Ecuador, Correa, Trial Attorneys and the Convergence of Interests

The movie “Crude” uses documentary film techniques to launch a one-sided, fact-challenged but well-crafted attack against Chevron for environmental damage supposedly caused by the operations of Texaco in Ecuador. (Chevron bought Texaco in 2001.) The directors have been showing the movie to friendly audiences around the film-festival circuit, including last week at the American Film Institute’s “SilverDocs“* festival in Silver Spring, Md.

Perhaps despite themselves, the moviemakers reveal an awful lot about the nature of the litigation scheme.

The photo shows U.S. trial lawyer Steven Donziger, the moving force behind the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia (AKA Amazon Defense Coalition), being introduced to Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador. As the post immediately below describes, Correa is a radical, anti-American politician in the mode of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

In the movie Donziger and his Ecuadorian colleague, Pablo Fajardo, fly to Philadelphia to solicit more financial support for their litigation from Joe Kohn, a partner in Kohn, Swift and Graf. Kohn cheerfully explains to the camera that the lawsuit is, indeed, intended to be a money-making venture. (Photo below: Kohn, left, chats with Donziger in the Philadelphia law offices.)

And here’s the House lobbyist registration form from 2008, in which über-lobbyist Ben Barnes signs his firm up to lobby for Kohn, Swift and Graft on issues related to Ecuador and the environment. Which would be…

The campaign against Chevron rests on a foundation of falsehoods, misrepresentation and emotional appeals.

But when you have the Ecuadorian government, self-styled documentarians, big-time lobbyists, not to mention Sting’s wife Trudie, all on your side, who needs the facts?

More on the film and the alliance against a U.S.-based energy company soon.

* The SilverDocs prizes were announced today. “Crude” did not win any awards.

Disclosure: I recently traveled to Ecuador on Chevron’s dime to get a first-hand view of the territory over which the lawsuit makes numerous claims. Chevron is a member of the NAM. But I’ve been posting on this lawsuit since September 2008.

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • […] Correa is clearly a supporter, too. In one segment actually of “Crude” actually seen by the public, Donziger is introduced to Correa who, when learning of Donziger’s activities, says, […]

  • “The evidence against Chevron is crystal clear. Court evidence reveals illegal levels of contamination in the majority of over 60,000 testing samples taken from the oil pits and wells where Texaco drilled for oil between 1964 and 1990.”
    –Karen Hinton

    This is Justin from Chevron and we welcome a discussion based on science rather than simple hyperbole. Let’s consider the evidence that has been submitted to the court in this matter.

    Chevron has submitted more than 1,300 samples over the course of the lawsuit. These samples have been analyzed by accredited laboratories that are known to have the technical acumen and capacity to perform the work as ordered by the court.

    The results show that there is no significant health risk from petroleum from the sites remediated by Texaco Petroleum. In fact, 98 percent of surface water and 99 percent of drinking water samples meet international drinking water standards for petroleum hydrocarbons. Those few samples indicating petroleum-related impacts were from areas where Petroecuador’s poor operations had resulted in contamination.

    Meanwhile, let’s consider the “evidence” that has been submitted by Ms. Hinton’s colleagues at the Amazon Defense Coalition:

    1. Of the 500 or so samples reported, around 75% of the analyses are of areas outside of Texaco Petroleum’s remedial program and the stated responsibility of Petroecuador, Ecuador’s government owned Oil Company.

    2. Of the 500 or so Amazon Defense Coalition samples presented to the court, 75% of the technical work was conducted by a Quito-based laboratory named HAVOC. HAVOC is known to lack accreditation and has been shown to be technically incapable of performing the work the court has required of the Amazon Defense Coalition ( ).

