Albion Monitor /News

Ecuador Natives May Sue U.S.

by Mario Gonzalez

Allegations that the U.S. Embassy took sides with Texaco against Native people
(IPS) QUITO -- Indigenous communities in Ecuador that are suing the U.S. oil giant Texaco for environmental and social damage to the Amazon jungle also may file a suit against the U.S. government for allegedly interfering in the case, says attorney for the claimants, Cristobal Bonifaz.

He alleged that the U.S. Embassy in Quito had pressured the Ecuadorean government not to back the 30,000 indigenous people involved in the case against Texaco.

Bonifaz contended in a note sent to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright earlier this month that "the powerand influential contacts of the functionaries in the U.S. Embassy in Quito will have an impact on Ecuadorean officials." He said he hoped for a quick response from Washington.

The New York court hearing the charges filed by 120 indigenous communities suspended trhe case until Ecuador's caretaker government states its official position. The deadline given Ecuadorean officials by Judge Jed Rackoff expires at the end of April.

The inhabitants of the Amazon area are demanding eight million dollars in compensation for environmental and social damages inflicted by Texaco's activity
The trial began in New York, the headquarters of Texaco, in November 1993 but, three years later, Rackoff decided it should be heard in Ecuadorean courts.

The claimants appealed the decision, arguing that Texaco worked for 25 years in Ecuador's Amazon jungle region through affiliated firms, which limits the reach of the legal process. Rackoff accepted the appeal on condition that the Ecuadorean government first made its position clear.

The government is still analysing the role it will play in the trial, although all signs indicate that it intends to stay on the sidelines, according to legal sources..

Attorney-General Milton Alava pointed out that the administration of Sixto Duran Ballen (1992-96) had accepted Texaco's proposal to clean up the environment, spending up to a total of one million dollars. But the clean-up work was not carried out with the appropriate technology, according to a special follow-up commission comprised of experts from the state- run oil firm Petroecuador.

The government of Abdala Bucaram -- who was impeached in February -- partially suspended the agreement reached with Texaco for the recovery of the damaged areas.

The situation remained delicate for the interim government, which is negotiating the renewal of contracts with foreign oil companies, already nervous over political instability in Ecuador affecting the security of their operations.

"The Ecuadorean government is making life difficult for international oil companies," the Wall Street Journal wrote earlier this month. Ecuador "has become one of the most frustrating places in the world for oil multinationals."

Texaco extracted 1.4 billion barrels of oil from Ecuador's Amazon jungle region from 1968 to 1992, when it suspended its operations here.

The inhabitants of the Amazon area are demanding eight million dollars in compensation for environmental and social damages inflicted by Texaco's activity.

Gina Chavez with Ecological Action said that "the damage caused by the oil firms is unmeasurable. The lawsuit represented, more than anything else, a way of punishing and setting an example," because the money in question "would be insufficient to resolve all the problems that had been created."

Ecological Action has argued that Texaco destroyed approximately one million hectares of rainforests, spilled 74 million litres of oil and used obsolete technology which led to the contamination of 18 million litres of water.

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Albion Monitor April 25, 1997 (

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