Latin America

Ecuador versus Brad Pitt

Correa government campaigning to stop actor making film about Chevron oil-spill trial

Brad Pitt during a visit to the affected area.
Brad Pitt during a visit to the affected area.

The government of Ecuador has asked Hollywood star Brad Pitt to “do the right thing” and not make a movie based on journalist Paul Barrett’s book The Law of the Jungle, which is an account of the fraud that occurred during Chervon’s legal battle with Ecuadorian indigenous communities over oil cleanup in the Amazon basin.

President Rafael Correa’s government has said that Barrett’s book – to which Pitt has acquired the rights – is a skewed version of the court litigation in Ecuador against Chevron, which the US oil giant lost.

Ecuador claims that Barrett’s book is a skewed version of the events in Chevron’s environmental case

Chevron was ordered to pay $8.6 billion for the environmental damage caused by its sister company Texaco between 1964 and 1992 when it operated in Ecuador. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001.

Using the hashtag #BradDoTheRightThing, the government has launched an international campaign to try to prevent Pitt from making his movie.

“We invite you to do the right thing. We invite you to keep the rights of this book – a fiction that has the potential to do so much damage because of the lies and misinformation that it propagates. And we invite you to do nothing with those rights,” reads a petition on change.org.

The Correa government is concerned that a film version of Barrett’s book will hurt the country’s reputation, and affect those who are still trying to seek their claims through other ongoing litigations filed in Canada, Argentina and Brazil, where Chevron also has operations.

Chevron has refused to pay compensation and pulled out of the country before the Ecuadorian courts made their decisions.

Correa is concerned that a film version of Barrett’s book will hurt the country’s reputation

Barrett’s book is based on a New York court case final ruling handed down in March 2014 against Steven Donziger and his legal team, who for years defended the residents of Ecuador’s Lago Agrio region in their fight against Chevron.

In that case, a US federal judge ruled that the courts in Ecuador had based their decision in the María Aguinda y otros vs. Chevron Corp case on fraudulent evidence against Chevron.

In November 2013, Ecuador’s National Court of Justice (CNJ) upheld that Chevron was liable for environmental damage in the Amazon basin region by its sister company Texaco and ordered it to pay $8.6 billion.

During the trial in a US District Court in New York, Chevron’s lawyers described all the corrupt maneuvers employed by Donziger, using recorded clips, emails and other documents to make their case.

“We never would have accomplished what the judge did if we hadn’t put on some pressure;” and “Judges in Ecuador make decisions based on who they fear the most, not on what the law says,” were some of the statements brought up during the trial.

Donziger was found liable of violating the provisions of the US Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act for falsifying evidence and committing fraud in the original case. He is appealing the ruling.

During the New York trial, Chevron’s lawyers described corrupt maneuvers employed by Donziger’s legal team

Barrett, who the Ecuadorian government claims is on Chevron’s payroll, alleged in his book that Donziger sold the rights to the trial and made side agreements with other law firms without taking into account how much money would be left over for the plaintiffs in his case.

One of the estimates cited in the book calculates that the Lago Agrio residents would only end up with about 1.5 percent of the total compensation if they were to reach a $100-million settlement with Chevron. The rest of the money would be divided among investors and law firms – including Donziger legal fees – and go to administrative costs.

“The book is about corporate irresponsibility on behalf of Texaco and Petroecuador, which also had a role in this contamination,” the US journalist told EL PAÍS.

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“On another level, it also tells the history of a legal campaign to save the tropical forest. The lawyers undermined the state of law in the name of seeking vindication for the victims of the contamination,” Barrett said.

When asked about the Correa government’s own campaign to stop Pitt from making his movie, Barrett said that the president has said “some incorrect things about my book.”

“He has said that Chevron paid me to write the book – that’s false. He said that the book describes Ecuadorians as savage people – that too is false. It’s terrible when a president makes false statements about a writer and his work. He cannot intimidate whoever wants to use my book as the basis for a movie.”

In 2012, Pitt went to Ecuador and visited the affected site. He was accompanied by Pablo Fajardo, Donziger’s Ecuadorian counterpart. Fajardo said he took Pitt to the pools of oil that are still there leftover from Texaco’s operation and that the actor was interested in supporting health initiatives in that area.

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