    3. In eight separate instances, a judge has ordered inspections of HAVOC to evaluate the legitimacy of the laboratory. In each instance, lawyers for HAVOC or the Amazon Defense Coalition have blocked the inspection from occurring. Perhaps Ms. Hinton can shed some light as to why her colleagues are so adamant about preventing a judge from seeing the laboratory that has produced the majority of her cited “evidence.” ( )

    4. On multiple occasions, spokespeople for the Amazon Defense Coalition have stated that they have evidence of benzene contamination associated with Texaco Petroleum’s operations ( ). Yet they have yet to submit a single lab report to the court to substantiate this claim. Moreover, having never found benzene, the Amazon Defense Coalition stopped testing for it in 2005. Perhaps Ms. Hinton can explain why.

    5. Likewise, the Amazon Defense Coalition has claimed to have evidence of chromium VI contamination. Yet, a simple review of their test results shows that they have never tested for chromium VI. Rather, they’ve only tested for chromium.

    6. Then there is the talk of the “18 billion gallons of toxic waste dumped by Texaco.” The real name for the Amazon Defense Coalition’s “toxic waste” is produced water and it is not considered “toxic waste” anywhere in the world. Well, as it turns out, the Amazon Defense Coalition has only submitted analysis to the court for three samples of produced water in 6 years. Their “evidence” fails to corroborate the presence of “toxic waste.”

    7. Ms. Hinton’s reference to “illegal levels of contamination” is, at best, misleading. The Amazon Defense Coalition is stretching the truth when they claim that current Ecuadorian regulations demonstrate a failed remediation. In reality, Texaco Petroleum’s remedial work met the standards of the time. The work was scientifically validated, and the government of Ecuador approved the work. ( ) Years after the remedial work was performed, Ecuador has introduced new remediation standards. Attempting to hold Texaco liable for standards that did not even exist at the time violates Ecuador’s constitution and common logic.

    8. Ms. Hinton is likely to suggest that one need not consider the Amazon Defense Coalition’s “evidence” because their claims have been corroborated by Richard Cabrera, a mining engineer appointed by the court. However, Mr. Cabrera’s work is highly suspect – not only was this “independent” technician paid more than $200,000 by the Amazon Defense Coalition, his conclusions are unsubstantiated.

    More on Cabrera at: (

    Facts are stubborn things — we would welcome a legitimate and rigorous review of the science and the evidence that has been presented to the court.

  • Alex Thorne says:

    Mr. Berlinger, you seem like a reasonable fellow. I would recommend not getting too close to Karen Hinton and the Amazon Defense Coalition for fear that your credibility will be irreparably damaged.

    To read more about Karen Hinton’s unethical tactics please read my blog at:

    And to find out what others are saying about the Amazon Defense Coalition, you can read the stories posted at:

    In full disclosure, I’m the husband of a person that Hinton Communications slandered in one of her half-backed, spurious press releases.

  • Dear Mr. Wood,

    In your June 22 posting on, you attack my new documentary CRUDE, about the ongoing lawsuit in Ecuador against Chevron, calling the film “a one-sided, fact-challenged but well-crafted attack against Chevron,” after seeing it at the SilverDocs film festival in Silver Spring, MD.

    To your credit, you disclose that you recently traveled to Ecuador at Chevron’s invitation and expense to hear the company’s side of this contentious case and that Chevron is a member of the organization by which you are employed. However, you infer that neither of these facts color your view of the case or my film. As a respected, independent journalist who accepted absolutely no funding from either side of the lawsuit, I would strongly disagree that your affiliations had no influence on your journalism.

    Since its premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, CRUDE has been widely praised by a variety of respected publications and individuals specifically for its balance and attention to the many sides of the controversial story it tells, but in your zeal to attack the film and its makers, you completely miss the point.

    In your analysis of CRUDE, you point out scenes that reveal the financial backing of the plaintiffs by Philadelphia-based law firm Kohn, Swift & Graf, and the encouragement the plaintiffs have received from Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa, wielding stills from the film as though they were smoking guns (stills, I might add, which you apparently took surreptitiously with a camera inside the theatre, in violation of the festival’s regulations and our rights as copyright holders). You accuse us, the filmmakers, of ignorance of our own supposed missteps in revealing such information, stating, “Perhaps despite themselves, the moviemakers reveal an awful lot about the nature of the litigation scheme.”

