After making every effort to not pay billions in damages, oil giant Chevron has focused its efforts on targeting the work of Steven Donziger, who played a pivotal role in highlighting the company’s practices in the Amazon. If unchallenged, legal efforts to target the lawyer will set a new precedent against environmentalists, he told Sputnik.
Donziger, a lawyer, writer, former journalist and environmental advocate, told Radio Sputnik’s Political Misfits on Friday that Chevron is setting a new standard in which companies can target activists and environmentalists who dare take a stance against harmful practices carried out by powerful firms.
He told hosts Michelle Witte and Bob Schlehuber that Chevron is establishing a means in which companies can “weaponize the law as a tool of intimidation against other lawyers and campaigners who might want to take on this critically important environmental and human rights work.”
Donzinger came under Chevron’s radar after he joined a legal team in 1993 that was digging into various devastating reports of pollution that had emerged over the years in northern Ecuador, specifically in the Lago Agrio region, where the waterways were tapped as a drinking source for Indigenous communities.
Dating back to the early 1960s, Texaco, which was acquired by the Chevron Corporation in 2001, adopted practices that saw toxic waste freely dumped into the environment, a move that helped create a 1,700-square-mile area in the Lago Agrio region that has been dubbed the “Amazon Chernobyl.”
A study carried out by the Lago Agrio legal team determined that communities in the region had “significantly” high levels of stomach, liver, pancreas and skin cancers, among other reported health developments.
In an effort to fight back against the environmental injustice, Donzinger and company filed a class-action lawsuit to initiate clean-up efforts and to put in place health care practices for the thousands of inhabitants who had been affected by the oil pollution. By 2011, the team was granted a $8 billion compensation ruling by the Ecuadorian courts, which was later reconfirmed with the Ecuadorian Supreme Court upping damages owed by Chevron to $9.5 billion.
However, that success was short-lived as Chevron ultimately refused to cough up the funds, alleging that Dozinger’s team offered court officials a $500,000 bribe so the rulings would go in their favor. By 2014, the case was tossed back to the US, where a court ruled the 2011 Ecuador judgement was obtained through corrupt means. Similar declarations were made in 2016 and again in 2018 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
As a result of the ruling, Donzinger was made liable for millions of dollars in Chevron’s legal fees and the oil giant was granted a seizure of his laptop and cellphone, devices that both contained confidential information about his clients. Donzinger filed an appeal and was subsequently charged with a criminal contempt charge in August 2019 that led to his house arrest.
To date, Donzinger has spent over 600 days on house arrest, with motions for his release repeatedly proving unsuccessful. He is due to appear in court in May for the misdemeanor charge before Judge Loretta Preska, who previously appointed the law firm Seward & Kissel to prosecute the case.