Fighting Fracking and Defending the Rights of Nature in Ecuador and Peru
November 7, 2015
Shannon Biggs / Movement Rights & & Paul Paz y Mino / Amazon Watch
Speaking before an International Tribunal meeting in Lima, Peru, activists from the Americas brought complaints against multinational oil companies for violating the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth. Faced with a likely multi-billion dollar verdict for deliberately polluting the Ecuadorian Amazon, Chevron fabricated an elaborate story of bribery, corruption and ghostwriting. In October, Chevron's lies were exposed and its legal challenge collapsed.
Thirteen judges meet in Peru to hear accusations that the rights of 'Mother Earth' are being violated
Rights of Nature in Ecuador and 20 US Communities!
Shannon Biggs / Paris Tribunal
(October 7, 2915) -- Welcome to the campaign! As the lead plaintiff in the case against fracking, it has been an honor to participate in the Rights of Nature Tribunals in Ecuador and Peru, and bring international attention to what fracking has done to US communities.
With your support, in Paris, I will be joined by Native American activists, Kandi Mossett from North Dakota, and Casey Camp Horenik, Ponca tribe from Oklahoma -- who will share their personal stories of how fracking has devastated their families and tribal communities including the appearance of earthquakes, the loss of water, and the sickness that befalls animals and humans.
As the co-founder and Director of Movement Rights I have worked with communities in California and across the United States to help ban fracking by recognizing the right of ecosystems to be free from the devastation from fracking. Recognizing Rights of Nature fundamentally changes the legal standing of ecosystems -- over 20 US communities have banned fracking by asserting these rights.
Fracking and Lima Climate Talks
Slammed at Nature Rights Tribunal
David Hill / The Guardian
(December 10, 2014) -- It's difficult to know what was more moving or arresting. There was the Ponca lady, Casey Camp-Horinek, starting to cry as she spoke about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", on her people in what she called "occupied" Oklahoma in the US, and saying "We're having a funeral a week. . . . We're this close to being fracked to death."
Then there was Kandi Mossett, from North Dakota, a fracking "victim who wasn't able to come". She appeared on the projector and broke down too, telling how "these radioactive frack socks [that are] off the charts on the Geiger counters" are being dumped and found by children who say things like, "Hey, we're catching bugs with our nets."
That was right after Shannon Biggs, the executive director of Movement Rights, had explained that fracking in the US is destroying lives, livelihoods, groundwater, rivers, farms, prairies, communities and landscapes, as well as causing "earthquakes where earthquakes don't exist" and poisoning "millions and millions and millions" of gallons of water that are "taken out of the hydrological cycle forever".
"[Fracking] is a total and utter form of destruction," said Biggs, who calls Mossett's indigenous territory "the most intensive fracking site" in the US. "You take land that is beautiful and full of life and vibrant with a dynamic sense of biodiversity, and we turn this landscape with fracking technology into waste land that is poisoned land [with] sick animals and sick human beings."
Camp-Horinek and Biggs were speaking before the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature, which met in Lima, Peru, on Friday and Saturday. The objective was to investigate cases of possible violations of the Rights of Nature as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth made in Bolivia in 2010.
In total 12 cases were heard, by 13 judges, with an Ecuadorian lawyer, Ramiro Avila, acting as "prosecutor for the earth" and numerous experts and impacted people from around the world called as witnesses.
One such case was made against fracking for its impacts on "the subsoil of Mother Earth", and another against "climate change caused by human activities" -- just as the United Nations' climate talks are being held elsewhere in Lima.
According to Pablo Solón, a Bolivian from Focus on the Global South, the rising and acidifying oceans, biodiversity loss, desertification, forest fires and increasing number of extreme weather events caused by global warming constitute a "systematic violation of Mother Earth's" rights.
Solón was joined by Nnimmo Bassey, from Nigeria, who said that "business as usual means cooking Africa" and cited statistics of six million people displaced by floods in Africa in 2012 and a projected 54% increase in African civil wars by 2030 as a result of climate change. Bassey showed photos of a fisherman returning from work, both feet black with oil, and who now sells firewood.
"He came back with nothing [that day]," Bassey told the Tribunal. "Livelihoods have been absolutely destroyed … [Oil brings] disregard for people, for culture, for life, for everything."
The climate change case also included severe criticism of – and total opposition to – certain measures being considered and/or proposed by the UN, governments and companies as "solutions" to global warming. These included various geo-engineering technologies – described by Silvia Ribeiro from the ETC Group as a "very useful way" of avoiding addressing the fundamental causes of climate change – as well as "climate-smart agriculture" and carbon markets.
