Chevron vs the Amazon

Chevron vs the Amazon

Abbey Martin (2016)

Film Review

 

Chevron vs the Amazon is an Abbey Martin documentary about Texaco-Chevron’s deliberate dumping of oil and toxic waste in Ecuador’s Amazon rain forest and the vicious dirty tricks they have engaged in to avoid responsibility for cleaning it up.

Texas began drilling for oil in Ecuador in 1964, under a US-installed dictatorship that agreed not to regulate their activities. The amount of oil they spilled into the Amazon was 1700 times the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and 140 times that of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Indigenous groups filed suit for the extensive damage to their water, health and livelihoods in 1993, a year after Texaco abandoned their Ecuadoran well sites. Texaco settled this first suit by agreeing to a phony remediation scheme that never happened.

Part 1 consists of great footage of the vast amount of oil remaining in Ecuador’s Amazon rain forest and interviews with indigenous Ecuadorans whose entire families have been devastated by the health effects (cancer, leukemia, rashes, miscarriages, birth defects) of the contaminated water they are forced to drink.

Part 2 provides background to the second class action lawsuit brought against Texaco by 30,000 indigenous residents – the largest environmental lawsuit in history. Texaco has a really ugly human rights history, beginning with the bankrolling of Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco and illegal provision of oil, financial support and secret intelligence to Hitler and Mussolini. After losing a series of punitive lawsuits over its environmental crimes, they were forced to merge with Chevron in 2000.

The latter has its own history of human rights and environmental crimes in Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Chad, Cameroons, Equatorial Guinea and Richmond California.

After fighting the suit for eight years in US courts, Chevron eventually won a court ruling that that the suit had to be tried in Ecuador instead. When it was re-filed in Ecuador, Chevron engaged in blackmail, extortion, bribery, illegal surveillance, “judicial terrorism” (bringing 30 lawsuits against oil spill victims for “racketeering”), and “financial terrorism” (suing all the non-profit groups supporting the indigenous plaintiffs).

In 2011 the Ecuadoran plaintiffs ultimately won their suit for $9.6 billion – a ruling confirmed by Ecuador’s supreme court. Instead of paying up, Chevron forced them to file suit in various countries where Chevron has financial assents (including Canada, Brazil and Argentina). A 2016 ruling in US court makes it illegal for Ecuador to file a claim against Chevron’s US holdings.

Part 3 explores the long history of US economic colonization in Latin America (on behalf of Wall Street corporations) via direct military intervention, the installation of puppet dictators and the paramilitary death squad terrorism carried out through Henry Kissinger’s notorious Operation Condor. All this has changed with the 2007 election of Rafael Correa (who granted Julian Assange asylum in London’s Ecuadoran embassy).

At present Chevron seek to perpetuate their economic imperialism via a secret World Bank tribunal in the Hague. There 20 hand picked corporate “judges” have found that the successful lawsuit against Chevron retroactively violates of the 1997 US-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty (Texaco-Chevron left Ecuador in 1992) and ordered Ecuador to pay Chevron $112 million in damages.

2017 update: In March 2017 lawyers representing the Ecuadoran plaintiffs have petitioned the US Supreme Court to overturn the flawed (by bribery and corruption) racketeering conviction  against the Ecuadoran plaintiffs and their lawyers. (See Chevron in Ecuador )

American Ambivalence Towards Empire

soldiers

(The 3rd of 8 posts about my decision to emigrate to New Zealand)

I had to move overseas before it sank in that Americans owe their high standard of living to US military domination of third world resources. The concept of economic imperialism isn’t new to me. I have known for years that the US maintains a monopoly on cheap third world labor and resources via military support of puppet dictators, CIA destabilization campaigns, currency manipulation and Wall Street and IMF/World Bank debt slavery schemes.

Yet for some reason, I placed the entire blame on the bloated US military-industrial complex and the immense power defense contractors wield via their campaign contributions and ownership of US media outlets. I conveniently overlooked the financial advantages ordinary Americans enjoy as a result of world military domination – namely low priced consumer goods. It took the physical reality of living in a smaller, poorer, non military nation and paying higher prices for for gasoline, books, meat, fish and other products – on a much lower income.

Americans Love Cheap Gasoline, Coffee, Sugar and Chocolate

I think most Americans are profoundly ambivalent about the concept of empire. In public opinion polls, Americans consistently oppose foreign wars, except where “US interests” are at stake. And policy makers and the mainstream media are deliberately vague in defining “US interests.” Prior to 1980, a threat to American interests meant a clear threat to America’s democratic system of government or the lives of individual Americans. When Ronald Reagan invaded Grenada in 1984, the official pretext was to evacuate American students at the medical school at St George University (the real reason was to oust pro-Cuban prime minister Bernard Coard).

With the current wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, “US interests” have expanded to include the millions of barrels of cheap foreign oil required for the health of the US economy. Americans love their cheap gasoline, coffee, sugar and chocolate. Few are consciously aware that they owe these cheap luxuries to covert and overt military operations. If they did know, I believe the percentages supporting war would rise significantly.

What Americans Sacrifice for a Bloated Military

I like to think I would be willing to make the sacrifice. In essence I have, by moving to a much smaller, poorer country where tax dollars are used to fund universal health care, subsidized child care and housing and long term unemployment benefits. Because New Zealand feels no compulsion to invade and occupy other countries, they still provide a fairly generous safety net for unemployed, disabled and elderly Kiwis.

Social services were never quite so robust in the US. However prior to Reagan’ election in 1980 and the ballooning of US military expenditures, I could rely on federally funded jobs, vocational rehabilitation and subsidized housing to assist my clients into employment. By 1990 this was no longer possible. The great majority were desperate to get jobs, which would have been far more cost effective for taxpayers. However in the absence of any state or federal support, prospective employers refused to take a chance on hiring them. Thus most remained trapped on Social Security disability.

The systematic dismantling of the American safety net began under Reagan and Bush, as they cut taxes on the rich and redirected tax revenues  toward military priorities – a phenomenally expensive missile defense system (aka the Strategic Defense Initiative or Star Wars) and military interventions in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Grenada, Panama, the Philippines, Somalia and Iraq.

Instead of restoring the social safety net programs his Republican predecessors abolished, Clinton continued to shred the safety net by ending the welfare entitlement for single mothers Franklyn Roosevelt introduced in 1935. Meanwhile he cut taxes even further, continued the SDI and declared war against Serbia – presumably to assist US oil companies to access oil and gas in the Caspian Sea basin.

(To be continued)

photo credit: DVIDSHUB via photopin cc