Canada’s National Indigenous Federation Backs Ecuadorian Amazon Communities in Lawsuit to Hold Chevron Accountable for Environmental Damage

Domingo Peas and National Chief Perry Bellegarde signing a cooperation protocol

OTTAWA, Ontario, Dec. 06 /CSRwire/ -In a setback to Chevron’s campaign to evade a $9.5 billion liability owed to rainforest communities, the national indigenous federations of Canada and Ecuador signed a formal protocol today to work together to hold the oil major accountable for the dumping of billions of gallons of toxic oil waste and for causing ongoing violations of Indigenous rights in both countries.

The protocol was announced in a pubic ceremony in Ottawa at the annual December meeting of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Canada’s national indigenous federation that includes the chiefs of 634 nationalities in the country. It was signed by Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the AFN, considered one of the most important indigenous organizations in the world; Jamie Vargas, the National Chief of Ecuador and the President of that country’s indigenous federation, known as CONAIE; and Carmen Cartuche, the President of the Front for the Defense of the Amazon (FDA), the community-based organization in Ecuador’s Amazon that brought a historic lawsuit against Chevron in 1993 on behalf of indigenous and farmer communities.

“Any violation of Indigenous rights is a violation against all Indigenous peoples,” said AFN National Chief Bellegarde. “This protocol puts Chevron and all corporations on notice that we are watching and we will be vigilant in protecting our rights and our territories. We stand with our brothers and sisters in Ecuador in calling for full respect for our rights, our peoples and our traditional territories.”

“This protocol is a profound step forward for Indigenous groups in both Ecuador and Canada to hold an irresponsible corporate polluter accountable for its actions in destroying indigenous lands and cultures in the Amazon and around the world,” said Vargas of Ecuador’s CONAIE, who is currently leading a national march of indigenous groups in Ecuador to pressure the national government to respect First Nations territorial rights.

Cartuche, whose group (known as the FDA for its Spanish acronym) has led the lawsuit since its inception and is currently trying to collect the judgment in Canadian courts, said, “We want to thank our Canadian brothers and sisters for standing with our communities in their historic struggle to hold Chevron accountable. We look forward to developing joint programs to ensure that Chevron pays a high price for the environmental crimes it committed in Ecuador and for any violations of human rights no matter where they occur.”

The agreement is supported by a resolution passed overwhelmingly today by hundreds of chiefs who attended a plenary session of the AFN.  The resolution promises cooperation between the federations and calls on Chevron to cease attacking community leaders and their representatives in Ecuador as part of the company’s avowed “demonization” strategy to evade paying the judgment.

The cooperation protocol between the two national federations and the FDA is potentially a major blow to Chevron’s efforts to evade the environmental liability, imposed by three layers of courts in Ecuador in 2013 after the company was found responsible for the dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste onto indigenous ancestral lands as a cost-saving measure.  Cancer rates in the area have skyrocketed and the cultures of five indigenous groups (Cofan, Secoya, Huaorani, Kichwa, and Siona) have been decimated, according to evidence before the Ecuador court.

The protocol is also historic in that it represents the first time that the AFN, known as the most influential national Indigenous federation in the world, has signed a bilateral protocol with the national indigenous federation of a Latin American nation.

Although Chevron had insisted the environmental trial take place in Ecuador and had accepted jurisdiction there, the company later refused to pay the judgment and threatened the Indigenous peoples with a “lifetime of litigation” if they persisted. The case is now in Canadian courts, where the affected communities have won three consecutive appellate decisions in their effort to seize Chevron assets to force the company to comply with the rule of law and pay the Ecuador judgment.

Chevron shareholders and environmental groups worldwide also have blasted company management for its mishandling of the case. Chevron has an estimated $15 billion of assets in Canada, or more than enough to pay for the entirety of the judgment which is now worth $12 billion with accrued interest under Canadian law.

The cooperation protocol grew out of an invitation issued by Ecuadorian indigenous groups to their Canadian counterparts to visit the affected area in Ecuador, where Chevron abandoned roughly 1,000 unlined oil waste pits after operating in the country from 1964 to 1992.  It was during the trip to Ecuador last September, which included former Canadian National Chief Phil Fontaine and Grant Chief Ed John, that the groups decided to form a political alliance.

Representatives of the federations said they would work together to jointly monitor Chevron’s ongoing activity in Canada on Indigenous territory to ensure the company was not repeating its mistakes in Ecuador or engaging in a bait in switch by trying to respect indigenous rights in Canada while violating them in Ecuador, said representatives of both groups. Chevron has several pending projects on Indigenous lands in Canada that require the consent of nationalities to move forward.

Fontaine, Ed John, and Greenpeace Co-founder Rex Weyler were sharply critical of Chevron on the trip to Ecuador. Weyler accused the company of committing “ecological crimes” on indigenous territory while Fontaine said, “It is clear that Chevron has caused significant harm to the environment and to the health of indigenous peoples and must be held accountable. It is unconscionable that they have been allowed to shirk their responsibility for as long as they have. Times have changed and the rights of indigenous peoples across the world must be recognized and respected.”

Grand Chief Ed John said, “No legal case should take 25 years, especially one involving indigenous rights and environmental justice. We plan to work with indigenous groups in Ecuador and Canada to ensure Canadian courts resolve this case so the impacted communities can obtain justice and Chevron’s unethical policy of forum shopping ends.”

Chevron has become notorious for spending massive sums of money to resist the judgment, using at least 60 law firms and 2,000 legal personnel at an estimated cost over several years of at least $2 billion. Chevron has tried to obtain impunity in Canada by claiming its assets cannot be seized because they are held by a subsidiary even though it is wholly-owned by the company.  That particular issue is scheduled for argument in April before the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Chevron also retaliated against the Ecuadorian indigenous groups by suing the plaintiffs in the case and their lawyers in the United States, claiming the entire case was a “racketeering” conspiracy designed to extort money from the company. That case backfired against Chevron when evidence later emerged that the fabricated evidence and committed fraud by paying an admittedly corrupt witness $2 million.

In all, 21 appellate judges in Ecuador and Canada have rejected Chevron’s arguments and ruled in favor of various aspects of the claims of the Ecuadorian indigenous groups. Not a single appellate judge in either of the two countries has sided with Chevron.

For more information, please contact:
Don Kelly, AFN
Phone: 613-292-2787

Karen Hinton, FDA
Phone: 703-798-3109

For more from this organization:
Amazon Defense Coalition – FDA

Originally published on CSRwire: http://www.csrwire.com/press_releases/40635-Canada-s-National-Indigenous-Federation-Backs-Ecuadorian-Amazon-Communities-in-Lawsuit-to-Hold-Chevron-Accountable-for-Environmental-Damage

Leave a Reply