“A fascinating and important story. CRUDE does an extraordinary job of merging journalism and art.”—Christiane Amanpour, CNN Chief International Correspondent
In short, Crude is about Chevron’s oil exploits in Ecuador, the consequent environmental damage caused by the oil extraction operations, and the adverse health effects on the local, indigenous culture. It has been cited as a ‘David versus Goliath’ landmark court case that involves profit over human rights, profit over environmental protection, and profit over freedom of speech. The plaintiffs are suing for 27 billion which is the estimate costs of the damage to the environment, the indigenous culture, and the health of thousands of Ecuadorians. This is set to be the most lucrative case involving the environment.
Quickly, the viewer becomes aware that it is a very complex case involving many parties and influencers. In addition, while the documentary overall favors the plaintiffs in the case, they do provide a balanced perspective on the evidence being presented that support each side. Both sides of the case are also using the internet very extensively in their pursuit to declaim the opposition including the site, ChevronToxico and Chevron’s own Ecuador Site. This documentary is largely a story about a court case and the complexity of the law system between the US and Ecuador. It also involves political affiliations and considerations between a more socialist Ecuador and capitalistic United States.
Brief Historic Timeline:
– 1964 to 1990 – Texaco drills for oil in Ecuador
– 1992 – Texaco hands over operations to Petroecuador
– 1993 – the lawsuit is filed in New York City
– 2001 – Chevron takes over Texaco and inherites all debts and liabilities
– 2008 – Damages estimated at 27 billion by court-appointed experts
– 2010 (a few days ago) – Chevron subpoenas the filmmaker, Joel Berlinger, for obtain over 600 hours of footage from Crude and wins.
(it is much, much more complicated than this simple timeline)
The Ecuadorian People are the plaintiffs and are represented by a group of lawyers from both Ecuador and the US with financing backing from a prominent law firm in the US. The law firm, Kohn, Swift & Graf PC, makes it clear that they are involved in this case because it is a “lucrative case for the firm” (Joe Kohn). Also involved, are several large environmental groups including Amazon Watch and Amazon Defense Front. While Amazon Watch is a US activist group involving many celebrity spokespeople such as Sting and James Cameron, Amazon Defense Front is a grassroots collection of Ecuadorian NGOs.
In this case, the ‘David’ is not as small as you might think, because the financing backing of a prominent US law firm. However, the head lawyer is the stereotypical ‘David’ and comes from a very humble background from the jungles of Ecuador, and the area of the jungle where the environmental dispute is occurring.
Photo courtesy of Vanity Fair.
Pablo Fajardo is the lead Ecuadorian lawyer involved in the litigation and has been fighting this case for almost 16 years. He was raised in the jungles where Chevron’s exploits took place. He also works at a human rights claims office in Ecuador that provides advice and guidance for the Ecuadorian people. He has been awarded with CNN’s Hero Award for his landmark work with the Ecuadorian People as well as being a feature in Vanity Fair’s acclaimed Green Issue. Pablo grew up in the jungles where Chevron has been operating for nearly three decades and has witnessed first hand the environmental damages taking place there. He has been personally touched by the dispute raging in the jungle including watching his friends die from cancer, as well as, his own brother being killed amongst the complexities of the dispute.
As explained throughout the documentary, it is Chevron’s strategy to prolong the case for as long as possible to, essentially, bankrupt the plaintiffs. However, much of the evidence uncovered through the litigation process has been equal among Chevron and the plaintiffs. The documentary ends by stating that case is still on going and no final decisions have made yet. It now seems to be dependent on a PR campaign to oust Chevron for their activities and lack of responsibility in Ecuador.
– Chevron (under the name Texaco) operated in Ecuador from 1964 to 1990 until handing over operations to the state-run Petroecuador
– Petroecuador has a very poor record for environmental protection and has been blamed for part of the environmental degradation
– The plaintiffs have not been involving Petroecuador in the case because it changes the lawsuit against Chevron
– Chevron claims that because President Correa is in favor of the case against Chevron, the plaintiffs have not focused their efforts on Petroecuador. Chevron claims that they are the ones being sued because they are a US based company and have the money.
– Much evidence supports that there is indeed environmental degradation in the jungle because of oil exploits, but Chevron claims that it is not their responsibility because they haven’t operated there for the past 20 years
– The plaintiffs argue that Chevron (under the name Texaco) set up the oil operations in such a way that environmental degradation was inevitable and did not take proper precautions to protect the drinking water. Thus, Chevron needs to take financial responsibility for their part.