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Ecuador - Poisoned Paradise -

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Ecuador - Poisoned Paradise

Broadcast: 10/05/2005

Reporter: Eric Campbell

Transcript

CAMPBELL: Deep in the Amazon rainforest a shaman begins an ancient healing ceremony. Alejandro was
one of the last of the Cofan people to perform this ritual; the young have lost all faith in it.
The old ways cannot stop the sickness now spreading across their land.

SHAMAN: Before the oil companies arrived, people lived well. They enjoyed themselves in the jungle,
they were healthy, there were many animals to catch and eat.

After Texaco came, people who bathed in the river and drank the water got cancer and died.

CAMPBELL: When Alejandro was a boy, this was one of the most pure environments on Earth. But in the
1960s came the discovery of oil.

And with it came roads, production plants, pipelines, pollution and some say, the slow poisoning of
the land and the people. Indigenous tribes have been devastated since the coming of oil, but now
they've forced a giant US corporation back to answer for what it's done. Tonight, an extraordinary
legal rumble in the jungle.

This is what Texaco brought to the Amazon: a massive oil industry sliced into virgin rainforest.

The company drew on 60 years of experience to show Ecuador how to tap its giant but remote
reserves. Texaco didn't just operate the fields. It had a one-third share in them with the state
oil company, Petroecuador. Both companies made a lot of money, but the people who live here see a
different legacy.

ROSA MORENO, HEALTH WORKER: Does it hurt when I press?

GIRL PATIENT: Yes.

ROSA MORENO, HEALTH WORKER: Are you in a lot of pain, darling?

GIRL PATIENT: Yes.

ROSA MORENO, HEALTH WORKER: Does the pain stop you from sleeping?

GIRL PATIENT: Yes.

CAMPBELL: Rosa Moreno is a community nurse in San Carlos, one of dozens of oil towns that have
sprung up since the coming of Texaco. She treats what she claims is a staggering array of illnesses
from contaminated water.

ROSA MORENO, HEALTH WORKER: These nails are not healed, they're infected. They're going to fall off
again. Look at this: she's full of scabs. She only bathes in the river, doesn't she?

CAMPBELL: They range from serious skin infections like the blemishes on eight-year-old Carmita, to
alarmingly high rates of cancer.

A detailed scientific study of San Carlos, published four years ago, blamed oil contamination for
doubling the cancer rate. The victims include Rosa Moreno.

ROSA MORENO, HEALTH WORKER: When I first arrived I was quite naïve. There was no water or
electricity. I had to go down to the river to bathe, to wash my clothes. And now I have chronic
gastritis and have to have an endoscopy every year. I've had to have four endoscopies to control
the cancer in my stomach.

CAMPBELL: The main cause of contamination residents say, is these toxic pits scattered throughout
the oil fields. Texaco dug hundreds of them to store waste. They're alongside houses, near streams
and rivers where people wash, and close to wells where people drink.

Luis Yanza, an activist and community leader, says it's like being slowly poisoned.

LUIS YANZA: Because of the smell, which you can smell now, people get headaches, dizziness, and
this is especially bad when it rains. This fills up and flows into the rivers and people drink the
water and use the water for domestic purposes and for the animals and it makes them ill.

CAMPBELL: Luis Yanza works for the Amazon Defence Front, a grassroots organisation trying to assess
the contamination and mobilise the community to fight back.

LUIS YANZA: I'm always visiting the communities and I bear witness. I see disastrous, alarming
situations and sometimes it shocks me because I find myself in a situation where I can't do
anything to help.

Our comrades, our families, our friends - hundreds of men, women and children have died - that's a
crime. It makes me indignant and it makes everyone indignant.

CAMPBELL: Many of the indigenous communities he visits, like this Cofan village, can still only be
reached by boat.

They are caught between tradition and development but have received none of the oil wealth. The
only tangible sign of the State - the village schoolhouse - was built long before oil was found.
The children here face an even bleaker future than their parents did. Poverty and ill health have
worsened since the 1960s. Life expectancy has fallen.

But the villagers aren't seeking money for themselves from Texaco. They just want the company to
clean up their land.

SHAMAN: If they don't clean up the area there will be more sickness and gradually the Cofan will
die off.

CAMPBELL: Despite the efforts of locals like Luis Yanza, this might well have remained just another
disgruntled community too poor to sue a US corporation. But for the past 12 years a Manhattan
lawyer, Steve Donziger, has fought their case in the US courts, the costs covered by a contingency
agreement with a New York law firm.

Now the case has shifted to Ecuador for judgement on a US$6 billion claim.

STEVE DONZIGER: This case represents the first time that rainforest dwellers have succeeded in
forcing a major multinational oil company to come to where they live and to face charges in a court
of law where the company actually has to submit itself to jurisdiction. It's never happened before.

CAMPBELL: When Texaco came here in the 1960s it must have seemed unlikely it would ever be called
on to answer for its actions. The rainforest was almost uninhabited except for small and scattered
groups of indigenous communities.

The Ecuadorian authorities, with whom Texaco worked, paid little heed to the rights or wishes of
the so-called Indians.

STEVE DONZIGER: I think the thought that they could get away with this because there were very few
people living here other than five indigenous groups. There were no roads, there were very few
people. And I really believe they thought they could get away with it, and now 35 years later, it's
coming back to haunt them.

CAMPBELL: But the area didn't stay sparsely populated for long. The roads allowed the government to
colonise the area with settlers. Tens of thousands moved in to work in the oil fields or farm the
land. It was a potential legal nightmare by the time Texaco sold its holding in 1992. But it made a
deal with the Ecuador government it thought would protect it from future liability. Texaco agreed
to spend US$40 million on cleaning up a third of the contaminated sites.

It's an extremely technical case but it comes down to this. When the hundreds of drills were dug,
the oily mud that was brought up was dumped in unlined pits like this around every drill site. Now
Texaco insists that everything was contained by the clay soil but the local people say
cancer-causing toxins leached out into surrounding wells and streams. On top of that, when the
crude oil was separated, billions of gallons of leftover water was discharged into streams and
rivers that feed the Amazon. Now whether those practices were safe or deadly and who should pay the
price, is what this case is all about.

The case is being fought around the frontier oil town of Lago Agrio, near the Columbian border.
Judge Efrain Novillo, who never travels without armed guards, is in charge of assessing the $6
billion claim.

Today the court is in session in a jungle clearing beside an oilrig and waste pit. It is a bizarre
coming together of lawyers, guns and money. The opposing sides have their own camps, technical
equipment, experts and advisors, all protected by Ecuadorian soldiers.

RICARDO REIS VEIGA [ON PHONE]: ...all we are basically getting on. The tour is just starting now. All
right... OK.... bye.

CAMPBELL: Among them are senior executives from Texaco, which recently merged with Chevron to
become the world's fourth largest oil company. They're making regular trips from their
air-conditioned headquarters to the 46-degree heat of this mosquito-ridden jungle. It's a sight
Luis Yanza thought he would never see.

LUIS YANZA : It gives us a lot of pleasure to see their faces because of what they can say, seeing
all this - because they left behind all that contamination and they are directly responsible.
Therefore, we feel proud to have obliged them to sit down in court to respond to this and to come
here to breathe the contaminated air - to see the people who have been affected which is
irrefutable, convincing proof.

CAMPBELL: Ricardo Reis Veiga is Chevron Texaco's chief counsel. He's using the company's full
resources to fight the case, which could have serious implications for its operations in more than
180 countries.

Among the experts he's brought in is an expensive PR team doing damage control on the corporation's
global reputation.

RICARDO REIS VEIGA: The records will show that we are good corporate citizens and we will prevail
in the end.

JUDGE: Are the experts here?

CAMPBELL: Each session begins with a formal swearing in of witnesses. Every word is recorded and
transcribed.

Today the court is inspecting a pit from the original consortium for signs of contamination.

Chevron-Texaco's advocate, Dr Adolfo Callejas, tells the court that Petroecuador is responsible for
any pollution. But the opposing lawyer, Dr Monica Pareja, argues it was Texaco's decision to use
sub-standard disposal methods just to save money.

DR MONICA PAREJA: That's an example of the way Texaco did their work in Ecuador. If they serve as a
model I'd hate to think how the rest of the oil companies operated.

CAMPBELL: Didn't Texaco just take advantage of lax third world standards because it was cheaper and
they could get away with it?

RICARDO REIS VEIGA: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not. The technology that we use here and
standards of operation that we use here on behalf of the owners of the consortium were the
prevailing technology at the time we operated, basically the '60s, '70s and '80s.

STEVE DONZIGER: No way. You can go anywhere in the United States. You will never see an open-air
toxic waste pit like this. Texaco knew better. Texaco already was not doing this in all other parts
of the world, including the United States, and they knew that if they did this it would create
major health problems and environmental problems for years to come.

PR MAN WITH NOTEBOOK: We have four pits here, two oily pits which we will number number one and
two.

CAMPBELL: Chevron-Texaco insists it has done all the cleaning up it needs to.

PR MAN: I'm standing in the middle of the remediated pit number two and you can see this has been
revegetated with grass.

CAMPBELL: The company's PR team took me to one of the waste pits that Texaco remediated when it
left Ecuador.

PR MAN: And you can see this area, it was tested and it was found to be OK and ...

CAMPBELL: But the plaintiffs claim all Texaco really did was hide the problem.

STEVE DONZIGER: The agreement Texaco signed with the Ecuadorian government is a fraud; it's a sham.
Basically they've required Texaco to remediate a certain portion of the pits, the open air toxic
waste pits that they left, but they never cleaned it other than to run dirt over the toxic waste
pit without first cleaning it out. That's like treating skin cancer with make up.

CAMPBELL: Are there any occasions when dirt was simply shovelled over the top?

PR MAN: No, no, and we have...

CAMPBELL: Chevron-Texaco denies the clean up was cosmetic but at the same time it claims the pits
weren't dangerous to begin with.

RICARDO REIS VEIGA: Well, the existence of the pits does not pose necessarily a health risk to
human beings, that's for sure. The oil is actually contained and there's no exposure per se to
human beings and one way to check this is to check the quality of groundwater, and we have done so...

CAMPBELL: Yes, but why did you spend $40 million remediating them if there was no need to?

RICARDO REIS VEIGA: Because it's common practice to remediate and close pits that you have used.

CAMPBELL: Isn't that because you wanted to prevent the environmental and health hazards?

RICARDO REIS VEIGA: It's always... remediation is always about preventing things from the future.
Otherwise it would not make any sense.

CAMPBELL: So there is a future risk? There is a potential, you concede for some sort of health
hazard or environmental hazard?

RICARDO REIS VEIGA: What I'm saying is that doing the remediation as any part of any operation in
the world is part of our policy; it's part of the way we do business.

CAMPBELL: While the lawyers argue, the people are suffering from desperately inadequate medical
facilities. Rosa Moreno is the only full time health worker for a community of 4000. She can offer
nothing but sympathy for patients like Dona Rosita.

ROSA MORENO, HEALTH WORKER: Did they do chemotherapy?

DONA ROSITA: Yes, they did more than that. I've got bad again. I've got really bad. I just want to
die.

CAMPBELL: She is dying of cancer of the uterus.

DONA ROSITA: I've got worse again - like here they operated on me before, and they told me my
ovaries were bad - it's cancer and there's no treatment.

CAMPBELL: Dona Rosita's family of settlers built this house 22 years ago and dug a well behind it.
Until two years ago, it was the only water they could drink.

DONA ROSITA: There was nowhere to get water - even now there isn't. Now we have somewhere to boil
it, but not then. We used to have to bring the water, put in lemon and sugar and drink it. It
tasted foul and it stank of petrol. It was disgusting that water tasted of chemicals and smelled of
chemicals, but we used to drink it - we've been drinking it for years.

CAMPBELL: But Ricardo Reis Veiga argues the health problems could be simply due to poverty.

RICARDO REIS VEIGA: In reality, most of the studies that have been presented by the plaintiff so
far recognise that they could not conclusively link the rate of cancer in this region with the oil
production activities.

CAMPBELL: But you never can, can you, and scientifically it's never possible to 100% prove
something like that.

RICARDO REIS VEIGA: That's correct but I think to allege that oil production activities conducted
by Texaco 20, 30 years ago is the cause of a disease that has been alleged by the plaintiffs is not
correct either.

CAMPBELL: The indigenous groups have struggled to retain their culture and identities since the oil
boom brought settlement and pollution to their land. They may have a long wait for justice to be
done.

There's no guarantee that Chevron-Texaco will abide by the court's decision, even if it loses the
case and all appeals.

RICARDO REIS VEIGA: In the event of an adverse decision I would have basically to take a look at
the circumstance in which that decision was written and basically make my decision then.

CAMPBELL: So you can't guarantee that if you do lose you will respect the order of the court.

RICARDO REIS VEIGA: I would have to see the conditions again.

CAMPBELL: But to many the fact the case has come this far is already a victory.

STEVE DONZIGER: This case sends a powerful message to oil companies all over the world. You cannot
go into developing countries and use sub-standard technology just because you think these people do
not have the money or power to take you to a court of law and hold you accountable.

CAMPBELL: Whatever happens will be too late for Dona Rosita.

DONA ROSITA: And there we were, we were innocently drinking the water without knowing. We didn't
even know to boil it or anything. Everything is ruined, it's all over. All my organs are finished,
and the cancerous ones were taken out. Now, there's nothing.

CAMPBELL: Like so many others she can only wish she never came to a poisoned paradise.