    Mr. Wood, it is precisely such scenes, as well the film’s inclusion of numerous points that Chevron makes in its defense – during scenes of the actual litigation, as well as with an official Chevron corporate video – on which we labored intensely over the course of more than three years in order to create a complete and well-balanced portrayal of the central conflicts in the lawsuit. Most astute viewers who have seen the film, including audiences at the prestigious Human Rights Watch film festivals in New York and London, as well as at other festivals around the world, have pointed to these scenes and others in appreciation of the film’s transparency and lack of bias on either side.

    Additionally, CRUDE includes interviews with two official Chevron representatives (Chevron chief environmental scientist Sara McMillen and Ricardo Reis Veiga, Managing Counsel for Chevron Latin America) who clearly state the company’s positions on the situation in Ecuador. Unfortunately, unlike in your case, our multiple requests to visit Ecuador with Chevron representatives and receive a tour of the region from their point of view were denied, even though we offered to pay our own way, as part of our concerted effort to maintain journalistic independence. [Full disclosure: upon agreeing to sit down with us for interviews, Chevron did pick up the tab for the hotel room in which we filmed, as they preferred not to shoot in their offices. They did not, however, cover any of the additional costs of our travel or shoot.]

    Finally, in an attempt at some inexplicable bit of schadenfreude or further effort to somehow discredit the film, you correctly point out that CRUDE did not win any prizes at the SilverDocs festival. The film was in fact nominated at the festival for an award sponsored by the human rights organization Witness, but it did not win. We have, however, had the honor of receiving nine other awards so far, including Grand Jury Prizes at the Yale Environmental and Boston Independent Film Festivals, the Filmmaker Award from U.S. energy company Current Energy at AFI Dallas, a World Wildlife Fund Award, and the prestigious One World Media Award.

    I hope that audiences will make up their minds for themselves about CRUDE when the film opens in theatres in select U.S. cities this fall, rather than dismiss it as the “one-sided…attack on Chevron” that you so obtusely paint it to be.

    Joe Berlinger
    Director/Producer, CRUDE

  • […] Yes, Now the Personal Attacks In the comments to our post below, “Ecuador, Correa, Trial Attorneys and the Convergence of Interests,” you’ll see the use of a tactic common to the plaintiff’s side in the U.S. trial […]

  • […] the comments to our post below, “Ecuador, Correa, Trial Attorneys and the Convergence of Interests,” you’ll see the use of a tactic common to the plaintiff’s side in the U.S. trial […]

  • Kate says:

    Talk about one-sided.

    All the manipulation, deceit and spin cannot erase the simple but powerful fact that the scientific evidence has proven the case against Chevron. Now that evidence is showing its culpability, Chevron is resorting to a variety of tactics—not the least of which is prolonged litigation and lobbying the Obama Administration to pressure Ecuador’s government to interfere in the court process.

    The fact that Mr. Wood could walk into the Amazon jungle and witness first-hand the plight of those affected by this man-made environmental disaster and show such brazen disregard for the humanitarian crisis is appalling. What was it about the toxic black sludge oozing from the landscape that compelled Mr. Wood to completely ignore the scientific data? To date, no action has been taken by Chevron to offer relief to local residents. Their conduct, as well as Mr. Wood’s, represents a stunning violation of social responsibility.

  • Karen Hinton says:

    If the film Crude fails as a documentary, it is because it gives Chevron too much credit and does not tell the whole story about the overwhelming evidence against the oil company.

    The evidence against Chevron is crystal clear. Court evidence reveals illegal levels of contamination in the majority of over 60,000 testing samples taken from the oil pits and wells where Texaco drilled for oil between 1964 and 1990.

    But forget the test results. Just look at the sites where only Texaco operated, and you will see oil shimmering on top of water draining into the rainforest, contaminating the drinking water still, two decades after Texaco left the country.

    The only defense Chevron has is the irrelevant musing of paid bloggers who believe that having a recorded, video-taped, public exchange with the President of a country has something to do with the facts behind the lawsuit. Only when the facts overwhelm do the guilty become desperate for a storyline that proves nothing and serves only as a distraction.

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