Friday, August 01, 2008

Chevron Lobbyists Accused of 'Misleading Congress'

The Chevron/Ecuador scandal rumbles on:

Leaders from Ecuador's rainforest, suing Chevron over the "Amazon Chernobyl", are accusing the oil giant of misleading the Bush Administration and Congress to escape a potential $16 billion liability in an environmental lawsuit.

The indigenous leaders - from the Cofan, Secoya, and Siona tribes - are planning a trip to Washington, DC in September to talk directly with Members of Congress and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

"We are coming to tell the truth about Chevron's desperate attempt to quash the legal claims of thousands of vulnerable people in the Amazon rainforest who are struggling to survive due to oil contamination," said Pablo Fajardo, the lead Ecuadorian lawyer for the plaintiffs.

"These people deserve their day in court without interference from Chevron," he added. "Chevron must respect the rule of law."

The damages report prompted Chevron to disclose the liability to its shareholders for the first time, and to hire a slew of Washington lobbyists who have dedicated themselves to trying to block the extension of U.S. trade preferences for Ecuador. Luis Gallegos, Ecuador's U.S. ambassador, has said a failure to extend the trade preferences by the end of the year would cost the country 350,000 jobs and force 1.2 million people into poverty.

Among the lobbyists hired by Chevron are former Senators John Breaux and Trent Lott, and Mac McLarty, former White House Chief of Staff in the Clinton Administration. Their work has been focused on Ambassador Susan Schwab, the United States Trade Representative; key Members of Congress; and John Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State.

Fajardo said the aim of Chevron's lobbyists is to use the threat of canceling trade preferences to intimidate Ecuador's government into extinguishing the legal rights of its citizens to save the country's economy.

Interestingly, one Democrat senator has alreay been involved in this case on the side of the Barak Obama. From February 2006:

Senators Barack Obama (D-Ill) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) have stepped up the pressure on Chevron, sending a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman urging him to ignore company's campaign to improperly exclude Ecuador from trade negotiations until the Ecuadorian government shuts down the lawsuit.

The senators write: "We are writing to seek your assurances that the U.S. Trade Representative will not allow negotiations over the Andean Free Trade Agreement to interfere with a case involving Chevron that is under consideration by the Ecuadorian judiciary, particularly one involving environmental, health and human rights issues that have regional importance. While we are not prejudging the outcome of the case, we do believe the 30,000 indigenous residents of Ecuador deserve their day in court."

Question is, will Obama stand by this letter when the time comes, or will he give in to pressure from the oil giant? Failing that, will Chevron increase the pressure so they can persuade the Bush administration of their case before it's too late (should there be an Obama presidency)? Or will Chevron fund a massive smear campaign against Obama? The people of Ecuador have a lot riding on the next couple of months. Let's hope that their day in court finally arrives.

More at Ecuador Rising.