By Nima Maghame
The Rainforest Action Network, a non-profit organization that protests the pollution and destruction of natural habitats around the world, recently gathered on a bio-diesel bus named Priscilla with Ecuadorian tribal representative Emergildo Criollo and drove to new Chevron CEO John Watson's home in Lafayette to deliver a petition demanding the company pay for the clean up of Chevron-owned Texaco's contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon rain forest.
“Because of contamination in the river, I have lost two sons and my wife is very ill. I have been in this battle for over 10 years,” said Criollo, who has come to the Bay Area on behalf of the Cohan and Siona people of Amazonian Ecuador as well as the organizations Secoya Indigenous Nations and Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia. They are among the local groups battling Chevron in an Ecuador court, seeking compensation and cleanup money.
The petition, which has been signed by more than 350,000 people from all over the world, never reached the hands of Watson. The CEO was not home when the activists arrived. The Ecuadorian did have a scheduled closed meeting with Chevron executives at the company's headquarters in San Ramon later that day. He was accompanied by a demonstration outside the corporation's office, where a dozen RAN members listed off names of petition signers.
“We here at Chevron, believe that this is a great first step towards an ongoing dialogue between Chevron and Ecuador,” said Gary Fisher, Chevron's Manager of Public Policy, to RAN activists after the closed meeting with Criollo.
Criollo lived his entire life in a remote village in Ecuador where he saw Texaco – which was later purchased by Chevron -- come and go, leaving oil pollution everywhere. Consumer activists reports show that an estimated 30,000 people have suffered from contamination in Ecuador, just one country out of many who have reported illnesses and mutations caused by the reported 18 billion gallons of toxic waste dumped in the region.
“[Chevron/Texaco] chose to use pumping technology that was not as advanced as the drilling technology they use in the states, which pumps excess crude back into the ground, to save two to three dollars a barrel...There is free standing oil in this pristine rainforest. It's hot and it just boils in the sun. You can touch it, you can smell it,” said Anderson.
Chevron executives claim that the pollution is the fault of the oil company in charge of extraction now, nationally owned PetroEcuador. They also state they have funded up to $40 million in clean up efforts, a claim that RAN believes to be false. The petition calls for the oil company to fund clean up operations in the region and is estimated to cost them more than $16 billion.
“We believe we are very far away from any resolve from this company,” said Criollo.