Chevron’s refusal to pay for the cleanup of oil contamination in Ecuador demonstrates the crisis of multinational corporations prioritizing profit over human rights.
American oil corporations hail from a nation built on the concept of human equality. So how, when assuming a position of power over the indigenous communities whose land they profit from, do these corporations get away with discarding all concepts of equal treatment in favor of unethical means of generating revenue?
In the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Secoya people have lived off the land for centuries. Their rich culture is rooted in the jungle landscape that surrounds them, from which Secoyan families grow their food and make their living. However, hidden within the lush landscapes of the Secoya people, the corruption of big oil has spread into the lives of the people of San Pablo village. The Secoyans, who for ages have trusted the earth above all things, are being poisoned by the contamination of the water and ground from which they draw life.
Texaco, now owned by Chevron, recklessly drilled for oil throughout the 1970s and 1980s, sidestepping environmental regulations and permanently altering indigenous communities’ way of life. Ricardo Piaguaje, the president of the Secoya Foundation, recalls an immense transformation of his community to a center of industry, claiming that “[Texaco] drilled wells and set off dynamite next to our people’s houses…. We began to live in a world very different from before, with noise, big machines and oil spills and petroleum waste products.”
When Texaco became inactive in Ecuador, it left a catastrophic mess behind. Rather than injecting the toxic sludge and various contaminants that are brought to the earth’s surface during oil drilling back into the deep ground, Texaco left over 1000 pits of hazardous oil waste all over the Secoyan land, contaminating the surrounding water sources.
When initially pressured to clean up the mess, Texaco chose the money-saving shortcut of covering these pits with dirt, leaving the indigenous people just as susceptible to health impacts from this contamination as before. Because Chevron bought Texaco in 2001, an Ecuadorean court ruled in 2011 that Chevron pay $18 billion – which was reduced to $9.5 billion in 2012 – to clean up the mess that caused both environmental ruin and a health crisis for the native people. Chevron has since taken every measure to avoid paying for the costs of Texaco’s pollution, repeatedly attacking the credibility of the Ecuadorean court system and the lawyers representing the Ecuadorean people.