"We are the human face of Chevron's operations, armed with the memories of our dead relatives, our neighbors, our sick children," said one woman who traveled from Ecuador."
San Ramon, CA - Yesterday, Chevron's Annual General Meeting of shareholders kicked off at the San Ramon headquarters of the California-based oil giant. Chevron's CEO John Watson, its Board of Directors and shareholders were greeted by over 150 activists, who had traveled to San Ramon from regions the world over, from Angola to Indonesia, from Alaska to Ecuador, to share the stories of the human and environmental degradation Chevron had unleashed in their communities. Chevron has been feeling the heat this past week from a variety of angles.
On Monday morning, five environmental activists with the Rainforest Action Network unfurled a 30' x 50' banner off the Richmond Bridge. Dangling 100 feet above the Bay and sandwiched between Chevron oil tankers and the Richmond refinery, they sent the oil giant a message: "Chevron Guilty: Clean Up the Amazon." On February 14, 2011, in a landmark legal victory, a court in Ecuador ruled that Chevron was guilty of dumping in the Amazon that damaged residents' health and degraded the environment, contaminating the soil and water.
The court stated that Chevron is responsible for cleaning up pollution linked to its subsidiary Texaco, which operates in the Amazon rainforest and which Chevron bought in 2001. It ordered Chevron to pay $18 billion in damages, an amount comparable in size only to the $20 billion that BP promised to pay to victims of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Chevron has appealed the ruling. Ginger Cassady, director of Rainforest Action Network's Change Chevron Campaign and coordinator of Monday's banner unfurl told Alternet, "This action puts the spotlight on the fact that Chevron was found guilty by an Ecuadorian court.
For over two decades, Chevron deliberately dumped toxins in Ecuador, creating a health and humanitarian crisis. We are calling on Chevron to clean up its toxic mess." On Tuesday, the True Cost of Chevron, a network of 40 groups, released a report entitled "The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report," outlining the company's human rights and environmental violations. Antonia Juhasz, co-editor of the report, stated that the report includes accounts by more than 40 authors, who "outline the egregious behavior of Chevron."
She expressed concern about Chevron's interest in expanding offshore drilling, given the recent BP disaster and said that "Chevron, the nation's third largest corporation and California's largest -- is well aware of the dangers of offshore drilling." The direct action and report's release were part of the build up to Chevron's Annual General Meeting (AGM) of shareholders, which kicked off yesterday at the San Ramon headquarters of the California-based oil giant. As Chevron's CEO John Watson, its Board of Directors and shareholders met, they came under pressure for their creation and handling of human and environmental abuses brought about by Chevron's operations. Over 150 supporters rallied in a colorful protest, bringing pressure on the meeting throughout the day. Arriving attendees were greeted by dancing moneybags, intended to underscore the greed of oil executives.
Twenty-two indigenous and other affected community members traveled from around the globe, including Angola, Canada, Indonesia and Nigeria, and regions of the U.S., such as Alaska and Texas. Three indigenous and community leaders from the oil-contaminated Ecuadorian rainforests were in San Francisco to pressure Chevron to fulfill the verdict's requirements. "My parents both died from cancer due to Chevron's contamination," said Servio Curipoma, a cacao farmer from the polluted town of San Carlos in Ecuador's northeast Amazon rainforest region.
Curipoma's parents built a house on a remediated oil pit in Ecuador. "I am fighting for justice so that no one else will have to suffer the pain they did, and the loss that I have." Humberto Piaquaje, a leader of the Secoya tribe in the Ecuadorian Amazon said, "We have fought for nearly 20 years to bring Chevron to justice, and finally, we have a court judgment that affirms what we have been saying all this time. The court, which Chevron chose, found them guilty of poisoning our rainforest and our families. With this verdict, we have come north to demand that Chevron cease its lies and pay to clean up the contamination that is choking our communities."
"We are the human face of Chevron's operations, armed with the memories of our dead relatives, our neighbors, our sick children," said Carmen Zambrano, a plaintiff and mother from Shushufindi, Ecuador. "Chevron has been found guilty and we cannot wait any longer. We are here as living proof that the health crisis in our home is urgent and it will not go away, and we are confronting Chevron in person to demand that the company take responsibility."
Residents of neighboring Richmond, in which Chevron operates a refinery, also attended, expressing concerns about the refinery's effects on residents' health and the area's environment. They provided a tour yesterday of areas affected by the contamination. When Richmond resident Reverend Kenneth Davis attempted to hand a copy of the "True Cost of Chevron" report to Chevron CEO Watson, he was stopped by private security guards.
Pressure also came from other areas, though, including shareholders in the company, such as the trustee for New York's largest pension fund. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who serves as trustee for the $140 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, argued for Chevron to resolve the situation to avoid protracted and costly litigation, stating "It is time to face reality." Di Napoli continued, "The entire case is looming like a hammer over shareholder's heads.
Chevron should start fresh with a new approach that embraces environmental responsibility ... More legal proceedings will only delay the inevitable." Shareholders attending the meeting also expressed concern about the effect of hydraulic facturing or fracking on the environment. Fracking involves drilling of hard rock in order to extract natural gas. It has been criticized for its devastating effects on the environment, which include, among other things, the contamination of ground water though chemicals used in drilling, pollution of air quality, and the creation of toxic waste. Chevron did not return calls requesting an interview.