"[They're] basically a mechanism to cheat," said Mary Lou Malig, from the Global Forest Coalition, about carbon markets. "It's about enabling you to pollute. Instead of cutting your emissions, you increase them and pretend to reduce by offsetting."
Another case was made against "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation" (Redd) – a concept which involves paying those who ostensibly reduce emissions by supposedly keeping forests standing, depending on how much carbon is stored in them. Criticism was as much about the principles and philosophy behind Redd as how it works in practice.
Ninawa, an indigenous Kaxinawá man from Brazil, expressed concern about a Redd project in his home state, Acre, saying, "Nature has no price. It's our forest, it's our food, it's our spirit."
Ruth Nyambura, from the African Biodiversity Network, said that indigenous Sengwer people in Kenya are being evicted from their land and having their houses burnt by the Kenya Forest Service because of a Redd project funded by the World Bank, and called it a "new form of conservation" and "colonization."
"This is not "management", it is "government,"" she said. "We must reject the financialization of nature. We must reject Redd definitely."
Casandra Smithie went even further, citing a whole series of peoples who have struggled against, or have been threatened by, Redd and calling it a "crime against Mother Earth, Father Sky, and humanity." The key perpetrators, she noted, such as the UN, the World Bank, extractive industries, multilateral banks, chemical companies, governments and stock exchanges, all have their headquarters in the industrialised northern countries.
"[Redd gives] permits to pollute," Smithie told the Tribunal. "[It means] forests of the world acting as a sponge for northern industrial countries' pollution. They can pollute if they grab forests in the global south."
Other cases were made against "human activities" affecting the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout's impacts on the "sea and living beings" in the Gulf of Mexico, the Belo Monte dam in Brazil for its impacts on the Xingu and Amazon rivers, Chevron-Texaco for oil operations in the Ecuadorian Amazon, oil exploitation affecting four river basins in the Peruvian Amazon, oil operations in the far east of the Yasuní National Park in Ecuador, the Mirador mine in Ecuador, the Conga mine in Peru, and mining and oil operations in the Bagua region in Peru.
The UN climate talks, taking place elsewhere across Lima, came in for severe criticism at the Tribunal. Among other things, it was noted, by Malig, that agriculture isn't up for negotiation, and that the UN is placing great hope in Redd – the "crime against humanity" which, according to Smithie, will be the "basis of the Paris accord", i.e. the agreement for post-2020, when the Kyoto Protocol expires, that could be reached at next year's UN climate talks in the French capital.
The Tribunal responded to the hearings by emitting one damning sentence including the verdict that BP and both the Australian and Ecuadorian governments have violated the Rights of Nature, and by issuing a series of orders.
These include that BP should abstain from any future deepwater exploration, that Australia should restrict tourism involving the Great Barrier Reef, that Ecuador should suspend Mirador and restore the impacted area, and that Chevron should comply with Ecuadorian court orders to restore damaged areas in the Amazon and pay financial compensation -- a ruling that Chevron argued had been reached by fraud and racketeering and which it challenged by filing suit against the Ecuadorian plaintiffs and their lawyers.
The Tribunal's sentence also acknowledged statements made by Camp-Horinek and Patricia Gualinga, a Kichwa woman from Ecuador, about how the earth is a "living being" on which "all other living beings depend" and that it has a right to life, to respect, and to be consulted.
Game Over: Chevron's RICO Case Spectacularly Implodes as Corrupt Ex-Judge
Admits to Making It Up in Exchange for Chevron Payoff
Paul Paz y Mino / Amazon Watch
(October 26, 2015) -- Faced with a likely multi-billion dollar verdict against it for deliberate pollution of the Ecuadorian Amazon, in 2010 Chevron began fabricating an elaborate story of bribery, corruption and ghostwriting to strike back. It claimed everyone and everything against it was part of a scheme . . . the evidence, the contamination, the Ecuadorian villagers, all the environmental and human rights organizations . . . everyone.
The company spent millions to concoct its cover story. There was only one big problem: it all hinges upon the testimony of a completely non-credible witness who has now admitted on the stand that he lied about it in exchange for payments from Chevron.
Back in 2009, someone at Chevron was probably jumping up and down exclaiming "slam dunk." The company had found a key witness they could buy who was willing to say what they needed to pull together their fabricated fraud story in Ecuador. How did they "find" him? Easy, he came to Chevron asking for a bribe to help Chevron get out of its massive legal problems in Ecuador.
That should have been a red flag, but fueled by their own arrogance and legal hubris Chevron moved forward with Guerra as their star witness. It turns out that rather than a Bond-esque spy thriller with intrigue and a sophisticated plot, the story for Chevron is more like "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle".
