This summer, I have the privilege of sharing my office with ELAW partner Pablo Fajardo who is in Eugene to attend the American English Institute and consult with ELAW staff. The other day, Pablo showed me his copy of the book Crude Reflections — an amazing photographic essay documenting the people behind the lawsuit that he is leading against ChevronTexaco on behalf of 30,000 indigenous people in Ecuador. I was struck not only by the environmental devastation but also by the cancer and other illnesses among the people living in the area.
The people’s suffering is horrifying. The photographs in this book are difficult to look at — but the captions are even worse: they chronicle case upon case of stomach cancer, ovarian and uterine cancer, and mis-formed limbs — especially noticeable is the impact on the women and children.
I asked Pablo, Why?
He pointed to a photograph of a group of women and girls standing in the water, washing their clothes. “They stand for hours, every day in that water” he said. “Then, the cancer.”
The lawsuit is ongoing in Ecuadorean courts. But ChevronTexaco says that even if it loses in Ecuador, it will turn to U.S. courts to avoid paying damages to people in Ecuador.
Pablo told me that his children are interested in becoming lawyers like him. Why? “So that they can be there to enforce the judgment.” That’s how long, he says, it might take for any judgment to be enforced.
“Ye gads” I thought — how long will these Ecuadorian people have to wait for justice? And how many more women will die of uterine cancer, how many more children will be born with birth defects, how many more fathers won’t live to see their children grow up before the toxic contamination is cleaned up? It is an outrage.
Sitting next to this amazing man (whose back story is fascinating — I can’t do it justice here, but you can read more about him in Vanity Fair) for the summer, I am again grateful that there are people like him who dedicate their lives to protecting their communities from environmental disasters.
We hope that the people of the Ecuadorean Amazon will soon get the justice they deserve, and the land will be cleaned up before more generations suffer the consequences of the toxic contamination.
by Rita Radostitz