Sunday, 14 February 2010

Chevron: Attacking free speech and discrediting the judiciary

One of the toxic waste pits in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo by Rainforest Action Network

It's been a while since I wrote about the $27.3bn lawsuit being brought against Chevron by thousands of indigenous peoples in Ecuador whose lives have been ruined by the dumping of waste in the Amazon, but you won't be surprised to hear their record is still stuck.

The tenacious little scrotes at the multinational harbingers of toxic doom continue to duck and dive as they try desperately to avert an impending court decision that will likely wipe out a fifth of their market value.

What free speech?

Most recently Chevron sought to bolster their defences by hiring twelve public relations firms to undermine the case against them. Chevron already rely on the expertise of such companies as Hill and Knowlton, infamous for their role in defending the tobacco industry against cancer claims and Edelman, who have come under fire in the UK for greenwashing on behalf of E.on.

This new platoon of propaganda relayers have dived into their roles with all the zeal of your typical corporate whores, much to the chagrin of campaigners who see through the dirty tricks perpetrated by the callous and heartless liars at Chevron towers.

While Chevron clearly feel they have the right to flood the media with endless diatribes against the plaintiffs woe betide anybody who should exercise that same right of free speech to try and stem the tide. When the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) sponsored a print advertising campaign critical of Chevron the oil company called in the cavalry to trample over free speech by pressuring the New York Times and Washington Post not to publish the ads.

The advert, featuring a photograph of new CEO John Watson, said: "Oil men have polluted the Ecuadorean rainforest for decades. This man can do something about it now." The New York Times ignored Chevron and printed the ad whilst the Washington Post initially agreed to pull it before reversing that decision following questioning from environment campaigners. Depressingly, Getty Images succumbed to pressure from Chevron lawyers and lobbyists and withdrew permission for RAN to use one of their photos in the adverts.

Bare faced lying

Chevron's latest offensive returned to one of their favourite dirty tricks: trying to discredit Ecuadorian officials. A press release last week targeted a court-appointed damages assessor for the Ecuadorian judiciary investigating the case, Dr Richard Cabrera. "Newly discovered" evidence claimed his ownership of a remediation company put him in good stead to benefit from any decision invoking Chevron to pay for the clean-up operation. According to the It's Getting Hot in Here blog, it's the "29th official motion Chevron has made to the court to disqualify Cabrera but the court has never accepted Chevron’s arguments."

And with good reason. Cabrera explicitly disclosed his position as owner of a remediation company prior to the investigation - it's one of the reasons he was chosen to assess the situation. It wasn't only the judiciary who were impressed with his qualifications, so too were Chevron. That's why they were happy to pay his fees in an earlier part of the case as stipulated by court rules. Furthermore, through being involved in the case Cabrera would not be allowed to take a role in any future clean-up operation anyway.

This latest tactic is not too dissimilar to Chevron's attempt to discredit the presiding judge last autumn. Again, they claimed the judge was set to benefit from any decision against the oil company but serious questions over the supposed evidence undermine Chevron's argument. The Cabrera debacle is symptomatic of Chevron's belligerent desire to shirk responsibility by indulging in ad hominem attacks against the litigants rather than challenge the overwhelming evidence that blames Chevron for dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic waste in the Amazon. Lest we forget, Chevron initially praised the Ecuadorian judicial system they now subject to constant attack.

'Political solution to a legal problem'

Not that this flawed approach stopped the big wigs from wading in, with Chevron's General Counsel Hewitt Pate providing some muscle to the unsubstantiated claims against Cabrera. According to analysis from The Chevron Pit blog, his involvement reveals the politically motivated defence displayed by Chevron:
"Making up a press "event" out of facts that you misrepresent is a classic maneuver popularized by the Karl Rove School of politics. It turns out that Pate and his colleagues running the Chevron legal department all played central roles in the last Bush Administration. This is not a coincidence, as all of these individuals looked like they picked up a trick or two from Rove during their years of government service.

Chevron has a major distinction among the world's super-major oil companies: while most hire their general counsels from within their own legal department after years of service, or from prestigious outside law firms populated by lawyers experienced in the ways of the energy industry, Chevron stands alone in hiring political lawyers out of Republican Administrations. The last two general counsels for the company (Charles James and Pate) have been hand-plucked from the Bush administration's Justice Department, where they worked closely with former Attorney General John Ashcroft. James, who worked closely with Pate in Washington and hired him for Chevron, has a reputation from Washington to San Francisco as being a hard-right political ideologue.

James made the decision to hire as Chevron's deputy general counsel Jim Haynes, one of the Bush Administration "torture lawyers" under potential indictment in Spain and now unable to travel abroad for fear of arrest. While Chevron keeps Haynes swept under the rug for public image purposes, speculation on the street is that he is running the day to day in Chevron's in-house legal department. He clearly learned a lot about Chevron's conception of human rights by providing the legal justification for torture to a Rumsfeld-led Pentagon, where he served as General Counsel before being blocked by the Senate for a federal judgeship because of his infamous memo justifying waterboarding.

With these personnel moves, Chevron has elected to build a general counsel's office that is filled with right-wing lawyers who have relatively little experience in complex litigation matters. It turns out that since Chevron's legal team is led by political ideologues, the company is trying to find a political solution to a legal problem."

According to Chevron Pit, this is why Ecuador's increasingly desperate attempts to get the case moved away from Ecuador keep floundering. The US Federal Courts have smacked them down five times already and Chevron are currently seeking international arbitration to bring the case to a close, having most recently asked a US court to dimiss Ecuador's attempt to block such a move which would exclude many of the indigenous people from the process.

The damage was done in Ecuador, the case should be heard in Ecuador. The behaviour of Chevron is like that of a man who realises he's been well and truly caught red handed and will do anything to avoid his just desserts. It's high time Chevron quit their whining and let justice run its course.

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