Alberto Guerra, who we explained before is a corrupt ex-judge, claimed that the legal team for the Ecuadorians offered him a bribe to ghostwrite the judgment against Chevron. Guerra said he asked Chevron for a bribe first, and they turned him down, so then he went to the Ecuadorians.
Despite the fact that Guerra was acknowledged by judge Kaplan himself to be less than credible, his testimony was allowed to stand (this is the same court that forbade evidence of actual contamination). The argument was that Guerra's testimony fit the "circumstantial evidence" against the Ecuadorian legal team. Except that evidence has also evaporated.
The sweetest irony is how this has all come about. Chevron brought a separate case to the Hague under a bilateral trade agreement between the US and Ecuador. In obvious forum shopping (which has been called out by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals) they were hoping to pin their financial liability on the Ecuadorian taxpayer.
Only their entire effort is backfiring . . . like when that body recently denied Chevron's claim that an agreement with the government of Ecuador released them from civil liability. Much like the actual evidence it presented in Ecuador, Chevron is hanging itself with the very action it hoped to use to escape justice.
Guerra claimed that the bribe of $300,000 he was offered (at one point he also said it was $500,000) was to work with the presiding judge Zambrano to ghostwrite the judgment. When asked about it before the Hague Tribunal he said: "Yes sir, I lied there . . . . I wasn't being truthful." Zambrano has denied this from the beginning and ALL the forensic evidence backs it up. You see, also as part of Chevron's Hague action, the government of Ecuador hired the world's top computer forensic analyst to review the document.
As Courthouse News reported today:
"...forensic expert Christopher Racich testified that he found a running draft of the judgment against Chevron on Zambrano's hard drives. Ecuador now argues that this forensic evidence . . . which Courthouse News reported exclusively early this year . . . proves Zambrano painstakingly wrote the ruling and saved it hundreds of times throughout the case. Chevron has not been able to produce emails between Guerra, Zambrano and the purported ghostwriters, Donziger and Fajardo, Ecuador's forensic expert says."
The seemingly never ending stream of Guerra lies doesn't stop there. At first Guerra said that he had thumb drives with the judgment on it to prove his claim. Then later he admitted that he didn't. Then he said he has calendar entries of his meetings with the Ecuadorian legal team. Then he admitted that he didn't.
Guerra also claimed he had agreed with Zambrano to cut him in for 20%. Now he admits that too was a lie. Chevron claims evidence of meetings with Guerra and Zambrano backs up their claims, but no, Guerra now says no meetings he ever had with Zambrano had anything to do with Chevron. Oops.
Indeed there IS evidence of a bribe . . . Chevron bribed Guerra to make up this story. And unlike the lie about ghostwriting, there's actual evidence to back this bribe up. Guerra, a man with less than $200 in his bank account at the time, admits that he said all these things to get more money out of Chevron. He and his entire family now live in a house Chevron bought for him, drives a car they gave him and live on $12,000 per month from the oil giant. How's that for evidence?
At this point, I'm sure you are asking yourself: How on Earth did Chevron get this witness on the stand in a NY Federal Court in the first place, and what did they think would happen once his true story came out? (The Ecuadorians tried to save Judge Kaplan from the embarrassment.) Well, they were certainly worried about how Guerra would do . . . which is why they coached him for 53 straight days before his testimony. It clearly wasn't enough.
Chevron's polluted house of cards has come crashing down around them. Guerra is a liar . . . and he freely admits it. Chevron can either double down and insist Guerra was "before it before he was against it" or denounce him now . . . in which case they can never argue he's credible by any stretch.
There's a LOT of provably unethical and illegal behavior here . . . all of it from Chevron's camp.
What should happen now:
The Federal Appeals Court should completely throw out Kaplan's verdict. It depends entirely on Guerra's false testimony and the judgement against Chevron has been conclusively proven to be legitimately written by Zambrano (as the Ecuadorian appeals court had already determined).
Chevron and their lawyers should be investigated and brought up on charges. They have intimidated judges in Ecuador, bribed others, falsified evidence, and coached Guerra to submit false testimony in US Federal Court and made a complete mockery of the our judicial system (not to mention the mis-use of a trade agreement to go after the government of Ecuador).
Amazon Watch will be calling for such an investigation. We know Chevron is never likely to admit they lied and schemed to create this false RICO attack. Nor will they stop trying to attack us and our funders. They need to be held to account.
We look forward to the day they try to peddle this preposterous RICO verdict in Canada. Perhaps we will all get a chance to see Guerra take the stand once again. If so, it can only get worse for Chevron.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.