Friday, November 2, 2012

Ecuador Takes On Chevron Outside Its Borders

As part of the country’s ongoing case against U.S.-based oil giant Chevron, Ecuadoran prosecutors will file claims against the company in Argentina and Colombia for contaminating a section of the Ecuadorean Amazon. Ecuador blames Texaco Inc., which Chevron acquired in 2001, for destroying the environment in the southern Lago Agrio region from 1964 to 1992, affecting 30,000 inhabitants.

In February 2011 the Ecuadorean Supreme Court ruled that Chevron should pay $18 billion worth of damages, and the company’s challenges to this decision have been overruled. Chevron maintains that the decision is fraudulent and unenforceable, and has refused to make the payment, taking the country to court in the U.S. in an effort to suspend enforcement of the fine outside Ecuador. Earlier this month, however, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Chevron’s attempts at avoiding the fine.  

Clarin reports that the lawsuit in Argentina will ask the government to seize Chevron’s Argentine branch as well as its assets, oil sales income and the company’s bank accounts in the country. Pablo Fajardo, an Ecuadorean attorney prosecuting the case, said that the charges are part of an international campaign against the company, because it has removed most of its assets in Ecuador. “We're going after Chevron wherever in the world it has assets,” Fajardo said in a Buenos Aires press conference. Another attorney in the case, Enrique Bruchou, said that proceedings against Chevron would begin this week in Argentina and in Colombia at a later date.

Reuters notes that similar lawsuits were filed earlier this year in Canada and Brazil in May and June, respectively.

News Briefs
  • Ecuador's El Comercio reports that President Rafael Correa has announced that new taxes will go into effect in January on bank holdings abroad, as well as an excise tax on financial services in the country. The revenue from these taxes will go towards welfare programs for single mothers, the elderly, and the country´s poor. The AP notes that the new tax initiatives were first proposed by businessman Guillermo Lasso, who is likely to be Correa’s main challenger in the upcoming February elections. In an address at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) over the weekend, Correa declared eradicating poverty in the region to be a “moral imperative rather than a technical challenge,” and said that the his government´s policies had achieved a drop in Ecuador’s Gini coefficient (which measures inequality) from .55 to .47.
  • Mexico’s right wing National Action Party (PAN) and the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and Citizens' Movement held a joint press conference on Wednesday to announce that they will work together to create a “united opposition” to preserve democracy and transparency when Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto steps into office this December. Milenio notes that the parties are already cooperating in the Senate to push for reforms to Mexico´s labor laws, although the bill appears to have stalled in the country´s lower house.
  • A new study (.pdf) released on October 31 by the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness (IMCO) finds that Mexican drug cartels could see their revenue drop by as much as 30 percent across the board if current ballot initiatives on marijuana legalization in Colorado, Washington and Oregon are passed. Although opinion polls in Oregon show that the referendum is unlikely to pass there, both Colorado and Washington stand a chance of passing theirs.  According to Mexican crime analyst Alejandro Hope, who co-authored the report, the powerful Sinaloa Cartel has the most at stake if the initiatives pass. In a press conference marking the report’s release, Hope said that the cartel could see its profits fall by as much as 50 percent if the measures are passed in all three states.
  • The Bank of Mexico claims that remittances sent home from Mexicans working abroad dropped 20 percent in September, their biggest drop since October 2009, when they fell by 36 percent. El Informador reports that analysts believe this reflects volatility in sectors of the U.S. economy where most Mexicans are employed, primarily the service, agriculture and construction industries.
  • Prensa Libre reports that Guatemalan indigenous activist Mario Itzep of the National Indigenous Observatory survived an assassination attempt on Wednesday night, when two men on a motorbike opened fire on him in the country’s capital city. Itzep is known as a vocal critic of the government of President Otto Perez, and has stepped up accusations of repression after the October 12th discovery of the dead body of an indigenous activist in Totonicapan province.
  • Honduran congressional candidate Erick Vidal Martinez, the second openly gay man to ever run for national office in Honduras, was in San Francisco last week as part of a ten-day California tour. Martinez told the San Franciso Reporter that LGBT rights have suffered greatly in Honduras since the 2009 coup. “During the first six months of the coup, nine gay men and 12 transsexual women were murdered. Since then five lesbians, 42 gay men, 28 transsexual women, and an unknown number of bisexuals have been murdered,” the Reporter notes.
  • Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has announced that he will embark on an international tour in November, beginning with a November 15 visit to Paris, where he will meet with a representative of the International Court of Justice to address a maritime border dispute with Chile, according to El Comercio. Humala will also visit Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Ecuador, the paper reports.
  • Colombian prosecutors are investigating Sergio Fajardo, the governor of Colombia’s Antioquia department, on corruption charges after Fajardo granted a mining contract to the spouse of a government official in July, according to El Tiempo.  The accusation is a blow to the respected reputation of Fajardo, who gained international fame for dramatically reducing violence in Medellin during his 2003-2007 tenure as mayor.
  • Colombia’s official statistics agency (DANE) has released the results of a national survey on attitudes of citizen security in the country. El Espectador reports that the poll found that fears of insecurity among residents of major Colombian cities outpace their actual crime rate.
  • A bomb in Colombia’s southwestern Valle de Cauca department killed two people and injured more than 30 on Wednesday, interrupting Halloween celebrations in the small town of Pradera. El Tiempo reports that the two killed were the culprits behind the bombing, who police believe were targeting a local police station on behalf of a local gang.
  • The government of Jamaica has revived a commission tasked with investigating the enduring effects of slavery on the island, and whether the country should seek reparations or a formal apology from Britain. The AP notes that the commission, which was previously disbanded in 2009 due to budget constraints, is comprised of “roughly a dozen academics, lawyers, Rastafarians and students.”
  • In an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing yesterday, a Venezuelan NGO known as the Committee of Victims’ Families (COFAVIC) claimed that impunity for human rights abuses in the country is on the rise, noting that just 3 percent of human rights abuse claims were prosecuted in 2011. El Universal reports that COFAVIC cited official figures which show that 30,000 claims of human rights abuses have been registered in the country since 2006.
  • Telesur reports that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has confirmed his attendance at an upcoming Mercosur leaders’ summit in Brasilia this December, the first since Venezuela officially gained membership to Mercosur on July 31.
  • Writing for the New York Times’ Room for Debate blog, Fordham University law professor Tanya Kateri Hernandez argues that efforts to reduce class and race-based inequality in education in Latin America offer a useful model to those interested in reforming the education system of the United States. 

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