On November 3, 1993, 15 people, including settler-farmers and indigenous people of the Cofan, Secoya and Kichwa nationalities from the Orellana and Sucumbios provinces, filed a class-action lawsuit against the oil company Texaco in the Southern District Court of New York. They accused the company of polluting the environment and affecting public health due to the use of cheap and outdated technology during its oil exploitation activities in the Ecuadorian Amazon (1964-1990). Organizations of farmers, women, human rights advocates, young people, neighborhoods and other unions decided to support the lawsuit and called for more social organizations in the region to form a coalition to support and sustain the developing case.
After various meetings between settler communities, indigenous nationalities, federations of social and farmer organizations, and non-governmental organizations, the Amazon Defense Front was formed on May 16, 1994.
In an effort to evade liability, Texaco signed with the Ecuadorian State an “environmental reparation” contract, implemented in 1996. The “environmental” work carried out by Texaco was questioned by the plaintiffs and later by the Comptroller General of the State (Ecuador Control Agency, which has an obligation to ensure compliance with contracts that any entity signs with the Ecuadorian State).
Under pressure from the oil company, on August 16, 2002 the Court of Appeals in New York decided to send the case to Ecuador. The plaintiffs unanimously decided to continue with legal action and on May 7, 2003 the lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of Nueva Loja, Ecuador. On October 21 of that year, thousands of affected people mobilized to the city of Nueva Loja to participate in the hearing that initiated this historic trial; this is the only case in the world where people directly affected by a transnational oil company have been able to execute justice in their own country. Since then, the communities have been in constant action to monitor the judicial process and to make important decisions related to the case.
In the trial, the plaintiffs were concerned with proving, as the law requires, all charges against the oil company. Much of the trial evidence was produced and paid for by the defendant itself. In the record, more than 230,000 pages of information were accumulated, over 40 testimonies of people affected by Texaco’s operations were given, 106 expert reports were included (60 of which were paid for entirely by Chevron, Texaco’s successor company), more than 80,000 results of chemical samples taken from soil, water and sediment were produced, and various health studies conducted independently by foreign experts were presented to judges. The judge personally inspected and verified the damages in 54 sites operated by the oil company.
In conclusion, the existing scientific evidence is overwhelming, and it conclusively established the liability of the oil company with regard to environmental damages and social, cultural and economic impacts. On February 14, 2011, the President of the Provincial Court of Sucumbios, Judge Nicolás Zambrano, issued the first judgment against Chevron-Texaco. The verdict was in favor of the plaintiffs, and the oil company was sentenced to pay $9.5 billion for remediation of environmental damage, including cleaning soils, installing water systems and implementing health care for the area.
In addition, the judge imposed a punitive sanction: Chevron had to publicly apologize to those affected within a period of 15 days after the judgment. Failure to do so would increase the penalty to twice the amount of the issued fine. As the judge abided by this provision and Chevron refused to give an apology, Chevron was fined more than 19 billion dollars, a sum meant for implementing a recovery plan, strengthening ancestral villages, cleaning roads where the company had dumped crude oil, and producing an economic plan for farmers whose land has been affected by pollution.