment was the testimony of a corrupt ex-judge who was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to testify. Chevron either bought off or pressured witnesses, fabricated evidence and spent hundreds of millions all to avoid paying to clean up. Barrett ignores all of these issues in his book. Leaving such facts out is either grossly incompetent or deliberately misleading.

The Sierra Club, Amnesty International, Greenpeace and over 40 other human rights and environmental NGOs have condemned Chevron for its dirty underhanded legal thuggery in this case and for violating the First Amendment. Why is that not a part of Barrett's "story"?

Barrett avoids the truly scandalous and criminal examples of Chevron's tactics to hide contamination during the Ecuador trial, like swapping toxic soil samples with clean ones, and avoiding sampling at depths at which Chevron knew contamination existed, at locations Chevron knew were still contaminated, and were downgradient from known contamination. You'd think that a book purportedly covering the largest environmental litigation in history would merit a real review of the evidence, much of which was provided by even the skewed soil and water samples taken by the company.

Three layers of Ecuadorian courts – eight appellate judges – reviewed and upheld the $9 billion verdict, and threw out Chevron's claims of fraud. But for Barrett, apparently U.S. courts are the only legitimate court system in the world. Barrett lets Judge Kaplan off the hook for his colonial overreach in judging a country's legal system that he knows nothing about. Kaplan can't read the native language, nor did he read the trial record.

Worst of all, Barrett is promoting his book under the false headline that the case against Chevron in Ecuador “failed”. This is patently false as enforcement actions are underway in Canada, Argentina and Brazil (which Barrett knows). Barrett unwillingness to correct this misinformation time and again is perhaps the most obvious indication of where he stands on the “truth”.

Learn about Barrett’s ongoing bias here: http://amazonwatch.org/news/2014/0930-business-journalists-rush-to-rescue-chevron-from-its-ecuador-disaster

Here is an excellent point-by-point critique of this book by the Ecuadorian legal team: http://chevrontoxico.com/assets/docs/2014-barrett-critique.pdf

Barrett’s book is so bad that he and his publisher are liable to be sued for defamation letter: http://chevrontoxico.com/assets/docs/2014-09-09-letter-to-barret.pdf

A decent and fair look at the case appeared in Rolling Stone (which also refers to Barrett’s book as pro-Chevron): http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/sludge-match-chevron-legal-battle-ecuador-steven-donziger-20140828

The documents refuting Chevron’s bogus RICO claims, likely to prevail with the federal appeals Court are here: