U.S. Judge Dismisses Ecuadoran Lawsuit Against Texaco

In a May 30 ruling in District Court of the New York Southern District in Manhattan, US federal judge Jed S. Rakoff dismissed a class-action lawsuit brought in November 1993 on behalf of 30,000
Ecuadoran indigenous people against multinational oil giant Texaco for environmental and health damages.

In a May 30 ruling in District Court of the New York Southern District in Manhattan, US federal judge Jed S. Rakoff dismissed a class-action lawsuit brought in November 1993 on behalf of 30,000
Ecuadoran indigenous people against multinational oil giant Texaco for environmental and health damages [Weekly News Update on the Americas #197, 205, 207, 217, 220, 257, 278, 335, 366, 396, 454].

This is the third time Rakoff has tried to dismiss the case. His last dismissal, in 1997, was overturned unanimously in October 1998 by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In returning the case to Rakoff, the Appeals Court determined that
the suit could not be adequately pursued in Ecuador.

Last September, Judge Rakoff denied a motion to recuse himself from the case after he confirmed he had attended an expenses-paid seminar in 1998 which was funded partly by Texaco, and at which a
former Texaco chairperson spoke [see Updates #553, 554].

"We are finding it more and more difficult to have faith in the US judicial process with Judge Rakoff’s actions," said Luis Yanza, president of the Front for the Defense of the Amazon, a coalition of people impacted by the oil operations.

"The fact he made this ruling while we are still appealing his decision not to remove himself from the case only further proves our point that he is unwilling to give us a fair hearing."

The decision also affects a companion suit filed in 1994 by indigenous residents of Peru who live downstream from Ecuador’s Oriente region.

Plaintiffs in the suits allege that a Texaco
subsidiary dumped an estimated 30 billion gallons of toxic waste into their environment while extracting oil from the Ecuadoran Amazon between 1964 and 1992.

According to the plaintiffs, instead of pumping the substances back into emptied wells, Texaco dumped them in local rivers, directly into landfills or spread them on the local dirt roads, triggering a wave of deadly
cancers, skin lesions, birth defects and other abnormalities among indigenous local residents, and killing off plants, crops, and animals.

Texaco admits to dumping 4.3 million gallons per day of toxic oil waste water over a period of 20 years, but claims the dumping caused no appreciable damage.

"While Texaco continues to try to hide from its liability, our people are getting sick and dying," said Yanza. [New York Times 5/31/01; Reuters 5/30/01; Press Release 5/31/01 from Cristobal Bonifaz and Joseph C. Kohn]

Author: Nicaragua Solidarity Network of NY

News Service: The Weekly News Update on the Americas #592

URL: http://www.eco.utexas.edu/faculty/Cleaver/chiapas95.html