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LATIN AMERICA

Chevron loses US battle to block Ecuadorian judgment

Oil giant ordered to pay 13.4-billion-euro pollution fine

Activist Donald Moncayo shows the pollution from a lake in 2011.
Activist Donald Moncayo shows the pollution from a lake in 2011.REUTERS

The US Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a petition by the multinational petroleum giant Chevron Corp. to block a 13.4-billion-euro fine handed down in Ecuador last year against the company for polluting lands near an abandoned oil field in the northeast part of the country.

Chevron, which had claimed that the judicial proceedings in Ecuador were tainted, said through a spokesman, James Craig, that it will "continue to show there were attempts by the plaintiff's lawyers to commit fraud [in this case]."

In February, a judge in Sucumbio province ordered Chevron to pay some 6.4 billion euros for failing to clean up the Auca field, where there are still remnants of oil throughout the surrounding lands. The lawsuit was brought by 30,000 local residents, who represent the National Assembly of Affected People. One of the leading activists is Donald Moncayo, president of the Santa Cruz community near Lago Agrio, which is near the oil field. The case had been dragging on for two decades until last year's judgment.

"Rather than accept that responsibility, Chevron has launched a campaign of warfare against the Ecuadorian courts and the impoverished victims of its unfortunate practices," said the Amazon Defense Coalition, another group that represented the plaintiffs.

The judgment was doubled by the court because of interests on payments and for Chevron's refusal to issue a public apology.

Chevron, which lost an appeal before a US federal appeals court in September 2011, has long argued that Texaco, which operated the field throughout the 1960s and 1970s, kept its share of the bargain with the Ecuadorian government when it agreed in 1995 to clean up about 33 percent of the pools of oil left behind. Chevron bought Texaco in 2001.

State-owned Petroecuador took over the operations at Auca and, Chevron claims, workers dumped discarded soil with petroleum products in pools they dug in the area.

At the same time, Chevron also unsuccessfully argued that that there is no scientific evidence to demonstrate that the activities carried out by Texaco may have any negative health effects. But the residents there complained that many of their children were born with birth defects or have come down with other ailments after drinking water in the area.

Chevron, however, says that bacterial contamination is rampant in the waters of eastern Ecuador.

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