What is a lost culture? Is it just some intangible time before? Is it an economy? Can you inventory a lost culture in the number of lives lost or rivers polluted?
Those questions haunt the lawsuit brought by Ecuadorian indigenous groups against the U.S. oil giant, Chevron, for environmental destruction it allegedly wrought as Texaco in the Amazon rainforest of eastern Ecuador. On paper, the suit asks Chevron (which acquired Texaco in 2001) to pay for the environmental cleanup of an area three times the size of Manhattan, pocked with open oil pits and steeped in 18 billion gallons of dumped industrial wastewater. The damages in the case — calculated by a court-appointed expert at a record $27 billion — would also establish a health fund to pay for the estimated 1,400 cases of cancer caused by the pollution — a number that will likely continue to grow until the site is cleaned up. The rest of the damages fall into the catchall category, “compensation.”
Emergildo Criollo is president of the Cofan people, who have been among the hardest hit and are one of the plaintiffs in the case. For Criollo, 52, the case isn’t just about what Texaco workers did or didn’t do starting in the 1960s. It’s about the dissolution of his traditional culture into the modern world as a result of oil workers simply being there and building roads to get there. And no one company can be held accountable for that. But Chevron has used the same prevailing wind of cultural dominance to confuse the facts of the case enough potentially to avoid being stuck with the monstrous bill. The company points to an agreement under which Texaco shared its operations in Ecuador with the state-owned oil company, Petroecuador. It also claims that Texaco cleaned up its work sites before leaving Ecuador in 1992. But the company’s legal hedges don’t line up with residents’ first-hand accounts, as Criollo makes clear.
[Read more at Alternet]