The case of Aguinda vs. Texaco in Ecuador is back in the news: The plaintiffs won an appeal and now have the right to seize the assets of Chevron-Texaco anywhere in the world. It’s another stunning legal victory for the farmers and indigenous people of Ecuador’s Oriente who have been fighting this case in the courts in the US and Ecuador since 1993. However the defendant, the second-largest US oil company, is expected to appeal to a higher court in Ecuador.
Oxfam has been supporting the efforts of the plaintiffs in Ecuador off and on since 1991.
My colleague Chris Jochnick, the director of Oxfam America’s private sector engagement program, calls the case unprecedented, both in terms of the size of the award and the amount of litigation that has gone into it. He also sees the most recent ruling as very significant: “While Chevron will continue to appeal the decision, for the first time the plaintiffs have what they need to go anywhere in the world where Chevron has assets to seek enforcement. That puts a lot of pressure on Chevron to settle.”
It seems like an appropriate time to check back in on this story, one I have been following for more than 10 years. For a detailed history of the Chevron-Texaco saga, and the most recent legal action taken directly against the US-based lawyer who has been working on the case since the beginning, see the New Yorker article out this week by Patrick Radden Keefe. The story closes with comments from Humberto Piaguaje, a leader of the indigenous Secoya people, who I met when I visited the affected area in 2004.
Lest anyone think Chevron is giving up, consider this excerpt from the New Yorker story: “In 2008, a Chevron lobbyist in Washington told Newsweek, ‘We can’t let little countries screw around with big companies like this.’ One Chevron spokesman has said, ‘We’re going to fight this until Hell freezes over—and then we’ll fight it out on the ice.’”