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Written by Jim Jordal   
Thursday, 04 December 2008

ECOLOGICAL DISASTER AND POWER POLITICS IN EQUADOR

By Jim Jordal

 Seems it a small thing to you to have fed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the residue of your pasture? and to have drunk of the clear waters, but you must foul the residue with your feet? As for my sheep, they eat that which you have trodden with your feet, and they drink that which you have fouled with your feet.

God’s charge against Israel’s shepherds who have failed to protect his sheep, Ezekiel 34:18 WEB

Newsweek magazine for Aug. 4, 2008 reports on a lawsuit being brought by indigenous people of Ecuador against Chevron (Texaco) for allegedly dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste products into the rivers and streams from which the Indians receive their water supplies. The plaintiffs, many of whom suffer cancer and physical deformities, show up in their native dress in the courtroom, some with painted faces and scanty clothing. Were it not for a group of American lawyers interested in their case, these indigenous sufferers would have little or no chance of ever succeeding in any court in Ecuador, or anywhere else for that matter.

Representing Chevron is a gaggle of high-powered lawyers familiar with Washington D.C. power politics. They argue that Chevron is not only innocent of the charges, but is a victim of corrupt Ecuadoran politics. As one Chevron lobbyist reportedly said: "The ultimate issue here is that Ecuador has mistreated a U.S. company. We can’t let little countries screw around with big companies like this—companies that have made big investments around the world."

Of course Chevron immediately repudiated the statement, claiming that it did not reflect company policy and had not been approved by the company. But the cat is out of the bag: a representative of predatory corporate capitalism finally admits what informed people already know--that corporate greed and power trump human rights almost every time, especially in underdeveloped countries.

But perhaps not this time! A miracle of sorts has occurred: a court-appointed specialist recommended that Chevron be required to pay between $8 billion and $16 billion to clean up the rain forest mess.

However, the struggle is not yet over, since Chevron now is pressuring the Bush administration to rescind Ecuador’s privileged trading position with our nation unless the leftist government forces the tribes to drop the suit.

So the issue breaks down to this: What rights, if any, do indigenous peoples living in a primitive state of existence have against corporate power dedicated to exploiting their natural resources for the benefit of larger nations such as the U.S.? History shows that in Latin America, at least, they traditionally have no rights. Should this case be decided in favor of the natives, it will be perhaps the first time any indigenous group has succeeded in resisting the corporate colossus.

But wouldn’t it be possible to develop Ecuadoran oil reserves without destroying native habitat? Of course it would. But given the nature of rapacious capitalism, any attempt to control environmental damage would lessen profits, and therefore cannot be tolerated. Economists call this "externalizing costs." What it means that because of corporate control over the legislative process corporations have been allowed to dump their waste products into the water or air (externalizing costs), thereby avoiding having to pay for processing their wastes—which ought to be a necessary cost of doing business.

When I read this article I thought of King Solomon’s meditations as reported in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon wrote: "Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them (4:1).

Under several World Trade Organization (WHO) rules, corporations have the right to sue countries in which they operate for "restraint of trade" damages when those supposedly independent countries attempt to enforce ecological and human values such as making laws against pollution or supporting worker rights. In other words, independent nations have no right to protect their own people against corporate power. So what ever happened to national sovereignty and economic justice?

Like Solomon said: "On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them."

Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 December 2008 )