By ADAM KLASFELD
QUITO, Ecuador (CN) – Twelve Latin American nations plan to form an organization “in a few months” opposing Chevron’s international arbitration against Ecuador in The Hague, Ecuador’s deputy foreign minister told Courthouse News on Tuesday.
“We will create an Observatory of Transnational Corporations to exchange information, to exchange experiences, exchange the knowledge of our lawyers to work together,” Ecuador’s Deputy Foreign Minister Leonardo Arízaga said in an interview. “That has been an initiative of states regarding the effects of transnational corporations.” Arízaga, who spoke in English for the interview, used a precise translation of what will be the organization’s official title: Observatorio Internacional de Empresas Transnacionales.
A career diplomat of more than 25 years, Arízaga talked about the initiative from his office in the Palacio de Najas, a neoclassical mansion housing Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry in the Mariscal neighborhood of its capital city.
Two white posterboards splattered with dozens of black handprints stand upon the elegant marble floors of the lobby, part of Ecuador’s “Dirty Hands of Chevron” campaign. One bore the message, “Pay what you owe,” in Spanish under the Chevron logo. Ecuador launched its campaign on Sept. 17, 2013 in response to Chevron’s lawsuit against it at The Hague.
“Chevron is something we’ve lived with most of our lives,” Arízaga said. “It has become known internationally because Ecuador has initiated a campaign in order to defend ourselves against the attacks of this company.”Chevron’s predecessor, Texaco, drilled in the Ecuadorean rainforest from 1972 to 1992.
In 2011, the Lago Agrio court ordered Chevron to pay $9.5 billion for environmental and public health damage, finding that Texaco’s drilling contaminated a stretch of the Amazon that is home to more than 30,000 people. (Lago Agrio, or Sour Lake, is named after Sour Lake, (Texas), former corporate home of Texaco.)
Chevron attacked the award as fraudulent and sought for Ecuador to pay it. The oil giant argued at The Hague that Ecuador is liable for the contamination under the terms of a 1995 settlement agreement Arízaga said that Hague arbitration effectively sought to have Ecuador pay for “the pollution [Chevron] caused in our Amazon basin, and on the effects that it had on the plants on the animals and on the human beings that lived in our Amazon basin.”
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa warned at his weekly address on Saturday that Chevron’s arbitration could “bankrupt” the country.
During his Tuesday interview, Arízaga said that his time as an Ecuadorean diplomat to China helped him understand how to deal with crises.
“In Chinese, you write crisis with two characters,” Arízaga said. “One is ‘danger,’ and the other is ‘opportunity.’ So when we face a crisis, we always try to look for an opportunity.” China plays a large role in Ecuador’s oil industry through the oil company Andes.
“The opportunity has been that when you have difficult times, you have some pleasant surprises, and one of them has been that more than 50 committees of solidarity have been created around the world to support Ecuador,” Arízaga said, adding that more than 80 political parties announced support.
Arízaga said that transnational investment is still welcome in Ecuador.
Last week, Coca-Cola agreed to pour $1 billion into Ecuador’s economy. “Ecuador, as you know, is doing very well, and we are open always to foreign investment and participation of transnational corporations that abide to our legal system, to our environmental regulations, and to all the procedures that are part of their activities in our country,” Arízaga said.