Chevron, Ecuador, and Rebutting the Shake-Down

James Craig, a consultant for Chevron, has been prominent in responding to the PR and media campaign generated by the multibillion dollar lawsuit against the company for alleged environmental damage in Ecuador. The trial lawyers and activists pushing the legal claims have aggressively attacked Chevron’s reputation with the goal of forcing a settlement, and the company is pushing back through a wide range of media tools (e.g., video reports, the website, The Amazon Post and the official Chevron twitterer, @Chevron_JustinH).

As a measure of Chevron’s seriousness in challenging the obloquy, Craig last week appeared on “Democracy Now!,” the radio program of the conspiratorial left. Broadcast on Pacifica stations around the country, the program hosted by Amy Goodman purveys as pure of anti-business message you can find on the U.S. airwaves and Internet. It makes “The Nation” look like a capitalist roader.

Nevertheless, Craig engaged. It’s hard to imagine any of Goodman’s core audience being persuaded, but by appearing Craig showed a confidence in Chevron’s commercial and corporate rectitude. The interview also provides a good, quick overview of Chevron’s case against the attacks. From the transcript:

JAMES CRAIG: The judicial proceedings in Ecuador, just so as you understand, is a farce. And unfortunately, this is not about the welfare of the Ecuadorian people or the environment. What it is is it’s an attempted shakedown of a US company by a group of US trial lawyers who are colluding with the Ecuadorian government and who are seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of, really, hundreds of thousands of American workers, teachers, nurses, firefighters, whose savings are invested in Chevron through pension funds and 401(k)s. So what we’re dealing with here is a massive attempt to defraud the courts and the company and its shareholders of an enormous sum of money.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of 30,000 people suffering in Ecuador, the ones that the lawyers have brought this case on behalf of in Ecuador, the charges of the environmental devastation, what some call Ecuador’s Chernobyl?

JAMES CRAIG: Right. Well, the case has been brought on behalf of forty-eight Ecuadorian plaintiffs. The trial lawyers claim to represent 30,000 people, but these people are not named. These people are not identified. What I can tell you is that the lawsuit itself is brought on behalf of forty-eight Ecuadorians, OK? And the Ecuadorians have essentially signed over their rights to an NGO that’s been created by the US trial lawyers which would be the sole beneficiary of any payment or settlement in this case. So this is not really about the welfare of these people or the environment in Ecuador.The term “the Chernobyl of the Amazon,” by the way, was coined by a supposed expert from the plaintiffs’ side who later recanted. However, the phrase seems to have stuck, at least in the lexicon of some people who are pursuing this fraudulent lawsuit.

AMY GOODMAN: A quick question: do you dispute the fact that billions of gallons of toxic oil waste have been spilled into the region’s rivers and streams over these decades?

JAMES CRAIG: Well, yes, we do dispute that. I mean, the notion of billions of gallons of toxic waste is a misleading and erroneous description of actually the oil production operations that took place there. They’re talking about production water. There’s no proof or evidence that they’ve presented to the court of contamination or widespread contamination. And the standards and practices of Texaco in the time that it was operating, that is, prior to 1990, were within—in keeping with the standards of the international—that is, the international standards of the day and of the standards that were employed in the US at that time. So, yes, we would dispute that claim and many of the other claims, such as the cancer claims and the health claims that they like—that they like to talk about.

And so on. To give credit where credit’s due, Goodman did invite Craig on the program. “Democracy Now!” at times follows journalistic conventions like seeking both sides of the story, which occasionally imparts a veneer of balance to the program.

Disclosure. Chevron is organizing a trip for several bloggers to Ecuador, and I will be participating. The company has made no demands or even strong hints about the content of the related blogging. Chevron is a member of NAM.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Kate says:

    If Craig wants to talk about a “massive attempt to defraud,” then as far as I can tell, Chevron is in the midst of a highly financed coordinated campaign to defraud both the American and Ecuadorian people. In a stunning display of distortion, Chevron continues to mislead the public about the scope of the lawsuit. This is a class-action lawsuit and by definition is one in which one party or a limited number of parties sue on behalf of a larger group. The class-action represents the 30,000 people living in the disputed area, not just the 48 that Craig cites.

    It is equally stunning that Craig disputes that billions of gallons of toxic waste have been dumped into the Amazon waterways and landscape. He fails to mention that Chevron’s own consultants concluded that oilfield practices used by its former owner, Texaco, were sub-standard. Nor does he share that Chevron basically admitted to contamination by acknowledging that Texaco signed a remediation agreement. And he doesn’t reveal that evidence from the trial shows illegal levels of toxins at the very sites Texaco stated under oath to have cleaned or that many reputable scientists have found links between the deaths/illnesses and the contamination.

    Finally, from what I know, the Amazon Defense Coalition meets on a regular basis in Ecuador to talk about the problems that contamination has created in the lives of the people who live in the drilling areas. It’s hardly a construct of the American lawyers, who are funding the lawsuit. Litigation costs money, and the people in Ecuador impacted by Texaco’s legacy can’t afford to travel to the nearest doctor much less pay for the lawsuit.

    And, for the blogger who plans to travel to Ecuador at Chevron’s expense, you should ask to attend a coalition meeting if one is happening when you are there and you should ask to speak to some of the people who know about the problems firsthand. Hopefully, your report won’t be one sided.

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