Chevron's legal battles in Ecuador

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Audio Transcript:

LISA MULLINS: Nine and a half billion dollars is a lot of money, even for America's third largest corporation Chevron. And so Chevron says it's going to appeal yesterday's ruling in an Ecuadorian court that has paying those billions to clean up a wide swath of Ecuador's remote jungle. The territory was contaminated by oil operations that started decades ago. The court ruled that Chevron was responsible for the contamination. But the oil giant calls that ruling illegitimate and unenforceable. The case has been going on for more than 17 years and it probably has a ways to go. The BBC's Irene Caselli is in the Ecuadorian capital Quito. There was in fact a press conference today that pretty much guaranteed that there's a lot more to come in this case. Tell us what happened.

IRENE CASELLI: That's right Lisa. What happened today is that the plaintiffs and their lawyers held a press conference to announce that they're going to appeal the ruling as well. Now, their point of view is that the amount of damages established by the ruling is not large enough for them. Obviously 9.5 billion sounds like a lot of money but the plaintiffs and their lawyers are actually saying that it falls short of the 27 billion that were initially recommended by a court appointed expert.

MULLINS: It's important to know that the suit was originally filed as you said in New York in 1993, and it was filed against Texaco but then Chevron bought Texaco in 2001. The accusations against Texaco itself, what is the nature of them, and what are the claims about the damage done?

CASELLI: The plaintiffs claimed that Texaco knowingly polluted a large portion of rain forest by spilling crude oil and dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste in rivers that they were using for bathing, drinking and fishing. Now, we are talking about an area in Ecuador's Amazon region which until the 1960s was very pristine. So all of a sudden people that were used to go bathing in the rivers and drink their river water straight without boiling it started seeing oil floating a top this river. And just today I was talking to one of the plaintiffs in the case, and he was remembering when he was six years old when Chevron first came in and he would go running around on the river bank with some friends and would always end up with the soles of his feet black, dark with the oil. And he said that the oil wouldn't go away for days. It's a destruction of a culture they call it.

MULLINS: It was an enormous area that's been contested here. It's basically the size of Rhode Island this oil patch that was part of virgin rain forest at the time. What's Chevron's response?

CASELLI: Chevron's response is that whatever damage Texaco did at the time was repaired in the 1990s once the company left the country. The company actually came to an agreement with the Ecuadorian government in the early 90s to spend some 40 million dollars in reparations. So Chevron says that Texaco is clear, and that's why there is no reason to go ahead with this trial.

MULLINS: Chevron is as we said a US company. The case is being tried in Ecuador. Could a final ruling against Chevron be enforced?

CASELLI: There was a sentence just last week by the International Arbitration Tribunal in the Hague saying that no judgment can be enforced until further notice. Obviously also the other issue is that both sizes are appealing at the moment. So it won't be for months, and maybe years until Chevron is actually asked to pay for its damages, or maybe not.

MULLINS: OK. The BBC's Irene Caselli, thank you very much, speaking to us from Quito, Ecuador. Thanks again.

CASELLI: Thank you.