What 30,000?

In catching up on the reviews, previews and interviews on the anti-Chevron movie, “Crude,” we see this interview with the director, Joe Berlinger, from Express, the free commuter tabloid from The Washington Post, “‘Crude’ Art: Documentarian Joe Berlinger Discusses His Latest Film“:

FILMMAKER JOE BERLINGER’S latest film, “Crude,” is about the case filed against U.S. oil company Chevron by 30,000 rain forest dwellers in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador.

No. That’s wrong. Thirty-thousand people did not file a suit against Chevron.

Here’s an English translation of the lawsuit. You see that the plaintiffs are about 48 Ecuadorians and the proceeds of a successful suit would go the Amazon Defense Coalition.

Yet the claim of there being 30,000 plaintiffs is everywhere. Here’s Grist referring to “a lawsuit brought by 30,000 rural Ecuadorians,” and Politico, “Since 1993, some 30,000 of those people have taken on Chevron in a landmark lawsuit seeking damages.” Even Washington Post energy writer Steven Mufson, who strives for balance in his Thursday Style piece, “Big oil stains the Amazon in the documentary film ‘Crude’” writes, “On one side of the lawsuit are tens of thousands of indigenous people, represented by an appealing Ecuadoran, Pablo Fajardo, and the American Steven Donziger, who says he has moral as well as financial interests in the case.”

But there aren’t tens of thousands of indigenous people involved in the lawsuit, except as props to be used for public relations purposes.

This isn’t some minor side issue or interpretation. It matters who files a suit, just as it matters who gets the cash.

So, the Amazon Defense Coalition, who’s that? At a website in Ecuador, the Frente de Defense de la Amazonia claims to be a “corporación de derecho privado sin fines de lucro” incorporated in Ecuador in 1994. But in a September 2, 2009, lobbyist disclosure form from the Sharp & Barnes lobbying shop in D.C., Frente is listed as the client and Frente’s address is 245 West 104th Street, Suite 7D, NYC. That’s the office address of Steven Donziger, the trial lawyer who has directed the litigation against Chevron.

And why is an NGO using the Ecuadorian courts to sue a U.S.-based company lobbying Congress in the first place? Just to get Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) to attend tonight’s showing and write angry letters to the President?

Curious. We find it curious. Haven’t really seen any mainstream journalist address the issues, though.


Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Joseph Mutti says:

    I think the point being made here is that the plaintiffs truly represent the estimated 30,000 residents that live in the affected area of the Ecuadorian rainforest, whether it’s called a “class action” (a reference after all understood by US readers) or a “popular action” lawsuit.

    Having worked with the people involved in this case I firmly believe that any monies awarded to the Amazon Defense Coalition will indeed go to these 30,000 residents after legitimate and reasonable legal expenses have been met. The ADC is well-known in Ecuador as representing the interests of the rainforest residents, and public awareness of the case in the country is very high. It is therefore perhaps a little disingenuous to intimate that the ADC or the current Ecuadorian government would simply pocket the money and look the other way and expect no-one to notice or care.

  • Max German says:

    Ok Karen, you asked for it. But let’s clear a few things up. I’m not getting “coached by high-priced PR firms that Chevron employs.” There’s another lie we can add to the list. BTW, how much are you getting paid to represent the Amazon Defense Coalition?

    But let’s get back to exposing Karen Hinton. Here are just a few examples of you misstatements.
    Karen Hinton has admitted that several accusations made in a recent press release are false. A September 9, 2009 press release stated, “American Businessman Wayne Hansen Has Ties to Chevron in Bribery Scheme, Investigation Finds.”
    Hinton has since admitted that her “investigation” was little more than an internet search, which turned up information that was completely wrong. But has Karen Hinton ever published a retraction as is customary. Not yet.

    Several Amazon Defense Coalition claims made by Hinton in the September 9th release have been debunked by independent news outlets. These claims include:

    Hansen is “connected to a consulting firm that lists Chevron as a client”

    “Chevron’s ties to Hansen directly contradict repeated assertions by Chevron lawyers and spokespersons that the company has no relationship to the American businessman,” said Karen Hinton — A statement known to be false.

    “Hansen’s biography obtained on the Internet identifies him as the former Chief Mechanical Engineer and Director of Energy Engineering at RJM Associates, which lists Chevron as a client.” — Another error. Hinton had the wrong person.

    Statements by her and the ADC on groundwater contamination are misleading and incorrect.
    In virtually every public statement and news release, Karen Hinton claims that the remediated sites that Texaco was responsible for under the 1998 Remediation Action Plan “contain cancer-causing toxins at levels hundreds of times higher than U.S. and Ecuadorian law allows.”

    Not surprisingly, Karen Hinton fails to mention that they are attempting to apply remediation standards that were passed in 2001, three years after Texaco Petroleum’s remediation work was completed and certified by the government of Ecuador.
    Karen Hinton says that Chevron is responsible for $27 billion worth of damages to the Amazon. The $27 billion assessment against Chevron was concocted by Richard Cabrera, a mining engineer with no experience or training in oilfield remediation work.

    Cabrera was appointed by the court to assess possible environmental damage in the former Concession oilfields, if any, the cause, and remediation projects to remedy those damages. His selection was fully supported by the Amazon Defense Coalition over the opposition of Chevron.

    In addition to being unqualified for the task he was given, Cabrera ignored directions from the court and improperly expanded his work scope to invent categories of damages that have nothing to do with the issues raised by the lawsuit or with environmental remediation of the former Concession area.

    Another Karen Hinton lie: We have full confidence in the Ecuadorian judicial system, as does Chevron. Not true. Chevron has consistently asserted that the case has involved improper complicity between the plaintiffs and Ecuador’s executive branch and other legal irregularities. And Chevron has asserted that it cannot get a fair trail.

    This is just a short list, there are many more misstatements by Karen Hinton that have been documented on multiple independent websites.

  • James says:

    If you are really so ignorant as to the facts of this case you should stop writing about it. It’s astounding the basic elements that you choose to ignore or just don’t seem to get. It would take only about a half hour and a half dozen Google searches to educate yourself just enough to be embarrassed by the ignorance of this and others you’ve made.

    30,000? It’s a class action suit. Duh. Ever heard of those? They have them in the US as well. My mom received some money from one against the Dalkon Shield manufacturers decades ago, and no she and the thousands of other affected parties were not named individually in the lawsuit.

    And you really must know that a) the suit was originally filed in the US but Chevron (not the plaintiffs) successfully argued to have it tried in Ecuador instead, and b) it’s not all that unusual for a non-US NGO (or other party) to receive correspondence at their lawyer’s address when the only presence that they have in the US is related to a legal case that started there.

    My question to you is this: Are you really as ignorant as you pretend to be, or are you just throwing misinformation out there in the hope that it will stick in some unsuspecting minds?

  • Karen Hinton says:

    Most of the time I don’t bother to read this blog, much less respond. But like so many others, this post is way over the top. The lawsuit is a class-action lawsuit. That means it covers any and all people living in the Texaco concession area who have been harmed by the contamination. As with class-action lawsuits filed in this country, names of specific individuals are included in the lawsuit but that does not mean the lawsuit is limited to those individuals.

    If the court rules in the plaintiffs’ favor, the damage award will not go to individual people nor will it go to the government of Ecuador. It will pay for the contamination cleanup, for medical facilities for people who are sick, and for clean drinking water.

    Moments after I send this comment, there will be about two or three other pro-Chevron bloggers who will post comments and tell readers that I am a liar, a hack and so forth. This is how they spend their day, after being coached by high-priced PR firms that Chevron employs.

    For the record, I am the spokesperson for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

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