Chevron, Ecuador, and the Organized Shake-Down, Part III

Today in San Ramon, Calif., Chevron will hold its annual shareholders meeting, an event that will feature a fair amount of media circus mastering, courtesy of the trial lawyer/activist combine that has attacked Chevron for environmental damage in Ecuador, claims — and a $27 billion lawsuit — that Chevron vigorously rejects.

Houston Chronicle, “Protesters await Chevron meeting.” Excerpt:

A coalition of environmental and human rights groups offered a preview Tuesday when they released their own alternate annual report for Chevron. Dubbed “The True Cost of Chevron” and mimicking the company’s own glossy publications, the report compiles a litany of complaints about Chevron’s record around the world.

It IS a glossy report, publicized at a very nice website.

And there are activists flying in from Ecuador to agitate at the meeting, including, as Amazon Watch describes them, “Luis Yanza, winner of the 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize, and Emergildo Criollo, a leader of the Cofán indigenous people.”

There’s an awful lot of money being spent in this publicity and pressure campaign against Chevron, clearly intended to get Chevron to settle the lawsuit, Aguinda v. Chevron/Texaco. Who’s paying for it?

Blogger Bob McCarty was wondering the same thing, and his research into the question represents a classic journalistic adage at work, “Following the Money Difficult in Ecuador Lawsuit”:

Ask any investigative reporter how best to get to the heart of any controversial issue, and he’ll say, “Follow the money.”  Doing that has been difficult, however, when it comes to the Amazon Defense Coalition, the nonprofit organization behind a pending $27 billion environmental lawsuit against Chevron Corporation in Ecuador.

For more than a month now, I’ve attempted to “follow the money” by asking questions about the ADC’s status as a nonprofit group.  My efforts began with an April 26 e-mail to Karen Hinton, ADC’s hired-gun public relations person, in which I asked for a copy of the ADC’s IRS Form 990.  In response to that request, Hinton said, “The nonprofit is based in Ecuador. There is no form,” and added later, “You are the first person to ask.”

McCarty’s post details his efforts to determine who’s subsidizing this anti-Chevron activism, and the inconsistent responses he elicits. We’d call them passive aggressive. McCarty:

The fact that ADC was formed outside of the United States raises serious concerns in my mind:  Could it be that, by forming their nonprofit in Ecuador, ADC officials were hoping to shield themselves from much of the public and media scrutiny under which they would have found themselves and their organization had they formed the nonprofit in the United States?

NGOs and activists draw financial support from contributors, obviously, and the image of a rapacious, insensitive, exploitative American oil company is always good for raising money. One can speculate about other sorts of financing arrangements, too, from the U.S. trial lawyers who are pursuing the claims against Chevron — and have hired political powerhouse and lobbyist Ben Barnes — to even Ecuador’s anti-American government of Rafael Correro, who agitates against Chevron. (The government of Ecuador has contracted for PR and other representation here in Washington, but they are familiar, respected agents who represent many, many parties. Spreadsheet.)

But why should speculation be necessary? If the activists in the United States and Ecuador are so confident of their cause, then they should be willing to throw open their books and explain their financing. At the very least, if the trial lawyers are paying some of the bills, say so.

Alternatively, at the very, VERY least, reporters who are covering the issue should ask the questions. They should, you know, follow the money.

Disclosure: This blogger intends to visit Ecuador sometime in June on a trip organized and paid for by Chevron. Chevron, a member of the NAM, has made no demands, requests or subtle hints about what I should write.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • DJ says:

    For decades Chevron has exploited the resources and people of Ecuador. They pay workers $200 a month and leave them exposed to dangerous chemicals. So far, Chevron has dumped over 8 billion gallons of oil into the rivers of the Ecuadorian amazon which are the lifeblood of 30,000 people, in order to save $3 a barrel. Why don’t people ask Chevron why they were willing to expose the lives of thousands of people in order to save a slight amount of profit even though they were making record profits. I have been in that sector of the Amazon and you can literally after 10 years still light some of the surface of the river on fire. To all of you who have read this, notice at the bottom of the article that the blogger is going to Ecuador on a trip paid for by Chevron.

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